Discipline: The Missing Piece in Procrastination Puzzle

Why I think self-discipline is at the base of most other ways to beat procrastination.

Discipline: The Missing Piece in Procrastination Puzzle
Photo by Ashkan Forouzani on Unsplash

Procrastination is a big problem that most of us face daily. Many techniques and tips are available on the internet to tackle this problem. Different techniques work on different people. Some of those I have tried, and they worked for me. I am not really going to talk about those techniques much in this post.

Personally, I think that the most important factor for beating procrastination has very little to do with those techniques. In my opinion, it is self-discipline. How consistently you can do something has more effect on productivity overall than most other techniques.

Most other techniques kind of rely on this discipline trait. For example, the 5-minute rule is a great way to avoid procrastination. If there is an important task, then as per the 5-minute rule, I only have to do that task for the first 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, I can decide to stop. For example, exercise is important. So, when I do not want to exercise, I only have to do it for 5 minutes, and then I can stop. The psychology behind this rule is that it is harder to get started, but once you get started, it is easier to get going. This technique really works. The problem with this entire technique is that you have to follow it consistently. It is a 5-minute “RULE”. If you fail to follow this rule consistently, this technique is useless.

The same goes for blocking calendars and making plans or to-do lists. They don’t work unless you are disciplined. Yes, they are important. Planning always helps with productivity. But plans are no good if we can’t follow them.

On the other hand, if you are disciplined, many other techniques are not even needed. You can just overwrite your laziness and emotions to make yourself do the task. You can eventually learn how to plan and filter out important tasks. But, lack of discipline will certainly fail you. Being disciplined can help you in other areas of your life as well. You can be healthier (by consistently eating healthy and exercising), wealthier (by investing regularly and spending mindfully), and sharper (by consistently learning new things). So, it might be worth building this trait before jumping into the other productivity techniques. And I believe that one can improve their discipline by practicing. Just like all other learning stuff. Start with something easy and then increase the difficulty.

The other bigger reason for procrastination is if we don’t like doing the task. In my PhD research, some tasks (for example, writing and editing paper) don’t capture much of my interest. On the other hand, I was super excited about participating in a recent MIP (mixed integer programming) competition. I never had to worry about procrastination while working on this competition. It got higher priority over almost everything (including Netflix sometimes).

I don’t really know many tricks about making something interesting. I think one of the bigger reasons for not liking something is that we are not good at doing it. This justifies why I dislike writing papers but like working on MIP models. Well, if this is the case, the solution is simple: just get good at it. Once we are good at doing that task, there is a high chance that we will like doing it. I explained it in detail in my previous post: Skills over passion.

How do you get better at something that you don’t like doing in the first place? Practice. And that requires… you guessed it right: discipline. You have to force yourself to do it anyway. For me, it is easier to do it because if I don’t write papers, I won’t get my degree. So, external forces are helping me. But if they weren’t helping me and if I consider that task still important, I would be able to do it anyway because, over time, I have improved at following self-generated rules (like a robot). And you can do it too!

Let me know your thoughts on avoiding procrastination. And don't procrastinate about sharing this!

Updates on my PhD

  • My first PhD paper finally got published. It is about using a column generation based ML algorithm for an application in aviation industry. Links: Article Link, Arxiv
  • I will be talking about my second project in two upcoming conferences. This is about improving decision trees using column generation. The conferences are CORS/JOPT and Column Generation. Both of them are in Montreal during May.
  • I recently published a mini-course about introduction to scikit-learn. This time it is on a different platform that allows me to create programming exercises. No ML background is needed, but python knowledge is required. Get a free access using the Coupon code: FREE_SKLEARN (valid till 2 April 2023). Course link.

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Quote: “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun's rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” — Alexander Graham Bell