A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play

Review of The Now Habit by Neil Fiore

The Now Habit

The Now Habit by Neil Fiore is a self-help book containing tips and strategies to understand why you procrastinate and how to overcome this dilemma. This book was published in 1988 and it is likely that many self-help books since ’88 have been influenced by this one. It is common thought that procrastination is a sign of laziness, but often than not, Fiore argues that that’s not the case. Rather, procrastination is a sign of anxiety. For example, as a student you may have had an essay due in several weeks, but you kept putting it off until the night before. In actuality, you probably felt anxious about failing or not performing well, so you put it off. Fiore offers practical solutions to beat procrastination.

Why did I choose to read this book?

I don’t remember exactly. But I’m glad I did. First, this book is a gem. If I had to guess why I chose this book, I think I might have seen this book several times on overdrive.com or some similar website, but never paid much attention to it. Maybe I had heard it recommended before or mentioned on other lists or by other people. Eventually, I just decided to read it. So, I think I was just scrolling through rbdigital.com, on the nonfiction, probably self-help genre and saw this book. Then, I decided to go ahead and listen to it. Again, I’m glad I did.

What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Fiore offers a practical piece of advice to tackle anxiety-induced procrastination; imagine the worst possible scenario. We have probably heard someone ask this question to someone during a time of distress, “what’s the worst that could happen?” A sage piece of advice that we overlooked. I think the way Fiore frames this question makes it seem more powerful than before. By asking yourself what is the worst that could happen pushes you to confront reality. If the worst thing happened, could you live with the consequences? Would it really be so bad? Most of the time, you could live with the consequences and the results wouldn’t be so bad if worst came to worst. And at the very least, this mental exercise allows us to become proactive and devise a backup plan if we were to fail. With a backup plan you could rely on, what would you really have to lose?

Imagining Worst-Case Scenarios Makes You More Successful

An example of a worst-case scenario is getting fired from your job. If you were to take on a new project at your job, but completely bungled it, you might get fired. Okay, you’re fired. How would you survive? Live on your emergency savings, apply for unemployment, cut back on your expenses and rely on your spouse’s income for a while, reach out to your network for job opportunities, the list goes on. All of these actions are doable and the world wouldn’t collapse. What if you don’t have these safety nets? Well, if you practice this kind of thinking well in advance, you can create these safety nets, just in case. I find that this provides a level of security that is actually freeing and even strengthen one’s ability to succeed. What do I mean? Knowing that you have a fallback plan if everything goes to crap, gives you more confidence to take greater risks, which will have higher rewards. You’ll likely end up achieving much more than someone unwilling to rock the boat for fear of failing. Also, when you don’t procrastinate on a task, it gives you more time to revise it and make it even better.

“Procrastination is not the cause of our problems with accomplishing tasks; it is an attempt to resolve a variety of underlying issues, including low self-esteem, perfectionism, fear of failure and of success, indecisiveness, an imbalance between work and play, ineffective goal-setting, and negative concepts about work and yourself.”― Neil A. Fiore

How and When We Procrastinate

We know that we procrastinate and have picked up a useful tip on how to curtail it, but it’s also important to understand how and when we do it. This requires some work. You don’t have to do it all of the time, but dedicate maybe two days, even a week if you can to taking note of what you do during the day. This requires you to be honest with yourself. This exercise is for you and only you. You don’t have to write down what you should have been doing; you’re not trying to impress anyone. Take time to note when you are usually productive or unproductive during the day. Notice patterns and trends. How long are you productive or unproductive? When you’re unproductive, why is it? Do you keep opening tabs on your computer to read random articles? When you’re productive are you in an isolated environment?

Understanding how you procrastinate is important for devising remedies. Understanding how much time is spent on unproductive tasks brings your workday into perspective, as well. Before, you thought you didn’t have enough time in a day, but now you may realize exactly how much time is actually wasted. As we increasingly become aware of how distracting social media and the internet can be, people have created apps to help keep us focused. For example, there are apps you can install on your phone to block you from opening your social media apps until a certain time of day or only allow you to use them for a limited amount of time. So, understanding how you procrastinate can give you some insight and some tips on how to stop procrastinating and let you understand just how big of a deal it is.

The Unschedule

Though we want to prevent overindulging in guilty pleasures, we still need leisure time and activities. Participating in fun and creative activities increases a person’s well-being, life satisfaction, and even work productivity. Fiore even states that we should be intentional about including free time into our schedules. He calls this concept the unschedule. Basically, you schedule times in your day and your week, when you’re going to focus on fun activities, you know, maybe you like to play tennis or basketball; put that in your schedule. And here’s an important point, make fun time non-negotiable. No matter what the activity is, whether it’s playing sports, watching sports, reading a novel or browsing the internet, this time is as important as a mandatory meeting from your boss. This should help you resist the urge to fall into one of your procrastination traps because you know that you will definitely have time to do it later. You can then focus on your work in the moment.

Persistent Starting

Neil Fiore also gives advice on tackling large tasks. You’ve had a large task before, one so large it could feel overwhelming. Fiore states that to get to the end of the project, you need to persistently start on it. Basically, if you break the task down into small chunks and work on each one, it’ll eventually be completed. Even if you don’t formally break it down into smaller tasks, if you keep working on it, picking up where you left off, it will get done.

Build Focus

Once you start working on a task, it’s important to see it through. The longer you can work on one task, the more productive you’ll be. This is the importance of focus. We often think of being able to focus as a condition of our state of mind or our desire to do said work. This may be true, but focus is also a skill that can be strengthened like any other.

Strengthening your focus is the same as strengthening your muscles. To build muscle, you start off lifting a certain weight, 10 pounds for example. Next week, you lift 15 lbs. The week after that it’s 20 lbs and you slowly increase how much you lift over time and when you look back at where you started, you’ll notice how much stronger you’ve gotten. To build focus, this week, work for 25 minutes a session. Next week, work for 30 minutes a session. After that 35 minutes and if you keep increasing the amount of time that you work on your tasks, you’ll find yourself able to concentrate for longer periods of time. You’ll also find yourself being more productive and successful.

Stretch Goals: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

You’ve probably been told the importance of goal setting and have understood it since you were in primary school. You’ve probably been told to step out of your comfort zone before. Fiore applies these two principles to what he calls stretch goals.

It’s a similar concept to building focus. When writing your goals, increase them a little beyond what you think is possible. Grant Cardone’s The 10X Rule takes this idea to the extreme and says multiply your goals and your effort to achieve them by 10. The fundamental concept is the same though. Fiore’s idea of stretch goals should cause a little bit of stress, but not so much to cause anxiety. The idea is to push yourself beyond what you think you’re capable of.

As you grow over time and continue to create these stretch goals, eventually, you have these very big goals that seem like huge goals to other people, but to you they’re obtainable because you’ve put in the work already.

Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I would recommend this book to anyone and think it may need to be mentioned with the likes of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, or Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, or Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich. I think that this is one to keep around as a reference book.

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