The Procrastination Time Machine
Quantum leap into your most productive self!
Our future selves are assholes.
It’s taken me a long time to realise this. I think most people will agree that when we’re asked to imagine our ‘future self’, we usually conjure up a superhuman being. It’s us, but better. I’d fall into this trap every New Year’s Eve, when a very strange phenomenon occurs, rendering me unconscious to my personal shortcomings. I’d write out my resolutions and goals for the year ahead with great aplomb. Sure, I might have spent the majority of the past 12 months on the couch, half-assing life...but future me? She’s got this! She’ll glide through life effortlessly, waking up at 5am to meditate and journal before busting out a 5k hike, green juice in hand. She’s never late, always remembers birthdays and somehow, between her many important meetings and working lunches, she manages to look like she’s stepped out of a magazine. She’s healthier, wealthier, happier, calmer...shinier somehow.
...and yet here we are, 3 months into the year and I’m still on the sofa in my PJs.
I’ve been a procrastinator all my life. On days when I’m being kind to myself, I put it down to perfectionism; never finishing (or sometimes even starting) something because I’m scared it won’t be a masterpiece. On darker days I’ll say it’s because I’m lazy; I’m pathetic, unmotivated and ultimately don’t have the talent to succeed.
I never seem to have the time to focus on anything other than just basic existence and it seems to take me longer than most to get even the simplest tasks done. I’m always amazed at how much some people can fit into their day when little things like going to the supermarket feels like a huge mission to me.
I’ve been reflecting on this conundrum lately, the super confidence I exhibit when I’m writing down my new year goals compared to the (non) actions I take to make them happen. Why does one half of me know I’ve got this potential inside of me to change my life yet the other half can’t live up to it?
I received the answer in an email...sent from the past.
In 2016 I came across a website, futureme.org, which allows users to send an email to themselves in the future. You compose a letter, schedule it to any date in the future and then forget about it until it pings into your inbox. That’s apparently what I did back in 2016, as current me in 2021 had absolutely no recollection of this magical delivery service until I received the following email on my birthday last month:
December 31 2016
Hello me, it’s you! Happy Birthday!
It's New Year’s Eve, 2016, and I’m writing this letter to you to say well done for everything over the last five years! You’ve achieved some incredible things and really turned your life around.
Did you finish your film? I know you did! I bet it’s amazing and I’m so proud of you for completing it.
How’s yoga going?! If you’ve kept up with it everyday like I promised to, you’ll be well on your way to a full forward bend by now!
I can’t wait to see where we’re living now, the new friends we’ve made and how happy, healthy & fit we feel!
I better go now, you’ve got lots to do to make this happen so time to get started!
Have a wonderful birthday and take a moment to look back and be proud. You did it!
All my love,
Reading this letter, which I’m sure Past Me intended to be a lovely surprise, was a total punch to the gut. I hadn’t done any of the things I had promised myself I would. In 5 years, I had nothing to tell my past self about. Five. Whole. Years. I hadn’t made my film, I’d barely even finished the script. Yoga?! I can’t even touch my toes! I’m still living in the same apartment and some days I don’t even venture outside, let alone exercise. It was a very sobering moment. Past Me had such lofty aspirations for me, she believed in me; I had wasted so much time and even worse...I had let her down.
Once I’d thrown myself the mother of all self-pity parties, I pulled myself together and came up with a new theory:
Our future selves can’t be trusted.
They are not the mythical ‘got-their-sh*t-together’ entities that we think they are. They are assholes. Think about it; the current ‘you’ on New Years Eve is psyched to put these new resolutions into action! We know we have it in us to achieve our dreams, get our life in order and live up to our standards. It’s our future selves who f*ck it up!! They slide into old habits, make excuses for themselves and let themselves off the hook.
They must be stopped.
I quickly realised that Future Me doesn’t need congratulatory emails from the past, she needs instructions.
I started to think of my future self as a villain, hell-bent on self-sabotage. I needed to anticipate her destructive patterns and habits and cut them off before they even begin. I needed to find a way to quantum-leap the motivation I have in my current reality...into my future.
I needed time travel.
So, this spring, I’m starting afresh. I have a new plan to get my life in order. I’m effectively becoming my own ‘Past Life Coach’; controlling my future self, who cannot be relied upon, from my past self who can. As far as I know, this will be humanity’s first expedition into the future, so I’d really love it if you’d join me for the ride? Ya know, in case it messes up the space-time continuum...I don’t fancy testing this on my own.
