Forbidden Technique: Productive Procrastination

I am a lazy motherfucker.

Don’t get me wrong, I work and think about my vocation constantly- without end. However, when it comes down to implementing abstract ideas in the form of bench work my mind makes like Wile E. Coyote and chases conceptual road runners that have absolutely no relation to my intended goal. It’s absolutely impressive the lengths to which my mind will go to avoid a task with the conceptual label, “work” by pursuing equally difficult tasks labeled equally as arbitrarily, “not work”. Bad brain! Or perhaps good brain, bad brain controller.

Creative procrastination is an example of exactly the kind of sustained output that characterizes productivity geniuses, only it is fired in the form of cleaning your apartment or researching the peculiar qualities of shark antibodies (they are monovalent, curiously) instead of at the intended task. This mental hip fire represents a source of massive potential power should it be harnessed, or at least its targets constrained appropriately. So how might we go about directing this latent psychic energy?

Good Brain, Bad Brain

Now first I must say that I hear you highly industrious and organized individuals and your calls for self-discipline. Would it not just be easier to adhere to the schedule I made? Would it not be fulfilling to beat every ADD-addled neuron into submission with intravenous Ritalin? Is it not possible to, over time, shift my neural wiring into a state that favors responsibility and being a productive member of society? Well, for me it turns out that while those things are great I just really dig reading about shark antibodies. The exhilarating, creative nature of an irresponsibly-directed attention span, I believe, is tainted by all this talk of discipline. Why not compromise and gently guide the firehose of dopaminergic fervor from the gutter to the garden, a much easier task than forcing its incredible pressure through the sink faucet where it poses no risk of splashing on your clothes.

And so my attempts to guide the Rambo of my orienting reflex began.

The You Who Opposes You

It’s important to realize that the power of the misdirected consciousness lies in, to borrow the language of Alan Watts, the mind’s element of irreducible rascality. This is to say that when we unintentionally procrastinate by fixating on some problem in lieu of the original that it is not the inherent appeal of the distraction that imbues it with such psychic glitter. Rather, it is the fact that the substitute thoughtform is conceived of in different terms than the intended goal. The substance of the task to be detested is secondary, while the psychological frame that surrounds it primary. To put it more elegantly, “the enemy [distraction] of my enemy [intended goal] is my friend”.

Luckily, the stubbornness and rascality of the human ego is predictable. As social animals refined through the forces of natural selection, humans exhibit oppositional and tribal behaviors and we all know it. Humans (like you) tend to:

  • Undervalue things, people, favorable situations when they are abundant
  • Overvalue things, people, favorable situations as soon as they are taken away or made scarce
  • Bandwagon in hopes of social acceptance
  • Pursue the familiar and avoid the unfamiliar
  • Avoid exerting more energy than absolutely necessary
  • Bias evidence based on how recently it was encountered
  • Bias evidence based on personal experience

Clearly, the human mind has an inherent propensity towards being kind of an asshole. So without going into the existential aspects of the ego, the assumption can be made that the conscious mind may be able to exploit the tendency of the unconscious to entertain fallacious reasoning.

The Greatest Scheme Inside Your Skull

Would you believe me if I told you that we could scam your unconscious mind, a.k.a. you, into directing its psychic hip fire to a narrow and non-arbitrary direction? Well, regardless of what you believe here’s the way to do it.

Before starting we must prepare for this most devious of scams; every great heist has great planning and to fool your own unconscious mind right under its own nose requires that respect be paid in the form of a list. The list is the 2nd-5th most important things you need to do today. Scribble it down and put it away. Take a short walk and think about something else- forget the list, it’s really not that important.

Now sit down and identify the most important task of the day. Consider its importance, how much your colleagues are relying on you to finish it. Imagine the disappointed look on your face in the mirror when you fail to complete it; imagine the steely, disapproving gaze on your superior’s face when you are confronted. Feel free to catastrophize the consequences of not completing the task- you have to really live it.

Now do the task.

Immediately, notice that internal resistance is established on the setting of and carrying out of your intended task. The more resistance and dread you feel, the better.

Stop.

Pull out your list and look at it without any intention. Notice where your attention is drawn, what item on that list sparkles with procrastinative potential! Give in to your impulse and procrastinate, it’s either that or facing the dark reality of the primary task. As each task is completed the other tasks on the list will become more palatable and begin to race with electric energy- the potential of putting off your primary task for even longer imbuing them with unholy energy. Before long you’ll have completed 5 out of the top 6 things you had to do today. Congratulations.

Why It Works

Now, any level-headed person would be right to be skeptical of the practicality of an approach to self control based on self-deceit but the reality is that the unconscious mind is completely vulnerable to many logical and psychological fallacies. These flaws in subconscious structure are not easily steeled through explicit learning of the structure of fallacy, and even those with intimate knowledge of the nature of thought can easily fall victim to a heavily emotionally biased decision.

All we have done is presented your conscious mind with 2 options: face the primary task under the conceptual label of, “important work”, or procrastinate in comfort with another high priority task masquerading under the label, “opportunity to get out of work”. The emotional biasing of the decision makes doing even 4 other high priority tasks much easier than the single top priority task.

Getting Away With It

This manipulation of my own psyche has proved to be extremely valuable on hard days when in the past I would have accomplished nothing. I have developed this over some time of observing my own affinity for lazy behaviors and look forward to fresh ideas from others.

Thanks for reading.

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