I recently re-read one of my favorite novels – The Dice Man.
Without spoiling the story too much, it’s a satirical take on the profession of psychiatry set in the 1960s, with the protagonist Luke Rhinehart discovering the use of chance (in the form of dice) to make life decisions.
While it is a work of fiction, there are a couple of interesting ideas raised in the novel – that is, after all, the purpose of good fiction.
The first is the idea that human behavior is extremely flexible. The second is that anyone is capable of doing anything, especially when the element of choice is removed.
Flexible behavior is important for productivity as it demonstrates that being productive and getting to doing things is largely a mental game. While our environment can dramatically change our states of mind and being, it is important to remember that inside each and every one of us is the capacity to do what it is that we want. All we need is a big enough reason why and some behavioral flexibility. We could also just eliminate needing any reason why completely and do it for no reason at all.
In the novel, various characters create multiple personas to navigate through life. While it’s taken to a humorous extreme in the book, if you think about it, each of us wears different hats and roles every single day – the strict father, the protective mother, the hardworking employee, the Sunday-night Guitar Hero rockstar. Behavioral flexibility is more familiar to you than you realize.
Removing choice from decisions and “forcing” them is actually a great technique for overcoming procrastination. In the novel, the protagonist selects 6 options and then rolls a die to determine which he will carry out.
Sure, it’s a crazy idea. But think about it this way. Say it’s 8pm at night, and you’ve got an article or report to write, but you really don’t want to write.
You write down on paper these options:
- Spend 1 pomodoro writing.
- Spend 1 pomodoro writing.
- Spend 2 pomodoros writing.
- Clear excess tasks instead.
- Review prior writing.
- Go for a walk.
Then you roll a die and go with what you roll.
Here you’ve given yourself a 1 in 6 chance for an “out” – a break from what you’re procrastinating from doing. But at the same time, you also have a 50% chance that you’ll complete your writing using solar flaring-style techniques, and a 33% chance you’ll do something equally productive.
Crazy idea, but it’s another way to help you overcome procrastination.
Disclaimer: You’re all sensible people who know what is fiction and what is reality, so take the above with a grain of salt and as a thought exercise – it is not a justification for subsequent actions to say “the dice made me do it”.
By removing choice from your hand, you’re more likely to carry through with the actions. So the next time you’re going to procrastinate, write down 6 options and pick one – and then go do it.
- Have a read of The Dice Man, and be prepared to be thoroughly entertained.
- Think about how flexible your behavior really is, and all the things you think you can’t do that you actually can.
- The next time you feel like procrastinating, write out some options and throw a die. Or flip a coin. Then follow through.
Photo by: MissTurner