I’ve finally been able to stop procrastinating by indulging in too many video games. Even though I’m still taking some time each week to sit down and play, I’m not as hooked as I was just a few weeks ago.
I’ll admit that if I really want to live a 100% productive life, I would probably have to give up video games completely. Spending 30-60 minutes playing games doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up over time.
Think about this:
- Over a year, 1 hour a day becomes 365 hours, or 9 work 40-hour work weeks.
- Over the course of 5 years, now you’re looking at 40 of those work weeks, or 1,825 hours
- 10 years of just 1 hour a day? That’s 80 full-time work weeks! That’s the equivalent of playing video games 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for a year and a half.
Does that help put things in perspective? And keep in mind that most gamers I know don’t play just 30 – 60 minutes. Instead, I think 2-3 hours is the norm, and some will put in much more time than that.
But again- I don’t think this means we need to give up our favorite hobby. Instead, we need to realize that it’s meant to be enjoyed, not worshiped. Taking some time out of each week to enjoy ourselves is fine, but we have to earn the right to do that.
That’s essentially waht I’ve learned how to do. Not to stop playing video games, but to take positive, productive action first so that when I play later, I don’t feel (as) guilty.
The Not-So Secret to Getting Your Stuff Done
Years ago I read a book called Eat that Frog by Brian Tracy. Tracy gives 21 different tactics to become more productive every day, but the core of the book is focused around one principle.
Note that unless you were raised in the deep south or hail from someplace else this is a normal thing to do- it may sound gross. That’s the point.
Let’s say that when you get to work, one of your tasks for the day is to eat a frog. Yes, you have a giant bullfrog that you must eat. You don’t necessarily have a deadline for it, so you can eat it at 7 am when you first get to work or 5pm when you leave the office.
When do you think would be the best time to do it? If you’re like most people, you’d keep putting it off until later. You’ll leave it sitting on your desk staring at you, while you “build up the strength” to wolf that sucker down.
There are a few problems with this approach.
- You never know what might hop up (see what I did there?!) later in the day. You can get pulled into last-minute meetings, called home from your spouse to pick up the kids from school, etc.
- As that frog sits and stares at you, you’re having to use willpower to keep pushing it off. You know in the back of your mind that it’s there and needs to get eaten, as it’s the most important task (MIT) you need to do today.
- The frog will seem to grow bigger as the day goes on. Have you ever noticed how something we know we should do seems more daunting as the deadline for it gets closer?
Instead, Tracy argues that you must eat the frog first thing in the morning.
Not right before you go home, thinking you’d have built up your strength by then.
Not after lunch, with the idea that some food in your belly will help.
Just get to the office, grab your cup of coffee, and start going to town on that frog.
There are a few psychological benefits of this approach. But the biggest is simply that you can spend the rest of the day knowing your most important task is already done. You don’t have that giant frog sitting on your desk anymore, staring at you with those cold, unblinking, wet eyes.
Of course it’s just an analogy. The giant frog represents your most important task. If you’re a salesperson, maybe it’s setting up that sales meeting for next week that really intimidates you. Or it’s doing some cold calls because you’re behind on this month’s quota.
If you’re an engineer, maybe it’s tackling that very difficult design that’s been giving you a lot of trouble.
Executives may use this time to work on the company’s vision or strategy to make sure it’s heading in the right direction.
Once that task is done, you can breathe easier! You can rest assured that even if you get pulled into useless meetings until noon and you have to go pick up your sick kid from school, that’s okay. At least the main thing you needed to complete is finished.
All of that to say – this strategy works.
It’s what I’ve been doing for a few days now, and I’m surprised how much weight it takes off my shoulders for the rest of the day.
For me, it’s writing. I like to write but I have trouble squeezing it into my schedule. It doesn’t help that it’s not very consistent. I’m a stay at home Dad / evening MBA student / freelance writer right now, so some mornings I’m watching the kiddo, others I’m free to work (when she goes to day care.) Some nights I’m home, others I’m gone until 10:30.
That’s why I started getting up pretty early- 5 am. No it’s not fun, but it has enabled me to get me two most important tasks out of the way first thing:
- Drink coffee
To be honest I wish I could start later. A 6 am start to the day would be perfect. Even a 5:30am start would be a lot better.
But unfortunately, my daughter is a toddler. Toddlers have more regular schedules than newborns, but their waking times can still vary. Sometimes my little girl wakes up at 7, other times it’s 6:15.
So you can imagine that if I woke up at 6am to write – or even 5:30 – I may not get as much done as I’d like by the time she wakes up. And while I could always come back to it later, it’s much easier to just crank out all of my writing at once. I have momentum, whereas coming back to it later will require me to build it back up.
Coming back full-circle, let’s talk about video games.
This is the Opposite of What We’re Trained to Do
Roleplaying games teach us to do the exact opposite of this. Whether you’re playing an action RPG like Dark Souls or a more traditional one like Final Fantasy or Dragon Age.
