Help me be more ambitious/procrastinate less

Ok Dopers, I need some advice. Recently my level of ambition has taken a sharp turn south. I have homework that needs doing, dishes that need washing, job applications to fill out, LSATs to sign up for, a project from work I could work on, models to paint, guitar to practice, a girlfriend to spoil… the list goes on.

But I just can’t seem to force myself to do any of that stuff. I just seem to piss away the time. My day off yesterday? I slept until 3PM and spent the rest of the day reading Straight Dope and playing kdice. I tried refusing to turn on my laptop last night in the hopes that the lack of shiny internet would distract me less, but I ended up finishing another Discworld book instead.

This is becoming a real problem. When at work, I have a ton of ambition. I’ll be patrolling my district thinking “Man, this job sucks. As soon as I get home I am getting my shit together and working on self-improvement things.” The second I hit the door, however, all bets are off.

Any advice on how to break this cycle of Meh?

I get like that when I’ve been in the same routine for a while. I’d suggest trying out some new things for a bit or going back to old interests that have fallen by the wayside.

I’ll get back to you in a day or two.

Don’t try to do all of the things you need to do. Just get started on the first one. You’ll build momentum.

Can’t be bothered to do the first one, such as the dishes? Unless your legs are broken, you can put your feet on the floor, right? And you have the physical ability to stand up, right? Just do that much. That’s all.

Done it? No? Go back and read the last paragraph.

OK, now that you’re standing, walk to your kitchen. Now.

I like this line of thinking, and intend to try this.

“Do! Or do not. There is no try.”

  • Master Yoda

Procrastination has been a LONG term problem for me. I’m about tired of people saying it’s just a 15 letter spelling of the word “lazy”.

I’m really trying to change my behavior, but like the OP, I end up pissing away entire days/weekends. I’m not lazy, I want to accomplish my life’s little chores, but I just can’t seem to get going. I like (and will employ) the advice so far, but Captain C, you are not alone in this affliction.

Has anyone else successfully conquered this little shortcoming?

I am a hard core serious procrastinator. I don’t do anything until it absolutely MUST be done. On days when I’m almost caught up I will start the day thinking “This will be great! I’ll get not only caught up but ahead! It will be fabulous!” and then I spend the entire day on the boards, or ebay, or anything but what I really shoud be doing. My bills aren’t overdue because I’m broke, but because I haven’t bothered to find the stamps yet.

Some of my most productive days start with making an insanely micromanagey to-do list with each task broken down into its smallest components.
[li]look up information for committee report[/li][li]type report[/li][li]print report[/li][li]staple report[/li][li]put report in folder[/li][/ul]

The satisfaction of crossing each thing off helps keep me motivated to do one more thing before “just checking my email” which typically evolves into checking all three accounts, firing off a message to my sister, resorting my Netflix Queue, watching an episode or two of Law & Order online, checking email again to see if my sister answered, checking bank balance, finding more money there than I thought even though the rent check has cleared so off I go to ebay to bid on crap I don’t need, and won’t use, or dust once it arrives. By then 3.5 hours have passed and I HAVE TO pick up my son on time. so I leave work and don’t enjoy my evening because I have to go to work early to finish the project I could easily have finished in the amount of time I was goofing off. Those are the evenings I’m especially mad at myself and motivated to make the lists.

Here’s a question for procrastinators: Do you smoke cigarettes? I find myself preoccupied smoking, then lethargic afterward. I’m hoping that’s the primary reason for my procrastination, so at least there’s hope if I stop smoking.

No, but I chug coffee and tea like they are going out of style.

I use a Firefox extension called Leechblock-- if I try to log on to SDMB (or mefi or boingboing, et al) during self-defined “working hours” it redirects me to the Hypnotoad’s page. To get around it I have to access the preferences by typing in the password “I’m procrastinating.”

I write down a detailed to-do list, with major projects and their subprojects, and the night before decide on the subprojects that Must Be Done Today, and cross them off as I go. I also have days of the week where I’m only allowed to work on certain undesirable projects so the Fun and Easy and Timesucking Projects don’t take over. On long term things, like applications for jobs due on a certain date, I set a duedate for myself 2 weeks earlier and get a calendar program to alert me.

I’m very bad about things, and this all takes a lot of effort, and in order to keep my shit together I’ve even changed my working motto this year. It was an old Dutch proverb, “‘Every little bit helps,’ said the mouse, as he pissed into the sea.” That was not dynamic and moving enough and sort of lulled me into endless babysteps and meaningless micro-efforts, so now I have H.L. Mencken on the wall telling me, “Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.”

I do, and I find myself thinking, “Ok, I’ll do that, after I have a cigarette.” And then it turns into two or three, and the task just gets pushed back. Smoking is a great way to waste time.

Really, the only thing I’ve found is to get off my ass and do it. Inertia is wonderful stuff.

My major problems are twofold: first, I’ll do ANYTHING to avoid anything that feels like work. As soon as it feels like work, I don’t wanna.

Second, I’m detail-oriented. It’s great for glancing at a sheet full of numbers and messages and pointing out the bit that tells me why Bob’s account is down. It’s horrible when I’m trying to clean up my room and I end up organizing all those little bits and pieces into little heaps and deciding where to put them. Meanwhile, the laundry piles are threatening to devour the cats.

I could have wrote this exact same post. I usually oscillate from periods of high productivity to periods of “Meh”. It’s not like I’m being lazy either, I don’t sleep all day, I just don’t do what I know I should be doing.

Instead of finishing my personal statement and applying for law school, I’m spending all my free time making coffee and watching the entire series of Deadwood (I just finished season two). I also reorganized my room several times and bought a new computer. The funny thing is that I also have a lot of energy during work, and I don’t slack off at all.

I’m not worried because I know that I’ll get everything done and apply for the schools before Thanksgiving. It will probably get done a day or two before, but it will get done. It helps to set a deadline, because without that, things would get put off indefinitely.

I never could finish all my work ahead of schedule. Whenever I’m a little ahead of a task, I realize I have more time to waste not doing the task.

You said your ambition had just recently went south, I bet you this isn’t the first time. I would just love to know why I can be productive for about three months and then a switch flips and I can’t bring myself to carry out my routine any more. Then I slowly decent into procrastination hell until I can’t tolerate that any more. Then I go back to being productive.

It would be nice to find a way to stay productive.

Have a look at this Weekend Guardian article on the subject.

Very interesting article G. Thank you for passing it along.

From the article:
“Procrastination is an act of rebellion against what you believe you “should” be doing, and mentally shouting at yourself to do it will only make you rebel more stubbornly.”

I have been rebellious since early childhood. Thought I overcame or at least grew more selective in that particular attitude’s appearance, but apparently (as I am often wont to do) I failed to notice the overgrowth. Huh.

If I could overcome this affliction, Og only knows how much better my life on Earth would become! Fellow posters: what were your reactions to said article?

I like this idea, anyone tried this yet?

I’m writing a self-help book for slackers, but it’s not really about motivating them to do more. It’s about making them feel better about not doing anything – “I’m not wasting time on the couch… I’m dieting.”