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Use the STING method to stop procrastinating

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There's been a number of writings on overcoming procrastination, with a tidy summary at Recap: Turning procrastination into action. However, one technique that I hadn't heard of was presented last week during an on-campus seminar ("Developing organization skills to be more effective in the workplace"). It's called the "STING" method of addressing procrastination, and it's an acronym that stands for:

S - Select one task.
T - Time yourself.
I - Ignore everything else.
N - No breaks.
G - Give yourself a reward.

In my case I applied it to a programming task that I've been avoiding for almost two months. I set the timer for one hour (3 x 20 minute increments worked well), quit my email program and browser, and closed my office door. The beauty of it is ... it worked! Friday and today I was able to put in enough hours to get that piece working (using Test-driven development, of course). Actually, it was better than that - I was able to get enough momentum to keep going a while; very satisfying. Oh, the reward? Chocolate! (Lately I've been enjoying Lake Champlain's Small World Chocolates - nothing like their usual chocolate, by the way.)


Surprisingly, the only reference to this I could find on-line was It's All about Mothers and Babies, where they provide a bit more detail:

  • Select one task you've been putting off. Break it down to just one small piece if it's complicated. For instance, if the task is cleaning the kitchen, reorganizing a drawer is just one piece of the larger task.
  • Time yourself. Use a kitchen timer so you don't have to watch the clock and give the task one full hour. Children might need to reduce that time to just 10 or 15 minutes.
  • Ignore everything else that needs to be done.
  • No breaks allowed.
  • Give yourself a reward when the task is completed.

Reader Comments (38)

Wow, we must have been on the same "mental page" today... I was doing this exact thing - without knowing it had a name - during my travels today.

In fact, as long as I wasn't interrupted by the (cranky) flight attendants, I got a lot done! The idea of "closing" what I am NOT going to do, and only looking at what there is TO DO was very powerful for me.

November 8, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Thanks for the comment, Jason. I like how you highlighted the focus aspect. Sorry about the flight attendants!

November 8, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

There is something Zen about this approach, in particular the singular minded-ness of doing only what you are currently doing.

"Zen" seems to come up a lot in productivity circles. Just curious: Matt, have you found it a useful angle to pursue, in terms of techniques or promoting buy-in?

August 6, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterUncle

Hey, Uncle. Thanks for comment, and for reading. I would like to balance the single-mindedness with "enjoying the ride," which I honestly could use some help with.

Regarding Zen and buy-in, I'm not sure... The concept of maintaining pure focus is central, of course. I'd like to hear more about your insight, Uncle.

August 7, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

I read an excellent book on procrastination: The Now Habit by Neil Fiore (or more strictly, The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play): http://tinyurl.com/y8avo6

It starts by outlining the psychology of procrastination (fear of failure, perfectionism, fear of success, etc.). It goes on to how to reframe your commitments from "have to's" to "I choose to", etc. Then focus on getting projects to the right level of granularity, just starting things, planning with a reverse schedule (backwards from completion date). It includes novel scheduling methods (eg, the "Unschedule" where you schedule the play and exercise first and make them inviolate). Use a procrastination log to get objective data on your your actual vs. intended work, logging of what things happen when you procrastination. There is a long section on methods for relaxation and getting into the flow state for high-performance work. It concludes with suggestions on how to live with and work with procrastinators.

For me, the reframing and scheduling play are going to help most.

I think it's a good complement to GtD. I recommend a read.

November 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDavid, aka, Mac

Thanks very much for the pointer, David. I've tried once to work through the book, but couldn't do it. I should try again - many others have recommended it as well. Cheers!

November 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

I could not help but an "R" item:

R - Review the Desired Outcome.

By reviewing the desired outcome, you clarify what you are trying to do, and put the ends rather than the means front and center. Besides, that spells STRING, a much better programmer acronym. :)

November 27, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Thanks, Bob - I like it!

November 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

Then of course, there's always the option of STINGER, adding Exult and Review after the Reward!

Not sure how that fits with the various [ programming languages | http://hopl.murdoch.edu.au/ ] :)

The reward is my favorite bit. Never could resist good chocolate.

Namaste, Thea

March 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterThea

Thanks for the great addition, Thea. Also, I like your web site. Cheers!

March 22, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

This blog is one of the most interesting and useful sites I have read. I too am feeling a kinship with you. I am a procrastinator of the highest order. I also want to read lots of books but don't have the time it would 'normally' take to read every word. I believe these two issues are keeping my income from going out of this world. I make over $70k a year but I know I can do better. I expect to read your blog regularly from now on. Thanks for creating your blog and congratulations on your growth also.
Don Baggarly, Lakewood, WA

November 25, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Hey, Don - thanks a bunch! I'm always very pleased when something I write is helpful. Keep on reading - it's often listed as the #1 way to go places, earn more, etc.

November 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

I have to get a paper done that is already late due to my procrastination. I'm going to try this now!

And by the way, my procrastination actually helped me find this. I was Stumbling because I didn't want to do it, and I Stumbled across this. =D Weird how things work.

August 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRatfuzz

LOL, I stumbled too :)
Unbelievable site, I really like it, found it while stumbling for some [ beauty supply | http://www.empire-beauty.com ] sites.

One of these days, I'll get through this list :)



August 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMilo

I'm a tad skeptical of the path, but hey!

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

Any path here is a good path?

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

I book-marked this so that I can read it later!.......LOL!

October 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

You definitely need to apply sting not to bookmark it to read it later. LOLs

October 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Not sure the connection b/w STING and deferring tasks...

October 5, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

I like the article and the trick - STING

October 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterShabbar Suterwala

Much obliged.

October 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

I was stumbling (procrastinating) and I came across this article. You've inspired me in just a couple minutes, I actually got some work done today haha :-P

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew

Hey, Matthew. Thanks for sopping by. Give me a holler if you need more help :-)

October 19, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

it works

October 25, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

its funny because the website i looked at before this was about how to procrastinate

December 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

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