Procrastination is a disconnect between the NOW and the LATER. Overcoming the urge to procrastinate requires reconnecting with our own future. “Time Travel” can help bridge the NOW and the LATER.
In Time Travel part 1: Ben Franklin & Managing the Now old Ben gave us some great advice on the consequences of delay. Ben was an incredibly productive man whose pursuits and accomplishments spanned science, literature, politics, and business. Good for him.
But how can we mortals get a little piece of Ben in our lives?
Now & Later
When Franklin tells us to do now what we would put off for later, he’s speaking to our Future Selves, the “Later” in our lives who has to take care of what our Present Selves don’t want to do in the “Now.”
Ben, therefore, is telling us to let our Future Self speak for us NOW and not LATER.
Unfortunately for us procrastinators, that conversation tends, instead, to work like this:
Present Self: “Oh, man, I gotta get to that essay that’s due next Tuesday.”
Future Self: “Yeah you do! Let’s get it going!”
Present Self: “Huh, what’s that noise?”
Future Self: “It’s me, I mean, it’s you. But it’s you next Monday night cramming in that stupid essay you blew off over the weekend.”
Present Self: “I have no idea who you are. Go away.”
Future Self: “Don’t worry about me, just worry about that essay. Could you at least get it started, just a little? That way I don’t have to do it all — again.”
Present Self: “Yeah, yeah, whatever, gotta get to that essay. Will do! Cool, settled that. But first things first, gotta get in that power nap I need, and, oh yeah, there’s that crazy show tonight. Awesome…!”
Future Self: “Noooooooo!”
Why do we do this to ourselves?
What Franklin doesn’t share with us is why our NOW so easily turns into LATER . He just says we’re worthless and weak if we put things off.
I love Ben, but what’s missing here is that the judgement he passes on us is part of the reason we deserve it. So often I’ve heard parents call their children “lazy” — and children frequently say it, too, “Oh, I’m just lazy.” Or, students will say, “Heh, I work best under pressure, anyway.”
These are just rationalizations for putting things off, and the more we repeat them the more likely we are to keep using the LATER to stand in for and excuse the poor decisions in the NOW.
We do eventually get to it, just LATER at the deadline when we no longer have any choice but to finally do it.
Wouldn’t it be great, then, if we could feel that same pressure of the deadline NOW rather than LATER when we no longer have any choice — and we’re running out of time?
Navigating between the Now and the Later: Time Travel
In working with students who have time management and prioritization struggles, I have found that narrowing the distance between the NOW and the LATER can be an effective tool for engaging workflow more regularly.
We call it “Time Travel,” by which we mean seeing oneself both in the present and future tense at the same time — and as the same person.
If, for example, I’m worried about a test tomorrow, yet I know I have an essay due in three days, without that innate organizational sense of rigidly fixing my efforts on both I might focus on the one at the expense of the other. After all, I still have a few more days for the essay…
Instead, I might better equalize my worry about both by seeing them equally imperative NOW.
Otherwise I’m likely to slip into the LATER mentality and just study for the test at the expense of work I could be getting done on the essay, as well. (Of course, I could have started studying for the test yesterday, but these situations do happen.)
What’s happening is that the EXAM has a hard deadline NOW, so I get to it. Meanwhile, the two-day gap between today and the essay deadline shields me from the pressure I could otherwise feel for the paper, thus greasing my path to deferral until the night before it’s due.
Without that rigid, internal clock of Ben Franklin’s that paces things evenly, whether NOW or LATER, we have to deliberately seek out that urgency of the deadline that usually only works for us in the LATER
Somehow, if I can treat NOW and LATER as the same thing, I’d be far better at prioritizing my tasks and meeting my goals in an orderly manner..
It’s easy to explain Time Travel but hard to act on it. So let’s break it back down to its simplest, that conversation between NOW and LATER:
Present Self: “I just don’t feel like doing this now! I mean, it’s not due until Tuesday.”
Future Self: “Heh, this is Monday night calling. It’s 2 a.m. and this thing is killing me. Hello!
Present Self: “Oh, heh, Monday, how are you?”
Future Self: “A little freaked out. Do me a favor, you know that assignment that’s due Tuesday? Could you at least start on it, so I don’t have to do it all myself?”
Present Self: “You got it, Dude, will get going now!”
Future Self: “You’re the best, thanks so much! When you become me on Monday, you’re gonna be so glad you got it going earlier.
The idea here is to create a dialogue between who we are NOW and who we are making demands upon LATER.
If we let the LATER speak to the NOW, we have a far greater chance of getting the NOW taken care of so we don’t have to deal with it — and in a panic — LATER.
If find that Keeping an ongoing conversation with my Future Self is an incredibly powerful tool to avoid putting things off, even those things I really don’t feel like doing now. I say to myself, “Look I know it’ll be just as tedious later, so why not get it out of the way NOW?”
Good luck building a bridge between your NOW and LATER!