So hop into my DeLorean, fasten your seatbelt...here are some of the ways we’ll be using time travel to change our lives!
IDENTIFY YOUR KRYPTONITE
When you’re fighting the good fight with your future self, it’s important to know your enemy. What is their weakness? What do they always do that sabotages your plans of living your best life? What’s the excuse they tell themselves to get out of doing the things they really should? Once you’ve got a list together, we’re going to think of some ways that our past self can put a spanner in the works of this destructive behaviour. Think of it like those time travel movies where the hero witnesses a global disaster and then travels back in time to stop the chain of events leading up to it. Stop the cause - avoid the consequence.
‘“I can never find anything”
One of my future self’s favourite excuses is “I can never find anything”. I let myself off working out because I can’t find my running belt; I send myself into a last minute panic whenever it’s time to renew a service or subscription because I can’t find the documents I need and I once came frighteningly close to missing out on a great acting job because I couldn’t find my passport. This kind of chaos drains our energy and can lead us into a pattern of more excuses, making us identify as a disorganised, flaky person. In order to thwart my future self before she can pull this classic behaviour, my past self has now put some precautions in place:
- I lay my fitness gear out every night, with my running shoes blocking the exit to my apartment. This way I have no excuse that I can’t find anything AND I get an extra little motivator if I try to leave the house before doing my work out.
- I’ve got back on futureme.org but this time I’m using it to give guidance to my future self! I’ve scheduled an email to land in my inbox a week before all of my bills and services (such as car tax, insurance, parking permit) expire AND I’ve made a note of where to find the relevant documents. This is going to be a game changer and I can practically hear my future self thanking me now!
- I’ve started a note on my phone called “Where Stuff Is”. I’ve already filled out some biggies, like Passport - Top Drawer, Living Room, and anytime I put something away that I know I’ll struggle to find in the future, I add it to the list. e.g. Spare Toothbrush Heads - Basket, Bathroom.
Forgetful & Flaky
Another of my future self’s weaknesses is forgetting things like birthdays, anniversary’s and important dates. This might not seem like a big deal in terms of my productivity but these moments of personal flakiness really weigh on my mind, sending me into a downwards spiral of beating up on myself for being a bad person, selfish and unreliable. I don’t want this kind of negative self talk in my future so I’ve put these systems in place to make sure my future self is the kind of woman who never misses a moment:
- I’ve scheduled the delivery for all my friends and family’s birthday cards until the end of the year from an online card store. I used thortful.com because I love how they support independent artists and I also like the option to upload a handwritten message but most online stores provide a schedule service! In addition to this, whenever anyone mentions an occasion that might require a card, such as a leaving party or an anniversary, I will schedule a card then and there - not giving my future self any excuse to leave it till the last minute or completely forget!
- I’ve been back on futureme.org AGAIN and scheduled emails to myself on the morning of my nearest and dearests’ birthdays; that way I can be sure I’ll remember to send them a morning text or give them a call on their big day.
- I‘ve automated all my bills that were previously set to pay manually. No more late fees for my future self!
These little changes have already boosted my confidence, making me feel like someone who is ‘on top’ of things instead of always chasing after them. I’m convinced that the more I build my ‘reliable muscle’, the more it will become part of my identity.
Perhaps the biggest trait that my asshole future self lacks is willpower. She has none. Zilch! No matter how many times I tell myself that I’ll eat healthier next week, I’m back on the junk food by Tuesday. You’ve already heard how my yoga practise dwindles to nothing in a matter of days and I am powerless to resist just one more episode of my favourite TV show. Here are some of the things I’m implementing to get one step ahead of my future self:
- I’ve started ordering my groceries online and *very important* doing it immediately after I’ve eaten! My willpower, along with most people’s, is virtually non-existent when I’m hungry so ordering on a full stomach means I’m more likely to make healthier choices rather than GET IN MY BELLY choices! Now my future self will be presented with a fridge full of nourishing foods every week and won’t be left to her own destructive devices.
- Friday nights are usually late ones for me and this is the day I’m most tempted to reach for a takeaway. I don’t want to deprive my future self of all joy but I also know she’s prone to over-ordering and honing in on the unhealthiest things on the menu when she’s tired. Thanks to time travel technology I’ve now future-scheduled a regular Friday night Deliveroo of a delicious AND nutritious meal that my past self (you know, the one WITH the willpower) has selected for her. Next Friday she’ll be thanking me as she tucks into a steaming bowl of ramen and yakitori.
