We often procrastinate because there is this one hidden thing holding us back. It is this one thing that makes you procrastinate and most people are not even aware what this is, but if you eliminate it you can say goodbye to procrastination forever.
A lot of times we procrastinate because we have to jump through a lot of hurdles before we can do the thing we actually want to do. For example, let’s say you need to prepare dinner. So you need your dishes, cutlery, pots and pans. But what if they are still in the sink from the time you used them for lunch? That means before you can actually start cooking, you need to wash them first.
To put it in other words, before you can do your main activity (cooking), you have to do all these others things (cleaning) before you can get to your main activity. Can you see how that friction, washing the dishes, can prevent you from preparing dinner? Can you see how you might procrastinate on cooking?
If you make it hard for yourself to get started, that’s when you will most likely procrastinate. Imagine you finished some work at your desk and you went out for lunch. Lunch time is over and you need to go back to do some other work at your desk. Do you really want to go work at your desk when you see it’s such a mess?
Now imagine you actually cleaned your desk and now you need to do some work on your computer. Do you easily get distracted when your desktop looks something like this?
All these little starting points where you have friction are very common. When you encounter one after the other, it can be very demotivating to get work done. You have to do a lot of other things, before you do what you really need to do. Or you do get work done but you get easily distracted. Now this is a problem….but there is a solution to this.
Clear To Neutral
Now this is where, as we at Asian Efficiency like to call it, the habit of Clearing To Neutral (CTN) comes in. The main idea behind CTN is that you set yourself up for success. What that means is that any time you finish your activity, you do a little routine where you set it up so that the next time you start there is no friction. In other words, you setup your environment for next time.
Our friend Eben Pagan uses the analogy of cleaning a grill. 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 cooks always clean the grill so the next day when they come in it is ready for use.
This is exactly the idea behind Clearing To Neutral and how you need to set yourself up. The reason we call it CTN is because whenever you finish an activity, you need to move everything so everything is in neutral position. When something is neutral, it is stale and you can do anything you want to it.
Now this is why the habit of clearing to neutral is so important: it prevents you from procrastinating in the future. By making sure you clean up your environment and toolkit, you ensure that the next time you need to use them there will be no friction at all. In other words, you make it easy for your “future self” to get started.
Some of you might think: “So, what you are basically saying is that you need to be clean and tidy.” Yes and no. Obviously that helps, but you need to take it one step further. See CTN as a post-activity habit. After you have done your main activity, do your post-activity work (clear to neutral). This means you set everything up so it is ready for the next time. In the earlier examples, how could you apply the habit of clearing to neutral? When you finished cooking for lunch, you wash your dishes right away. That messy desk? When you finish the paperwork, you clean your desk. That desktop with all those windows open? Whenever you finish your task, clear to neutral by closing all the windows so you only see your desktop background.
The clear to neutral habit can be applied in many different areas of your life. While the examples earlier are very common, so are these:
- Getting enough sleep – energize yourself so you set yourself up for the next day.
- Close relationship loops – do you have unresolved issues with people, especially people you see on a regular basis? Close them so there is absolutely no friction when you two need to work together.
- Clean your desk – whenever you finish a task or you call it a day, clean your desk.
- Wash your dishes as soon you finish eating – don’t let dishes linger around for too long. The longer it is in the sink, the dirtier it will get.
- Close all programs – as you as you finish your work on your computer, close all windows so you only see your desktop.
- Post-morning ritual – whenever you finish your morning ritual, set everything up for the next morning.
- Editor’s note - this applies on a larger scale too, like in clearing the small tasks on your to-do list. Sometimes the simple presence of these 2-5 minute tasks is enough to make you procrastinate on doing bigger and more important things.
The concept of clear to neutral can be applied to any rituals or habits you have. By mere definition of the word “habit”, you do something repeatedly. See if you can add a clear to neutral action in your current habits, so the next time you start your ritual or do your habit, you do it without any friction. Your future self will be thankful for the extra one or two minutes you spent clearing to neutral. I know this sounds too simple. Maybe it’s too simple. But those extra one or two minutes of clearing to neutral can make a HUGE difference to your productivity. Just imagine how different your life might be when you barely procrastinate…..
Make CTN a mini habit for everything you repeatedly start and finish. Here’s a simple game plan:
- Make a list of your habits.
- See if you can add a clear to neutral action at the end of your habit.