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How to Get Yourself to Do Things

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I have a special sympathy for sufferers of a particular human problem, and I get more emails about it than just about any other topic.

There are normal people, who get overwhelmed on those occasions when they have more obligations to fulfill than time in which to fulfill them. Then there are us procrastinators, who are constantly overwhelmed, because even when we do have time, we don’t make use of it until we no longer have enough of it.

Procrastinators are familiar with the perverse feeling of watching oneself create trouble out of nothing, essentially volunteering for penalties, embarrassment and regret. We’re kind of like those people who are so predictably, stupidly late for everything that the rest of us learn to tell them to arrive at seven o’clock for what is actually an eight o’clock appointment.

The difference is that the appointments we miss are with ourselves, which means there are no social consequences to limit the scope of our delinquency. We leave things on our lists for months. We let ourselves down in ways we would never let down others.

There is something diabolical about procrastination, and I don’t claim to have cured it. But I have somehow maintained a self-employed existence for almost two years now, which has required me to get better at managing it than I used to be.

I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough recently that I want to share with you fellow sufferers. I now see the problem in a much simpler way, and it is working. 

Ignore your stuff

The first idea to get used to is that all of the “stuff” you need to do really only consists of things. What seems like a tangled cloud of open-ended obligations and old to-dos is actually a series of independent happenings in the world, which are best treated individually. By all means keep a list of your obligations, but understand that it is safe to ignore all of them while you consider (or do) one of them. In fact, it’s necessary.

This distinction between stuff and things is crucial. Once you’re treating each obligation as separate from the whole bundle of “stuff”, you can see that they each have a very predictable life cycle. Recognizing each problem’s seperateness brings it from the realm of the abstract and endless to that of the concrete and temporary.

The typical life cycle of an individual thing looks like this:

prosc-graph-1

As you can see, the problem starts when you know what you need to do, but balk on doing it. It grows in that space between the knowing and the doing. The anxiety, shame, and fear associated with the task rise as long as you live in that space.

Nothing else happens in this phase, except for your own suffering and aging. We can call it the Unproductive Phase. The longer this phase goes on, the more anxiety it generates and the harder the task itself appears to be.

At some point, often spurred by a crisis of some kind, you start to actually do the thing you’re supposed to do. It is here where the anxiety usually spikes — you are entering the Productive Phase, where failure, embarrassment, and the discovery of your own incompetence go from being future-dwelling spectres to real-time dangers. That’s why procrastinators avoid ever getting to this part.

But it doesn’t last long. You begin to realize that the task, like all tasks you will ever need to do, is finite and consists only of small, ordinary actions like Googling things, talking to people, reading, writing, sketching, printing, and cleaning up. The task begins to look patently doable. Your sense of capability swells and the fear recedes. This phase takes less and less willpower and courage as it goes on, until the task is in your past, and the life cycle ends.

When you extend the Unproductive phase, the anxiety continues to rise. Deadlines whoosh by, making it more and more absurd and embarrassing that you haven’t acted yet, which only paralyzes you further.

A serious procrastinator’s to-do life-cycle is often like this:

prosc_hell_zone

Now, keep in mind that this is just one of probably a few dozen things on your list at any given time, each of which can be in a different part of its life cycle. The procrastinator is always feeling overlapping fear from many sources, and begins to see them as a single problem: I suck at life. This makes him afraid to act, drawing out the unproductive phase of every task, ramping up the anxiety across multiple fronts and daring crisis to force him to act.

A severe procrastinator might have this experience:

prosc_graph_pure_hell

Such a person is almost helpless until they know to treat each of those lines as a single, predictable course of events. Ultimately there’s no other way to deal with them. To tend to one we must ignore the rest while we do so.

Once we can picture the problem this way, there are a few conclusions we can draw:

The smart thing to do is obvious: end the Counterproductive phase as soon as possible. This end is always a concrete, bodily action, often taken with some trepidation: opening up the word processor, dialing a phone number, or getting out a piece of paper so you can sketch up a plan.

