The advantages of minimal effort in the fight against procrastination
If it’s worth doing, it’s worth half-assing it.
Sometimes motivation is hard to drum up. You know you have to get a task done; maybe write that overdue paper, get that report ready, finish that project for work. Maybe you have to clean the house. And you know you have to finish it, it’s just.. it’s just so HARD to get it started. it seems so overwhelming. The more you think about it, the larger it seems, the more daunting it becomes and you just shut it down. That’s a problem for future me. I’ll do it later.
The idea of starting it is a barrier to finishing, and then the problem loops and you find it easy to just walk away from it and ignore it. Maybe I’ll do it later. I’ll start tomorrow. Tuesday, for sure.
I’ll do it later. Definitely next week at the latest. It’s just so easy to slide into procrastinating as a habit. Sound familiar?
The problem is, it’s a really, really hard habit to break. Procrastinating is easy. It’s almost comforting. It’s ok; it’s not that that I’m not going to do it, I’ll absolutely do it later. For sure. And then you don’t.
Procrastinating is a habit you build, like any other. It’s one that becomes very unhealthy, very quickly. It starts to become the default across the board; it’s not that I’m not going to, I’ll just do it later. And later, like tomorrow, remains elusive and forever over the horizon. So, how do you get past the horizon? How do we break the habit it of putting it off. Where do we find the self motivation to complete tasks that are unappealing?
Easy: half-ass it. Don’t know what that is? its a very Australian vernacular for doing half a job. Of not putting any effort into doing something. Its doing a poor job.
“What?“ I hear you say. How can doing a poor job help?! How can not committing to a perfect effort possibly make life better? Surely you must commit completely, and produce quality, do your best and put nothing but quality into your efforts? No. absolutely not. Lots of things don’t require huge effort. They do not require perfection, they do not demand top effort: They require a bare minimum effort. They require starting. They require a half assed effort to get them going.
Thinking of every task as an effort, something that demands you apply yourself and produce results leads to us becoming wary of putting in effort in case we fail. Failure is the ultimate letdown. Failure is unforgivable. Failure is the penultimate negator of effort. To fail, however, is easy. But, your mind says, you cannot fail that which you cannot do. Also when we think about things we make them seem bigger than they are. We make mountains out of mole hills and what in actuality is a simple task requiring a basic action becomes this complicated task that requires coordination, effort and planning. It turns a no brainer like “pick clothing off floor, place in machine” into “get the laundry done, measure the soap, how much softener goes in? which cycle? separate colours from whites: that means two loads. Ill dry the first load in the dryer while the second load washes and then iron the first load while the second load dries”
And there in lies the trap of procrastination. You need not do it now, because later will be perfect. Later will be when you feel like the effort can be put in. but later will not come. What will come is stress, self damnation, recrimination and ultimately, more work and less time to do it, because other things will come along and invariably take up our time or demand our attention and we may even procrastinate those, adding even more to the fictional later pile. the reality is often a case of “pick up clothing from floor. place in machine. add small amount of washing powder, turn on machine”. It doesn’t require effort. It doesn’t require thought, or planning, or contemplating: it just requires doing. Pick up. Put In Machine. On. Done.
The fact is, starting it is starting it. It gets the task begun, which means you’ve gotten past the first hurdle. Once you start the task, you can finish the task. You can’t finish that which we don’t start. Once you get that half assed job done; the very minimal basic beginning to the task, you can then edit your effort, and build on it, and produce quality work. You may find beginning us enough to break the motivation barrier and the flow comes easily and you produce quality. But even if you don’t, some effort is still fundamentally more than zero.
A friend once said to me “just lay down some bullshit, and watch flowers bloom” and it stuck with me. It’s so true. You don’t have to begin with quality, you just have to start. Once you start, you can finish. Even if the final product isn’t high quality, isn’t your best effort; even if it isn’t good, in most situations, any effort is better than no effort. You will still get points for handing in a low quality paper. you will get a failure if you dont hand anything in.
Breaking the habit of avoiding tasks is a huge contribution towards gaining a sense of accomplishment, which leads to a healthier internal perspective, and lowers anxiety, lessens depression and just like the procrastinating, spreads out into other aspects of our life. It tends to be that once you start, you are more inclined to do things. You will find motivation comes. Can’t face cleaning the whole mess of a house? Just do the dishes. Then maybe put a load of laundry on. While you’re at it you might as well just sweep the floor. Even if you stopped there; you still managed to do the dishes, the laundry and mop, which is more done than there was, and less to do later.
Think of it as investing in future time. Getting something done now, means you later on doesn’t have to do it, leaving future you free to add to the effort you now just made. Wouldn’t future you feel a little more at ease not having this task to do? Doesn’t now you feel good about not putting off yet another task?
Don’t put it off. Just half-ass it for now. Trust yourself to get better at finishing and give yourself the chance to finish, by starting. You have very little to lose and a lot of benefit to gain by just doing half an effort of the things you need to do. So go on… Go half-ass something.