In case, you haven’t met her acquaintance, I’d like to introduce you to Future You. Future You is amazing. She never gives in to temptation, cannot be distracted, and writes every single day for two hours. Future You always takes time for self-care, gets 8 hours of sleep a night, doesn’t need caffeine, and exercises religiously. Future You has no vices whatsoever – she doesn’t eat too much, drink too much, waste too much time (or any time at all). Future You would never procrastinate or self-berate herself for doing so. As you can imagine, Future You is extremely productive,- she has a long list of professional accomplishments, donates her time to worthwhile charities, and has an interesting set of hobbies. Future You never loses her patience, is completely zen, and has a perpetually positive attitude towards life. Future You has boundless energy, is never tired and can easily separate work and life for a perfect balance.
Future You really comes to life, though, every time you say, “I’ll do that later.” It is at that precise moment, that Future You really shines.
Surely, Future You must have some faults. No one is perfect, right? And so it is with Future You. Future You’s biggest fault, unfortunately, is that she’s a bit hard to pin down. Every time you wake up to meet her acquaintance, she’s gone off somewhere and left you by yourself with Present You. That wouldn’t be so bad if Present You wasn’t afflicted with a chronic condition known as Being Human. Being Human is characterized by occasional but unpleasant symptoms such as variable and spontaneous loss of willpower, sleeplessness, procrastination, self-berating and deadline-driven panic. If you suffer from Being Human and you find these symptoms bothersome, you can follow the guidelines below as needed. The good news is that while this condition can never be completely cured, its symptoms can be significantly mitigated.
- Eliminate the easiest way to give in. Turn on the light as soon as the alarm goes off and put your alarm clock across the room to keep from hitting the snooze bar. Take only cash with you when you go shopping to avoid overspending. Put the chocolate and cookies on the top shelf in the kitchen where you need a stool to reach them (or better yet don’t bring them home to begin with). These are all ways to make it harder to do the easy thing and easier to do the right thing. Analyze what keeps you from writing, and see if you can find a way to make it harder to not write. Is internet surfing your vice? Celebrated author Jonathan Frazen went so far as to glue his ethernet cable into his computer and then saw off the cable so he could never connect to the internet on it. A bit drastic, but you get the idea. An easier, less expensive alternative, is to use Freedom software to block your internet connection for a specified amount of time or Antisocial to keep you off specific sites that tend to distract you (such as social media and email).
- Use the 10-minute trick. Sometimes it feels like my day is a swirl of chaos, not because I am running from one task to another, but more because I have a stare-at-the-headlights kind of deer thing going on where I can’t seem to focus or get anything done.. When this happens to you, one way to snap out of it is to set a timer and just write for 10 minutes. When the timer stops, stop typing. Then you can get back to procrastinating or keep working – it’s up to you. Think of it as a reset button. Just like a reset button, you may have to push it more than once to get it to work, but in the best case scenario, you could create a whole day of writing out of this ten-minute trick.
- Visualize the future rewards of sticking to your plan. If you are stuck in a mindset of procrastination on a task, imagine what it would be like to have it no longer sitting in front of you, but completed. Visualize that completed written work on your desk, fast forward to holding the final published version in your hands, imagine all those morning commuters reading it on their Kindles. Imagine yourself with boundless energy from all that great sleep and exercise you are getting.
- Precommit. Not all things can be resolved on their own. Sometimes you need a little help sticking to a plan that will help you realize your goals. One great way to do that is precommitment. When you precommit, you take steps in a moment of strength, to ensure that you will carry out your plan in a moment of weakness. For example, you might hire a personal trainer when you want to get in shape, so that the days that you don’t want to go to the gym, you’ve precommitted with them to be there.
Stickk.com (yes with two k’s) is a free service created by Yale behavioral economist Deal Karlan that works on the basis of commitment contracts. You stipulate your goal (i.e., exercise for 5 days each week) and then you either put some money on the line and/or add referees or supporters to your commitment. The referees are responsible for verifying that you did indeed exercise on 5 days. The supporters are those people who can cheer you on towards your goal, but who will also be notified if you do not stick to your commitment. The financial option allows you to set up a debit/credit card charge whenever you or your referee report that you have been unsuccessful. You designate whether you will lose the money to a general charity fund if you break your commitment contract or to one of the anti-charities that they list which may represent an issue or group that you are vehemently opposed to. The commitment contract attaches a real, concrete price to your procrastination, which you can avoid by sticking to your goal. For example, If you knew that skipping the gym would cost you $25 a pop, you might just put on your sneakers and go. (Note – there are ways to suspend the contract if you are ill or have some other impediment to carrying out your goal).
Similarly, for other types of goals where you need to physically keep yourself away from something, you can purchase a safe at www.captureddiscipline.com that you can set for a certain amount of time (hours/days/weeks) to keep you away from something that is overly tempting you. While you can’t put the internet or email in there, it’s a great place to store those girl scout cookies to keep you from eating the entire box in one sitting (and please do remember to support your local Girl Scouts!).
- Have an emergency plan. What will you do in the event of an emergency – otherwise known as giving in to temptation or some other distraction or demanding task, rather than doing your daily writing? Make an emergency plan! For example, if I am tempted to eat the goodies in the break room, I will take a 10 minute walk or drink a full glass of water first. If I am tempted to skip my writing time because I am so crazy busy with other things, I will write for just 10 minutes and then get back to my crazy life. If I find myself distracting myself with the internet and social media, I will walk over to the library for 10 minutes and make a to-do list.
- Write a letter to Future You. My teenage daughter actually came up with this one, and quite frankly I thought it was brilliant. Present Charlotte wrote a letter to future Charlotte to get up early to get her homework done. As you can imagine this is no easy task for a teenager, especially on the weekend when she doesn’t HAVE to get up early. Unfortunately, the next day, present Charlotte wrote a note to past Charlotte that she shouldn’t have gotten up early after all because she got everything done way too early and now she was tired. You might not want to write that second letter to your past self.
But in all seriousness, writing a note to your future self that you can take out and read when you are your present self can be enormously helpful. In that letter persuasively tell your future self what you need to do and why you need to do it. When your present self feels like wavering, take out the letter and read it. If you don’t think you have the discipline to read the letter in your moment of weakness, or you just want to automate the whole process, you can have FutureMe.org send you an email at a future date that you specify. Maybe it’s a day of the week that you need some extra encouragement or a date at which you may expect to waver from your commitment. The only drawback of futureme.org is that you can only send email for a minimum of 30 days in the future, so it’s not helpful if you want to send yourself something tomorrow or next week or even in a couple of hours, but great if you want to keep yourself on track on a monthly basis, quarterly or even yearly basis. Boomerang for gmail is another program that can send you email in the future at any date – even a couple of hours from now.
Yes – it’s true, we are only human. But there are also ways to bring out the superhuman in us from time to time.