The moment you start acting on something, you are at the beginning of the end of the anxiety associated with that thing. Many or most procrastinators are pessimists, habitually overestimating the difficulty of what they are avoiding. They think doing it is the hard part. But not doing it is much harder. The odd task that turns out unexpectedly hard doesn’t change anything — the counterproductive phase will always be counterproductive, and the anxiety will always shrink with action.

The moment you start avoiding action again, the process restarts. When you halt your work on a given thing due to fear or aversion, you are re-entering the nonproductive phase. Physical action ceases, and pointless rumination begins. Anxiety will rise until you enter the Productive Phase again. This is a good reason not to switch tasks unnecessarily. Push one thing at least until it is coasting, if not finished.

You can’t see an obligation for what it actually is until you’re doing it. The rising anxiety associated with a particular thing comes from a misapprehension of what it will actually be like to do the work. Work itself is made of concrete, small things like phone calls, forms, conversations, reading sessions and writing sessions. The anxiety associated with the work is made of abstract, big-picture emotional concerns, about reputation, legacy, anxiety for the future, self-esteem, comparisons to others — worries about who you are, rather than what you’re doing. Once you enter the productive phase you enter the world of the concrete and finite, putting your related existential despair on the backburner.

You finish a thing by starting it until it’s done. The critical point is always where you enter the productive phase, and this is accomplished by starting alone. Finishing is only a matter of starting from where you are, as many times as you have to, until it’s done. Most of the resistance and stress is piled up on the boundary between the phases, and so once you’ve started it’s mostly behind you. [Thanks to Leo Babauta for this principle.]

It is not hard to figure out how to start. Some of you procrastinators may be thinking, “Well that’s GREAT if you KNOW what you ought to be doing. I have no idea what I ought to be doing!” This is a lie procrastinators tell, fooling themselves and no one else. Any reasonable, honest person can figure out where to start. When you know where you want to get, and you actually intend to get there, it’s easy to identify a sensible starting point. And the further you venture into productive territory, the clearer the map gets.

The two most important insights, however, are the first ones:

  • Ignore your “stuff”; focus only on things
  • When you don’t know what to do, get one of your things past the starting point

This might look like a convoluted way to say “Just do it.” But it’s more sophisticated than that. Whenever you feel the creep of anxiety, remember the shape of that first graph, and where you are sitting on it. Just remembering it reminds you that relief is never far off, if you want it.

The simple map implied by that shape cuts through the procrastinator’s two main problems. Firstly, that “stuff” is overwhelming and unpredictable (in a way that things are not.)

Secondly, it turns on its head the faulty assumption that underlies procrastination, which is that things can only really go wrong if you start working on them. The reality is the opposite: things are already going wrong, and there’s only one way to make them go right.

***

 Photo by Joe del Tufo; graphics by David Cain
Susanna March 30, 2015 at 11:34 pm

This is an interesting article, and reminds me of something I came up with when I was working from home and needed to be self-starting but for a long time preferred to procrastinate.

Since I worked from home and only occasionally had to report to a committee that I basically chaired, I had no one breathing down my neck to get something done by a particular time. But I still had to get all my stuff done.

After a year and a half of being in the procrastinate / unproductive phase / hell zone areas, I realized that my first twinge of guilt for not having done something yet was an excellent trigger point for it being a reasonable time to then sit down (or stand up) and get it done.

If I hadn’t felt at all guilty yet for not having answered that email, it was still a reasonable time within which to have not answered the email. But as soon as the first twinge of guilt hit, that was pretty much the perfect time to answer the email. It’s the perfect moment where you don’t keep the unproductive phase going any longer than necessary, but you are also allowing yourself time to think about something before getting started on it, noodle around with a concept, or simply have a relaxing afternoon without work always creeping in.

But then that first twinge of guilt gives you the nudge you need right at the right moment. The key for me was to listen to it and actually act. Which ended up being a lot easier than the Hell Zone felt.

David Cain March 31, 2015 at 8:27 am

We do need something to trigger us to act, and having a boss around can provide frequent triggers.

