To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.
In May of 2019, I was hit with a dose of inspiration: I was going to start a website and blog about life after school.
I carried around a notebook at all times, and whenever I thought of a potential article, into the notebook it went. Over the course of a few weeks, I had a list of over 100 future blog articles.
The next step: Actually writing the articles. I browsed through my massive list of article titles, and started making a dent.
I bought a domain, web hosting, and planned on posting my first article at the end of August. My thought process at the time was something like:
“Now that I have a financial stake in this, there’s no way I ignore the new website and let my hard earned cash erode away on unused web hosting and an unused theme”
I thought the tens of dollars bleeding out of my checking account each month to pay for hosting and a domain would inspire me to work on this project. I deferred responsibility of my own actions and desires to a few meaningless numbers on a screen. Do I want to work on this website, or do I not?
As of late October 2019, I have a vast library of topics and about 50,000 words written, but my website remains empty.
I’ve been so scared of getting started that I have not made any progress at all. I pigeonholed myself into analysis paralysis
Instead of starting small, I didn’t start at all.
So here it is, the first article, or post on this website.
A chronicle of how my willpower has succumbed to the unstoppable force of procrastination.
So what did Leonard Bernstein really mean, in the quote above?
I was initially exposed to this quote in South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s autobiography, Shortest Way Home, where he describes his ‘1000 houses in 1000 days initiative.’
During my initial read, I foolishly interpreted the quote as sarcastic, a cruel admission that we all strive to do good in this world, but we inevitably fail to achieve our potential due to time constraints.
I often find myself struggling to complete tasks due to lack of time (at least that’s what I tell myself). If there were 25 hours in each day, surely I’d be more productive and get more things done. I would have a surplus of time to creatively approach and solve the many challenges I encounter in life. Deep inside, however, I know that’s a lie.
Leonard Bernstein certainly did end up achieving a plethora of great things in life; not in business, but in education and the arts. These great achievements were not driven by time spent leisurely awaiting inspiration, or 25 hours days. These achievements were not a result of pessimism about not having enough time.
Great achievements are a result of pressure, feeling the threat of failure as impossible tasks and deadlines continue stacking up. Perhaps Leonard Bernstein also had a nagging voice of success in the back of his head, accompanying him at all times
Procrastination: The Unfortunate Side Effect of Surplus Time
In the past few months since purchasing this domain and a hosting plan, I’ve had a significant surplus of time to accomplish great things, such as posting a single article to this website. As a result, I’ve accomplished very little.
I do work full time, but I have weekday evenings and giant blocks of time on weekends to focus on whatever I desire.
I have a massive and ongoing list of things in my personal life that I’d like to do, from taking online courses and certifications to advance my career, to gathering and donating my surplus clothes, to selling my car, to updating my resume and applying for jobs. This is just a brief snippet of the ridiculously long list of tasks I’ve created for myself.
But in creating this massive list, I’ve diluted my mental capacity and focus to the point that I’ve been ignoring the list all together.
I intimidated myself into inaction, all while having a surplus of time to tackle the many challenges staring me in the face.
Not Today, Procrastination
Today, I brought out that old list and crossed everything off of it. Except for one thing:
“Post an article, and post it today”
I created an artificial deadline for myself, and I created a specific, achievable goal. And now that goal is just about smashed.
I have finally achieved the small thing that I set myself out to do over a hundred sunrises and sunsets ago.
Building skills and improving yourself is an iterative process. So is building a website and filling it with content. And so is improving your diet, increasing the capacity of your lungs, or increasing the strength of your muscles.
Self-improvement and accomplishment is a slow, and often unnoticeable process. Things we know we need to get done are often avoided due to the discomfort addressing those things bring us.
But those responsibilities that bring us discomfort can be tackled by furthering our discomfort, with the ticking time bomb of a deadline. A timer. A challenge. A rush.
The secret to productivity and accomplishment is to put yourself under pressure. At least that’s the only way I’ve ever gotten anything done.
So get on it. Create a deadline for yourself. Set a timer, and get going on that thing that you’ve been avoiding for far too long.