Procrastination used to be a big problem for me. I tried many techniques to overcome it, but nothing worked. One self-improvement guru said: “The best way to overcome procrastination is to put it off.” This was, of course, just an attempt at humor, not meant to be useful advice. At the time, it only added to my sense of frustration.
Another expert on time management advised that the best way was to visualize each task as a frog, and pick the biggest, ugliest one from all the frogs in front of you… and swallow it. The idea was that everything after that would be much easier by comparison. This method had the opposite effect on me. I procrastinated even more, putting off the biggest, ugliest frog as long as I could.
I was ready to give up when I came across the Tao Te Ching. In chapter 63, I saw the following nugget of wisdom:
Plan difficult tasks through the simplest tasks
Achieve large tasks through the smallest tasks
The difficult tasks of the world
Must be handled through the simple tasks
The large tasks of the world
Must be handled through the small tasks
Therefore, sages never attempt great deeds all through life
Thus they can achieve greatness
I found the above clear and useful, and proceeded to try it.Whenever I found myself putting things off, making excuses, and unable to get going, I would take a step back to look at all the tasks in front of me. Instead of choosing the biggest and ugliest frog — the most complex and difficult task — I would do the exact opposite. Following Lao Tzu’s advice, I would look for the simplest or smallest task among all the tasks. If the task chosen wasn’t small enough, it just meant I had to break it down some more.
Invariably, the task I ended up with would be something that required little to no effort, so it would be very easy to get myself moving on it. It would also be something that took little to no time, so pretty soon I would be feeling good about having gotten a small item out of the way. I knew it wasn’t much, but it was something, which was infinitely better than nothing. This positive feeling generated its own energy, which I could use to propel myself toward the next smallest or easiest task.
I kept going like this, task after task. Usually, by the third or fourth iteration, I would find myself so thoroughly energized that it was easier to keep going than to stop. This method worked extremely well for me in every aspect of life, and effectively solved my problem with procrastination.
Prior to this experience, I had no idea that the Tao Te Ching could be so practical, so immediately applicable to life. By relating this experience, I hope you will also find it helpful — and perhaps come to see the Tao Te Ching in a new light, as I have.
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