A twinge of guilt could work too. But I think for really serious procrastinators it doesn’t, because they are always feeling that guilt. There are several layers going on at any given time, so it may not be so conspicuous when guilt regarding a particular commitment appears.

clarisse March 31, 2015 at 3:58 am

I can see this article was written by a real procrastinator. Only real ones can express this way how painful this state of mind is (while others who don’t know it tend to think procrastinators are just, well… lazy and mindless people). Only serious ones (like me) know the despair you feel when you are so scared and hopeless about doing things right that you cannot even start working on them. And you know by advance that even if you have the whole day to complete a task you will end up doing it during the night, when you have no other choice.
I tried many things, like making lists of very little things, cutting the big tasks in small ones so that the big one does not look too scary. With not much success I must say. I am still trying… and I hope your article which rationalizes the whole process can help me. Thank you.

David Cain March 31, 2015 at 8:30 am

I am definitely an experienced procrastinator. I think the bottom line is that we need to set up incentives in our lives so that we get things done more efficiently. We procrastinate because it’s become a stable system of rewards and fears. But we could get used to incentives from other places — for example, on those days where I really get ahead, I feel a particular kind of accomplishment, and that’s a feeling I could get used to, if I could change my routine in such a way that I experience it regularly. Anyway, I hope this helps you try things a bit differently.

Drew April 11, 2015 at 11:28 am

I’m a recovering procrastinator myself Clarisse. Going through University felt like a four-and-a-half year drowning experience, thanks to a lethal combination of procrastination and a sort of writer’s block. I’ve probably saved my mental health by choosing to work in agriculture and construction since graduation; I’ve always been a lot less prone to procrastination when it comes to physical tasks.

There is hope besides this kind of avoidance though; breaking tasks into tiny action items is something I’ve tried for years, but only lately has it started to work. What I’ve found is that often the specific items I list are still ‘stuff’ in disguise. For one notorious example, I might make ‘research x’ an action item – but that’s way too vague! I need to come up with a list of questions I want to answer about topic x instead, and then I’m much more likely to get started.

P.S: David, your point about shifting one’s incentives is at least as brilliant as the article, you could probably write a whole follow-up post on it. Taking a proper day off, as described in your last post, would be an amazing new reward for most procrastinators!

Jeremy March 31, 2015 at 4:23 am

Great article David. This was published today: http://i100.io/UiOvqAS – another reason not to delay the moment!

David Cain March 31, 2015 at 8:32 am

Yikes… I believe it. Procrastination is a high-stress mode of operating, and it must have long-term physiological effects.

Loid March 31, 2015 at 4:52 am

Thanks for the morning inspiration. I am really dragging my feet this morning as I have non-comfort zone activities and major anxiety producing activities coming up this morning the results of which may require me to lie later on, something I so hate doing but the perception of threat will require such. Me being me, if the lie becomes necessary, it will contain as much truth as I can supply. But the bottom line is, I will still force myself to lie.
* giant sigh here* Time to go forward. Thanks again.
more later, (maybe)

David Cain March 31, 2015 at 8:35 am

That is another awful complication of procrastination. It is embarrassing and it feels like we have to hide it. I know I told my teachers lies about why my work wasn’t done. It feels terrible, and just reinforces the lack of confidence and control that contributes to the procrastinating in the first place. Best of luck Loid.

Hambone March 31, 2015 at 5:52 am

This article is on my list of things that i need to read….i also need to comment on it, just as soon as i can find the time. Thank you.

David Ashton March 31, 2015 at 6:55 am

How do you ALWAYS know just what I need to hear? :/

David Cain March 31, 2015 at 8:36 am

If I do, it’s because human beings tend to suffer from a few of a small number of timeless problems. Shakespeare’s best play is about procrastination.

Hamlet March 31, 2015 at 2:28 pm

On behalf of my creator, thanks.

Listen to David: literary immortality is not worth the price of what I put myself through.

Gaye March 31, 2015 at 7:13 am

This is the second post I’ve read today that made me think ‘glad to know it’s not just me!’
This is really helpful, now I realise why I’m always feeling so overwhelmed. Thanks!

