Hollywood Strategies to Avoid Procrastination

We all have personal goals. Whether it’s to write that killer app you have been obsessing about, or to finish that book you “started” years ago, procrastination is our common enemy.

In this article I have documented a few of my favorite strategies to fight procrastination that I have gathered from things I have seen on TV.

Don’t eat the marshmallow

The over-arching strategy comes from a documentary on how humans learn. It has been a while since I saw the film, and I haven’t been able to track down the title to include it here. However, the Marshmallow Experiment is extremely well known and the details can be found easily by any search engine.

For those that don’t want to go look it up, here is the quick rundown. Back in the 1960s, a Stanford professor named Walter Mischel performed a study on a group of 4 and 5 years old children from the Stanford child care center.

Each child was taken, individually, into a room and was asked to sit at a table, on which was a plate with a treat. The treat varied, sometimes it was a marshmallow, other times a cookie, etc…

The child was told the treat was theirs to eat. However, the researcher needed to leave the room “for a while” and, if the child didn’t eat the treat until the researcher returned, they would be rewarded with an extra treat. I.e., they could have one treat now or two later.

As you can imagine, some of the children had the treat in their mouths before the door was fully closed. Others, however, were able to figure out a way to hold out. They sang to themselves, hid under the table, walked around the room–anything to keep their mind off the treat.

There are a lot of reenactment videos available on the Web that are fun to watch if you are bored; and the results from the test are mildly interesting. But the super interesting results came more than a decade later when the SAT scores for the same children were analyzed. The children that were able to resist the urge to eat the treat scored, on average, more than 200 points higher.

The researchers concluded that the ability to delay gratification allowed the children in the “resistors” group to do a better job of focusing on their studies. In the rest of this article, I will offer some practical suggestions to resist the treat of procrastination.

The Seinfeld Strategy (“The chain of X’s”)

Jerry Seinfeld (the person not the TV character) is wildly successful. According to Salary-Money.com, he earns in $98 million per year. He does this by consistently putting out new work each year that is as good as or better than his previous work.

According to Brad Isaac, a young comedian that interviewed Seinfeld for Lifehacker, Seinfeld uses a super-easy strategy to stay funny and relevant. He has a life goal to write something every day. His strategy for self-encouragement is to post a big year-at-a-glance calendar on the wall. Every day he writes he gets to put a big X on the calendar for the day. At the end of the week, he has seven X’s; and every day the chain of X’s grows bigger. The longer the chain gets, the more pressure he has to not break the chain.

If you want to write a novel, then write something every day. If you want to write a killer app, then write some code every day. No matter what your goal is, do something every day and reward yourself with an X.

The Christian Strategy (“Count to 5 and let it go”)

Christian Shephard is a character on the ABC TV show LOST. Christian, a surgeon and father of Jack Shephard, also a surgeon, was attending a surgery being performed by Jack. Jack accidentally nicked the patients dural sac and all of the nerves from inside spilled out like spaghetti. Jack began to panic until Christian stepped in and told him to close his eyes, let the fear in, and count to five. He then instructed Jack to open his eyes and fix the problem. Forget the fear, just fix the problem.

In dealing with procrastination, allow yourself to feel the procrastination, allow yourself to embrace the procrastination. Then open your eyes and just start.

The Kimmy Strategy (“I can do anything for 10 seconds”)

If the Seinfeld and Christian strategies don’t succeed in motivating you, try the Kimmy Strategy. Kimmy Schmidt is the title character of the new NetFlix show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Kimmy has an indomitable spirit that seems to take after the Energizer Bunny—she just keeps going, and going.

Her secret is her belief that she can “do anything for 10 seconds.” So when you can’t bring yourself to get that missing X on your Seinfeld board, follow Kimmy’s advice and do something, anything for 10 seconds. Maybe not a literal 10 seconds, but just do one thing. Type the title of your next chapter if you are working on your novel, or add some comments to the last code block you wrote, if you are writing an app.

Find one small thing to do that will move you closer to your goal; no matter how small. Then do it and take a break. Look out the window, go for a short walk, anything to get away; and come back and take another small step. Most people will find themselves able to continue doing more than just the bare minimum after a few iterations.

The Scarlett Strategy (“Tomorrow is another day”)

Scarlett, the lead female character from the Margaret Mitchell book and the 1939 movie Gone with the Wind, had a bad habit of postponing self-reflection because she didn’t want to think about her recent failures.

The Scarlett Strategy is actually an awful strategy to live by. I can’t think of a better way to continue making the same mistake over, and over again.

However, if you completely blow it one day and, in spite of all of the strategies you tried, you fail to get an X on your Seinfeld board, remember: tomorrow is another day. Don’t let a single failure keep you from starting over and succeeding tomorrow. Tomorrow has the potential for being better than yesterday, but only if you try. As Churchill said, “never, never, never give up.”

See you next time…