Expert Interview: Scott Young, Productive Writer & Learner

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Scott Young is a writer & blogger I’ve known for more than 5 years, and there are few people who have proven to be better at beating procrastination than him. As proof, he is working on learning MIT’s 4-year computer science curriculum in a shortened timeframe, using just the free material they supply online. He gets work done quickly, learns quickly, and is extremely disciplined.

Scott shares some of what he’s learned below.

1. What have you been doing lately to beat procrastination?

Scott: The major tool I’ve used to help defeat procrastination in myself over the last few years has always been keeping Weekly/Daily Goals. I’ve written about them on Zen Habits.

The power of keeping these lists (as opposed to general-purpose to-do lists) is that they have a specific time horizon in mind. That forces you to decide what you’re going to do right now.

2. What’s the biggest reason people have a hard time starting an important task, and what 1 or 2 habits should they form to beat this?

Scott: Assuming I’ve reigned in most of my procrastination by implementing a system like Weekly/Daily Goals, I’ve found most my failures to get things done come from two categories.

The first category are tasks that I don’t like doing and have low urgency. They may be important, but they hang in the background, consistently getting pushed off into the future. I’ve found the best way to cope with these is to be more aggressive about setting aside chunks of time to deal with them. Have that closet you keep failing to clean out? Mark an entire day in your calendar for it. Often these kinds of tasks keep getting pushed back because we don’t give them the true attention they deserve.

The second category are tasks that I don’t start because, at some level, I’m afraid to. Sometimes it is a fear of failure. Other times the task may require me to do something outside my comfort zone. It’s easy to go around in circles for weeks or even months on work like this. This type of procrastination isn’t easy to fix, and can sometimes require some deeper introspection since sometimes it can crop up when we’re trying to avoid a difficult decision we need to make. If you do make a concrete decision and find yourself still procrastinating, breaking down the work into small steps is usually the best strategy.

3. If resistance has kicked someone’s butt for a long time, and they don’t know how to even start to change it, what do you suggest?

Scott: I think there’s two parts to this. Sometimes resistance has built up because we’re avoiding a reality we’d rather not face. This can happen with the student who procrastinates because she realizes that she isn’t studying in the right field, or the entrepreneur who fails to take actions to get the first customers, because he’s afraid of rejection. In this case, sometimes being decisive–making a decision–can prevent a lot of procrastination because, whichever path you decide to take, you’ve shifted away from uncertainty and into action.

Other times resistance accumulates, not for any deep issue, but simply because of habit. In these cases building habits is critical. You can do this by focusing on the behavior you want to automate for a consistent period of time.

Read more from Scott Young on his blog, or join his newsletter and get a free copy of his rapid-learning ebook.