In an RPG, sometimes you get to a boss that you aren’t strong enough to fight yet. That’s fine though, because you can (sometimes) go back out into the world and find other things to do to level up. Complete side quests, get into random encounters with bad guys, etc.
By leveling up and getting better gear, you become more and more prepared to face down that boss. Even though you’ll also have more skill (after losing to him a few times,) the fact that you’re stronger overall may be the key to beating him.
But it’s different in the real world. Performing lots of unimportant, easy tasks doesn’t prepare you for that difficult one that stretches you.
For example, take writing. Right now my goal is to write 1,000 words a day. That may sound like a lot to some people and extremely easy to others. Either way, that’s my goal for now. I see it as enough words to be life-changing over time, but not so much that I’m overwhelming myself.
If I write first thing in the morning, what happens? I feel better for the rest of the day because I know my most important thing is accomplished.
On the flip side, say I had done lots of little chores around the house first. Maybe I washed the dishes, mowed the grass, vacuumed, dusted, and wiped down the kitchen counters.
By the time I’m done with all of that stuff, it’s lunch time and I haven’t done anything really important. Instead I was being busy in order to procrastinate on the more important task of writing.
The same goes with exercise. Have you ever said you just don’t have time to exercise? After a long day of work, your spouse is ready for you to get home and help with the kids. Once they’re in bed, you’re so exhausted that you can’t motivate yourself to drive to the gym.
Instead of waiting until the end of the day, what if you hit the gym before heading to work? Sure, it might mean getting up earlier. But if your most important goal is to lose weight and get fit, it’s worth it. Plus you can always go to sleep a little earlier to make up for it.
Going back to my writing example- once I’ve done my 1,000 words for the day, I tell myself that I’ve earned a little “me time.” That doesn’t mean I’m playing video games at 7am, nor does it mean I’m entitled to play for 4 hours just because I wrote for 1 hour.
But it does mean that if I can find 30-60 minutes to play, I feel fine about it. While that may not be the most productive use of my time, life isn’t about always being productive.
And to be honest, many days I won’t get that time to play. Especially on days that I’m on Dad duty all day. That’s fine, too. It means when I do get to play, my gaming time is more special.
Great…But How do I Know My Most Important Task?
“If you have more than three priorities, you have none.” – Jim Collins
Both my wife and I have had jobs where it seems like everything is a “top priority.” While I can understand, reality is that most jobs really only have 1-3 things that are the most important things you do.
For example, a salesman’s job is to sell. Not go to meetings all day or sit in front of his computer checking email.
An engineer’s job may be to come up with new designs. Anything spent away from doing that isn’t as important.
The most important tasks for writers is… to write. Research is great, but what good is it if you aren’t actually getting words down?
To identify your most important task(s), I’d recommend putting your daily tasks into this matrix.
You want to stay in the top two boxes. But while they’re both great, the Not Immediate, Critical Box is the most important.
The reason is this is the box you’re most likely to neglect, which leads to bad things in the long run. The best example of this is exercise. We all know it’s critical for our health, but the immediate negative impacts are so minimal that you don’t necessarily feel them right now.
But what happens when you don’t exercise for a year? It becomes a bit more apparent. After several years, your body becomes less flexible, weaker and more flabby. And if you spend a few decades without exercising, your body becomes extremely weak, flabby, and prone to injury and illness.
Writing is another example, at least for me. It’s important to do it every day, but nothing is pressing me to do it.
The scariest quadrant here is the Immediate but Not Critical. This is something like (most) phone calls. A phone ringing is annoying, and we’ve been trained to answer it immediately- even if we’re talking to someone else in our office! But they can just leave a message and we’ll get to it in a few minutes.
I understand that many calls are critical, but may not necessarily need to be answered right away. After all, the phone call is interrupting you. If you answer, you’re basically prioritizing the other person’s needs over your own.
That may sound harsh, but only because we’ve been taught that our more Critical, Not Immediate tasks can wait. In reality, it’s the complete opposite. CEOs of companies would never be able to plan out and lead a company if they answer every single phone call or email as soon as it comes in. Instead, they need to spend time strategizing the company’s next move, which is the most critical thing they can do.
What’s the Most Critical Thing You Can Do Right Now?
All of that to say- the task you should do first-thing is that (hopefully) Critical, Not Immediate task. You may have some things in Quadrant 1 pop up that needs to be handled immediately. That’s fine- you do what you gotta do.
But Quadrant 2 is the often-neglected, most important things to work on first thing. For me, it’s writing and spending time in my Bible. For you, maybe it’s getting in a few sales calls, strategizing your company’s direction or exercise.
Just think about what you’ve been neglecting, and where you want your life to go over the next 3 – 6 months. Then consider the daily actions you need to get you there, and plan on it becoming part of your morning ritual. Even if it’s just 15-20 minutes, that’s much better than nothing!
Once you do that, I can guarantee you’ll feel better about indulging in video games when you get a little free time. Just make sure you don’t over-do it! Eating a healthy breakfast doesn’t mean you can eat cake and ice cream for lunch, just like finishing your MIT doesn’t give you free reign to spend all night playing video games.