I Hacked My Brain to Beat Procrastination: Here’s How
The System for Learning Difficult Things Quickly
My entire childhood I was notoriously bad at getting things done on time.
Whether it was homework, a side project, or even doing my laundry, I just couldn’t seem to get things done when I needed to, even if they were important.
But I knew that to get where I wanted in life, I would have to learn how to beat procrastination and do the things I needed to do, the difficult things, quickly.
If you’d prefer to watch the video instead:
Just like that quote, my first few hacks come from the book Deep Work by Cal Newport. There is a lot of hype around this book in the personal development space and for good reason.
I use these techniques to learn difficult things quickly and get work done when I don’t necessarily feel motivated.
Create An Isolated Deep Work Environment
Due to constant distractions at her home, JK Rowling used this same technique to complete the last Harry Potter book.
Unable to focus at home, she checked herself into a hotel to be completely isolated with her work and this distraction-free environment mixed with a commitment to using this space specifically for deep work, allowed her to finish the bestseller on time.
But you don’t need a 5-star hotel to mimic these effects.
During my interview prep for my current data analyst job, I spent a week in a secluded office in my apartment building with nothing but a laptop and a study plan. Because I was in this isolated environment I was able to pass statistics, analytics, and live coding interviews and got a great job at my dream company.
Purposeful isolation is a powerful tool for deep work.
I’m also a big supporter of working at coffee shops, outside, or in new places to give the brain a sense of novelty. This satisfies the distracted mind by giving it something new and going with a plan to work sets an intention of productivity.
Study and Time Management Techniques
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management system that encourages people to work with the time they have — rather than against it. Using this method, you break your work into 25-minute chunks separated by five-minute breaks. These intervals are referred to as Pomodoros. After about four Pomodoros, you take a longer break of about 15 to 20 minutes.
The idea behind the technique is that the timer instills a sense of urgency.
Pomodoros also let you know how much focused work you’ve done and how much you’re currently capable of. The more deep work you do, the stronger your deep work muscles get, allowing you to flow for longer durations.
Extending the length of Pomodoros and their breaks is another popular technique that I personally use. (45 minutes working, 15 minutes off, repeat 2 or 3 times)
At all costs, avoid asking yourself “What do I need to do today?”
As you should already have this written down.
I start by creating large goals for myself every year and breaking them down into smaller and smaller subcomponents so I have actionable, measurable goals for each period listed below.
Yearly → Quarterly → Monthly → Weekly → Daily
My daily goals help me achieve my weekly goals. My weekly goals help me achieve my monthly goals and so on. This helps me avoid spending any time deciding what it is I should be working on and gives my deep work sessions clear objectives.
Performance Enhancing Drugs
If nothing else works, coffee will.
If you’re not making coffee with an AeroPress, you’re wrong.
Drinking a few (not too much, not too little) cups of coffee strategically throughout the day can reward you with multiple successful deep work sessions.
Caffeine causes an uptick in adrenaline, the hormone that makes you feel more alert and energized; and dopamine, which plays a role in making you happy. And this is the perfect state for contributing your best work.
When the coffee starts to fail:
Yerba Matte Tea (unsmoked)
Secret weapon: Guarana Extract (Be careful with this one)
Loud and aggressive music (Hip Hop/Rap is my go-to)
Allot Your Deep Work Time Realistically
Most people are capable of around 4 hours of deep and focused work per day.
Unfortunately, as valuable as deep work is, it can’t be done in unlimited quantity. Newport suggests the upper limit for deep work per day is four hours. Beyond this, our ability to direct focused attention diminishes.
Given this, there is plenty of time in the evening to make room for the downtime that will serve your deep work sessions the following day.
Rely on The System, Not Willpower
You may have heard something along the lines of “You can’t be motivated all the time so you need to have strong willpower/be very disciplined” but I completely disagree.
While you shouldn’t rely on being motivated at all times, you also shouldn’t rely on your willpower or discipline. They both fizzle out at some point so you need to have a strong system to fall back on.
This system (or ritual, as I call it) is made up of the habits and rituals that allow you to get those 4 hours of quality, focused work done every single day. When your willpower fails, this will keep you from abandoning your goals.
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- Jack Ross
Jack Ross (Data Engineer, Writer, Nomad)
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