- A regular yoga practise is something I really want to build but my future self always lets me down. She never carves out the time to do it, always has something more pressing to do or just plain forgets. In anticipation of this, I’ve enlisted the help of everyone’s favourite AI assistant - Alexa. Using the Routines feature, I’ve scheduled Alexa to automatically wake me up every morning with the Daybreak Yoga skill. My future self now has no excuse as the programme will ease her into the day with some bed-based poses. Once she’s built up a regular habit of doing yoga first thing, I’ll be upping the ante and scheduling some more challenging routines!
- In an effort to interrupt my future self’s binge-watching habit, I’ve disabled the auto play function on Netflix. This should at least provoke some sort of active decision by Future Me on whether she really has to continue watching, rather than mindlessly rolling into another episode.
Not only can we travel through time to stop our future selves in their asshole tracks, we can also create time. One of my worst traits is letting time run away with itself. I fritter it away doing mindless and often unnecessary things. I can spend hours scrolling on social media, whole mornings have been lost deciding on an outfit and I lose pockets of time here and there commuting, preparing food or cleaning. Luckily, by now, we are master time manipulators! Here are some of the ways I’m stretching time for my future self:
- I’ve set my alarm 15 minutes earlier. 15 minutes in morning-time is HUGE! It’s the difference between making or missing the train; looking polished for a meeting or arriving with ‘pillow face’. It’s a big gain but not such a huge difference that my future self will notice the earlier start. Future Me, consider yourself thwarted again!
- Each evening, I lay out my outfit for the following day. This is super simple and the very essence of our time travelling efforts - using the ‘us’ that can be bothered to help out the future ‘us’ that can’t. I am not a morning person and it takes a few cups of tea to get my brain to switch on, so choosing something to wear in the morning often takes triple the expected amount of time. By using my evening brain the night before, I leave myself with a big chunk of extra time to do something else!
- I’ve turned all the notifications off my social media. Whilst I can’t completely delete the apps as I use them for work, I can stop those little dopamine buttons from popping up every time someone comments, likes or follows! Disabling notifications will help my future self to resist reaching for her phone every few minutes, consequently falling down the rabbit-scroll-hole.
- I’m quantum-commuting where possible! One of the (possibly only) good things to come out of lockdown is that virtual meetings are now considered totally acceptable! In the past I might have seemed weird, even rude, if I’d requested an online meet rather than in-person but it’s totally a thing now! This can be used for work but even to catch up with friends if a real life coffee date is likely to impede on productivity. Virtual meetings are often shorter than their in-the-room equivalents and the idle time spent travelling to and from them can be put to much greater use by my future self!
- Where travel is necessary, I’m getting the most productive bang for my buck by loading my future-self’s podcast & audiobook library with motivating listens to plug in my ears on the move! Doing two things at once? Practically quantum physics!
- Another time-bending hack, and a bit of a weird one but bear with me, is to play your podcasts, audiobooks and even Netflix shows at a slightly faster speed. I use this trick mostly for content where I’m purely interested in the information rather than entertainment and it means the time saved listening/watching can be used by my future self to get some other stuff done!
- Did you know you might already own a time machine or two in your own kitchen?! One of my favourite ways that I’ve been helping my future self is by preparing my evening meals in a slow cooker. The benefits of this are two fold - firstly the cooker basically cooks your dinner for you! Throw in the ingredients earlier in the day and arrive home later to a fresh, hot meal from your past self, leaving a chunk of time free where you’d usually be waiting for the oven to beep! Secondly it’s another way to help Future Me make healthier food choices - if she’s presented with a piping hot, healthy chilli when she gets home, there’s no way she’s going to be tempted by the kebab shop on the corner! The second time machine you might have forgotten about is your freezer! Right now I have 4 breakfast smoothies, a healthy curry and 3 pots of soup hiding in mine. Im treating my freezer as a dead letter box to the future - I post in the meals and my future self pulls them out whenever she’s too busy (or lazy) to cook!
...And we’re back to the present day. A little dizzy? Time travel can do that. Give your molecules a moment to recalibrate, you’ll be fine in a minute or two. I hope you found some of these ideas helpful; I hope future ME finds them helpful too! I guess there’s only one way to find out...
TO THE FUTURE!
____________________________________________________ Thank you for reading! If you found this story helpful, please consider hitting the 🖤 below! It will make my future self very happy! :)