The cure may be as easy as finding work that gives you purpose, says Petr Ludwig.
Procrastination is one of the few problems felt universally and it has only gotten worse with the deluge of apps, platforms and websites that have emerged to dominate every ounce of attention.
Best-selling author Petr Ludwig said he used to be easily distracted and prone to long periods of procrastination. He could abandon work for the latest Netflix series or a steady stream of YouTube videos.
But everything changed when he survived two life-altering situations he told a rapt audience at the Work Awesome NYC conference on changing workplace trends.
"When I was 18, I had a strange feeling in my right hand while playing basketball, and 30 minutes later, half of my body was paralyzed. I then had brain paralysis. I was laying in bed in the hospital and thinking that life was over. I miraculously recovered after a few days with no side effects."
"That changed my life forever," he said "When you face your own death you don't want to procrastinate if you survive. You want to live every day meaningfully, and to the fullest."
After that frightful experience, he went on to write the best-selling book "The End of Procrastination" with Adela Schicker. The book, published in 2013, was a hit in Europe before it was translated into 15 languages. It has sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide and is being translated into even more languages.
Two years later, he was on a flight from Amsterdam to Prague when the engine exploded and the plane had to make an emergency landing. The 15 minutes it took for the plane to land, all while the engine was on fire, stayed with Ludwig and prompted him to battle his procrastination even more.
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He said his paralysis put procrastination into grave perspective and forced him to think about how much time he wasted not doing things he should have. Time wasted is permanently lost and life, as he learned, is decisively finite.
Ludwig cited statistics that showed 80% of people struggle with procrastination and people between the ages of 20 and 30 spend up to 40 hours per week wasting time. He called time, "our most valuable resource," and reminded the audience it cannot be bought, saved, or regained.
"I've been traveling around the world and its seems that we are not different no matter where I am. In Asia, Europe or America, we still procrastinate more than any generation in history. This has come about because we are overrun by emails, social media, Netflix, YouTube. We have distractions everywhere, so knowing how to fight procrastination is a really key skill for us," he said.
"I have been working on this project for 10 years now so basically I've watched it get worse." People are procrastinating more than people 5 to 10 years ago, his data shows.
The key to beating back procrastination is finding true purpose in your actions and work, something other panelists at the all-day conference referenced as well. Ludwig tied his solution to a few Japanese proverbs and concepts that explained the theory in simple terms.
He told the room full of eager listeners that the Japanese have a proverb which says, "Vision without action is a daydream and action without vision is a nightmare."
Ludwig said "vision without action" was best exemplified by New Year's resolutions. People know what bad habits they need to change for the next year but end up reverting back to stasis, opting to do nothing instead of working toward something new.
Action without vision is even worse, he said, tying the idea to the growth in cases of depression in the Western world.
According to his research, more people than ever are working on projects that they don't see any positive outcomes in.
"This action without vision is a real nightmare. If you want to have a healthy life, you need both ingredients. Vision, knowing what to do in your life and action when you need to change something. You must have the courage to change your habits," he said.
"The core of procrastination, or how to decrease it, is to have purpose at work. The more purposeful you feel, the less you procrastinate. That's why the first third of my book is about intrinsic motivation and about how to find authentic values that you really believe and deploy them with your strengths daily. Do something meaningful."
The Japanese word for this concept is "ikigai." To show the real effect of purpose on life expectancy, he pointed to the island of Okinawa. Ludwig said Okinawa is famous for having the longest average lifespan, which is about 10 years longer than averages in North America and Europe.
"You can't buy ikigai," he said, adding that a 10-year study found that a strong sense of contributed to a 72% lower rate of death from stroke, 44% lower rate of death from cardiovascular disease, and 38% lower rate of death from any other cause like cancer.
"With ikigai, they don't retire," he said of the residents of Okinawa. "Even if you are 70 to 80 years old, you still are trying to be useful for society. Elderly people there are never left behind. They are trying to do something for others. This is the key of fighting procrastination, too."
He broke ikigai down into four important parts that people needed to explore when trying to understand their own version of the concept. As Ludwig says in his book, the key to ikigai is firstly figuring out what you're good at, then learning what you like to do and finding purpose in that work.
The modern worker wants to know what their impact is on their company and society at large, he added. People wanted to know that they were changing the world even in small ways or at least improving things a bit for the next generation.
The fourth part of ikigai is money or compensation for your skills, but Ludwig said that came far behind the first three pillars of the concept. In his research, people who had found their ikigai lived longer, were much more motivated, healthier and had better relationships overall.
To close his session, Ludwig mentioned another Japanese concept called "kaizen," or continuous improvement, that could be used in the battle against procrastination. People struggle to change their habits because failure is uncomfortable, leading some to not want to try at all. What works in the long term, he said, are microhabits and microchanges. Instead of trying to run 10 miles on your first run in a long time, start with a mile and work your way up.
This concept had been proven to strengthen willpower over the long term and the daily small steps helped people overcome the fear of failure, he added.
"I'm using all these methods on myself. This all started with me and my fight against procrastination. Sometimes I joke that I'm a procrastination expert so I had to find a way to decrease my procrastination, and when I did, now I want to share my tools and ideas with the world and it's been great," he said.
"So if you're asking yourself what is the key to long-term happiness, it is to live each day meaningfully and dutifully without procrastination. The outcome is not that people decrease their procrastination. It is basically that they increase their happiness."
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