Friction is procrastination’s best friend. Anytime friction is in sight, procrastination is usually around the corner.
Whenever someone comes to us with procrastination problems, my first instinct is to find the friction point in her life.
Just think of the last time you procrastinated. Why did you put it off? Where was the friction point?
Chances are it falls in one of these three buckets:
- Getting to clarity about the outcome you’re hoping to achieve
- Getting started on a task (even though you know exactly what to do)
- Lack of energy and willpower to do anything (especially if it seems challenging)
After working with so many people on their procrastination challenges, we’ve identified that most procrastination challenges fall into one of three buckets. And in my experience, the first one is the most common pitfall.
When you don’t have clarity about the outcome, it’s easy to put things off until the last minute. To put it in other words: if you are motivated about achieving a goal and you know all the benefits of achieving that goal, you’re more likely to get started.
Getting To Clarity
Most people who procrastinate never get to clarity. We address this extensively in our paid online courses (especially in the Dojo, the biggest productivity training library on the market), but today we will cover all the other ways people procrastinate, and what you can do about it. Even when you have clarity, we still procrastinate for various reasons.
No matter how motivated I am to grow Asian Efficiency and how acutely aware I am of all the benefits that come with that, there are days when I wake up and don’t feel like putting in the work.
We all have these kinds of days. What do you then?
Eliminate every friction point you have in your life.
A lot of procrastination techniques we teach in our paid courses address friction points. When you remove common friction points it becomes easy to get started on things you need to do.
In fact, we teach all of our clients one specific habit that will eliminate most of the friction points in your life. We call it Clearing To Neutral.
Sidenote: When other productivity experts join the AE team, this is one of the first things I teach them. Not only is it one of the core concepts AE is known for, but I also want them to be able to implement it themselves and get all the benefits from it. As we like to say, happy people are productive people.
What is Clearing To Neutral?
The idea is very simple: how can you make your life easy for “future you” to get started?
In restaurants, the process of cleaning the grill is very important. It ensures the grill will last longer, the food will taste better, and you prevent any bacteria from growing. Before the restaurant closes, the people in the kitchen always clean the grill so the next day when they come in it is ready for use.
Imagine for a moment that you’re the chef. You come in, highly motivated to cook delicious dishes for your guests. As soon as you step into the kitchen, you see pots and pans laying on the floor. There are dirty dishes in the sink. The grill is covered in grease and the place smells like rotten eggs.
Would you still be motivated to cook for your guests?
At this point, you lost all your desire to do anything. Before you can get to your specialty (cooking), you have to mop the floors, wash the dishes, inspect food twice to make sure it’s not expired, and clean the grill. By the time you’re done, you have no more energy left to cook and get in your zone of genius.
That’s how sometimes our lives are:
- Before we can write our book, we’re so disorganized with our notes, papers and digital files that we get frustrated and in a bad mood by the time we sit down to write.
- When you walk into your office, you have to clear your desk, put stuff in different places, shred papers, and only then are you ready to open your computer to start work.
- When you open your laptop you see your browser with 34 tabs open, a Youtube video that’s resuming play, and 12 notifications coming up on the sidebar. Now you’re triggered and distracted, and your plan to sit down to do your weekly review is now in jeopardy.
Can you see how easy it is to procrastinate?
When you have so much friction before you get to do the actual thing you wanted to do in the first place, it’s no wonder people procrastinate.
It’s About Eliminating Friction
With Clearing to Neutral, a habit we introduced to the world back in 2012 that changed the game, you eliminate the initial friction.
The reason we call it CTN is because whenever you finish an activity, you need to clear everything so it is in a neutral position. When something is neutral, it’s ready to be used right away.
Finish brushing your teeth? Put the toothbrush in its place so it’s ready for next time.
As you wrap up your writing, close all browser tabs and apps on your computer.
When you finish cooking, clean the grill, pots, and pans so they are ready for use next time.
This is why the habit of Clearing To Neutral is so important: it prevents you from procrastinating in the future. By making sure you set everything up for “future you,” you make it easy for “future you” to hit the ground running. There’s no friction to getting started (which is why most of us procrastinate).
Sidenote: For my fellow systems thinkers, here’s another way to think about it: everything has 3 phases.
- A setup phase
- An execution phase
- A reset phase
As we always talk about at AE, everything in life is a system. Most of us have the initial two phases figured out but miss the third one. That’s really what Clearing To Neutral introduces.
We recommend you introduce a Clearing To Neutral habit on top of every habit you have. This is an easy place to start. For example:
- After you’re done with your morning ritual, Clear To Neutral by setting everything up for tomorrow.
- Before you leave the office, Clear To Neutral your desk, computer and any inboxes you have.
- Anytime you’re about to get away from your computer, Clear To Neutral by closing all apps and browser tabs.
Virtually any habit you have will benefit from having a CTN action added at the end. Just think about your future self. How can you make it easy for future YOU to get started?
Here’s how we recommend you get started:
- Write down 3 rituals that first come to mind.
- Ask yourself for each ritual: “what can I do at the end of this ritual to make it easy for my “future self” to get started on the ritual?”
- Add this to your newly updated ritual.
The last thing I’d like you to do is to close all your browser tabs and clear your desk before you call it a day. I know, it sounds so simple, but please do it today. Your future self will thank me tomorrow.
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