Procrastination is when an unholy synergy develops between a task that we don’t want to do and a distraction that’s pulling our attention away from it. The task makes the distraction more tempting than it would normally be, and likewise, the distraction makes the task more unpleasant than it would normally be. The unpleasantness of the task and the temptingness of the distraction are mutually reinforcing.

If I’m working on my taxes but I keep checking the news, I’m a victim of this unholy synergy. Taxes might be annoying to work on — in and of themselves — but they become positively unbearable if they’re the thing that’s preventing me from getting updates about news stories I’m following. Those news stories might be tempting to follow — in and of themselves — but they become positively irresistible when the alternative is to work on taxes. I’d be able to face the unpleasant thing if facing it were all I had to do. I’d be able to avoid the tempting thing if avoiding it were all had to do. But when those two things begin fueling each other as a couple, I’ve got no chance.

By setting up a choice between a task and a distraction, I’m allowing their respective qualities of unpleasantness and temptingness to incite each other, to make each other more extreme. What’s needed is a way to diffuse this interaction, to break the unholy synergy. This is where nothing — pure nothing — can come to the rescue.

When we procrastinate, we’re rarely doing nothing. Usually we’re busy with avoidance. But we can shake things up by giving ourselves a new option: the option to sit absolutely still and do absolutely nothing, whenever we want, until we get tired of it. When we can’t bring ourselves to work on the unpleasant task, let’s allow ourselves to do nothing instead — as long as it’s true nothing. True nothing would mean something akin to meditation, where we’re not pursuing anything, not working on anything, not worrying about anything, just being still.

How does this “nothing option” change the dynamic that keeps us locked in procrastination? It restructures the choice architecture where the unpleasant task and the tempting distraction were pitted against one another directly. It adds a middle ground between them.

If we’re working on the unpleasant task and we’re losing focus and we really need a break, there’s a new kind of break we can take. The tempting distraction is no longer our only pathway for escaping the unpleasantness. We can now choose to do nothing instead. And when we’ve gotten caught up in the tempting distraction, and we’re struggling to escape, there’s a new escape route we can take. The unpleasant task is no longer our only place to go. We can now choose to do nothing instead.

Nothing gives us a soft landing from wherever we are. When we’re seeking refuge from either the unpleasant thing or the tempting thing, nothing is a place we can turn.

And why is it good to use nothing as a refuge? Because nothing is refreshing. Nothing is restorative. Nothing is a way to regain our energy and focus. The more nothing we do, the better.

Try it. Don’t procrastinate ever again. Replace active but mindless procrastination with doing nothing — pure nothing — passively but intentionally. You’ll thank yourself. ■

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