David Cain March 31, 2015 at 8:37 am

It’s not just you! Hooray :)

George G. March 31, 2015 at 7:15 am

For me, I’ve had to think long and hard about why I procrastinate, and I’ve boiled it down to a few key issues that I’m still working to overcome:

–A fear of success..or rather, the idea that being successful means I will lose resources I enjoy such as free time and privacy
–Perfectionism…being afraid that even the tiniest flaw will be something someone else sees and uses to destroy me and my reputation
–The desire for prestige and renown as a way for me to seek insulation from fears of being socially excluded, as an extension of some very strong inferiority complex I developed growing up
–The fact that I never learned to work hard while growing up because I was told that “If you do well in school, you’ll do well in life,” and getting good grades was so easy for me that I never developed a strong work ethic, because I took that lesson to convince myself that if I just graduated with high marks, a good life would somehow just be HANDED to me by the world because I held up my end of the bargain.

David Cain March 31, 2015 at 8:45 am

It is complicated — I think one of the problems with procrastination is that it’s commonly dismissed as laziness, but it often has to do with deeper fears and self-esteem.

If you haven’t already, read this article:

It’s not who you are it’s what you do

Kids who are praised for their talents (as opposed to their efforts) end up associating their successes and failures with who they are instead of what they did, or how they approached something. This makes failure particularly terrifying, because they see it as evidence of a flawed personality, rather than just a flawed approach. I am aware of this and it still is a huge factor in my procrastination.

George G. March 31, 2015 at 8:50 am

I think one of my problems is that I recognized a long time ago how this is a results-oriented society–how people judge you based on what you accomplish. And so by not accomplishing much of note, I feel like I’m just inadequate. It also doesn’t help that my father’s side of the family is filled with high-profile, highly-successful people, including engineers, politicians, lawyers, entrepreneurs, doctors…everyone in my dad’s family has at LEAST a Master’s if not a Doctorate, and have very prestigious careers. And here I am, with a Bachelor’s in Music Composition with which I’ve done absolutely nothing since graduating nearly 9 years ago. I just feel this enormous pressure to become someone with a laundry list of accomplishments to my name, and there’s always been this nagging voice in my psyche that tells me, “If you’re not famous, then you’re worthless.”

BrownVagabonder March 31, 2015 at 7:58 am

I have been trying a new way of killing procrastination this year. I have been using the first point on your list – kill the counterproductive phase as soon as possible – by doing something small. Something so small that it seems inconsequential and easy. Like putting all the documents needed in one spot. Or putting all the dishes into the sink. As soon as I start doing the first little step, it’s easy to pass from that into the actual task, like writing a blog post, or washing the dishes. It’s been working really well for me. Thanks for this post as a reminder!

David Cain March 31, 2015 at 8:46 am

It’s amazing how much resistance gets behind you as soon as you’ve physically started. I want to get into the habit of seeing that “counterproductive phase” as a something unacceptable that should be addressed right away, like a spill on the floor.

Terri Lynn March 31, 2015 at 8:54 am

Thank you so much for this piece and for your diligence in finding ways to bust this pattern. I have been training in Trauma Release Exercise and learning a lot about the physiology of trauma. It is interesting looking at your graphs and seeing the parallels with dissociation and freeze response when person is under stress.

Dawid March 31, 2015 at 9:22 am

Such a resonant article! Spoken (or, rather, typed) like a true recovering procrastinator! Bravo. Thank you for sharing your incisive insights with the world. -Dawid

Chantal March 31, 2015 at 10:24 am

Great post. This is an ongoing battle for me as I too, work from home.

Here is another take on procrastination on the WaitButWhy blog: http://waitbutwhy.com/2015/03/procrastination-matrix.html

David Cain March 31, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Wait But Why is awesome, and way ahead of me in the visual arts department :)

Joel McKinnon July 11, 2015 at 5:59 pm

I just discovered WBW a couple months ago and love it. The procrastination article was a blast because I’d long been waiting to see some advice that seemed to come from someone with genuine insight into the problem. My first major disappointment with this was reading “The Road Less Traveled” by M. Scott Peck back in my twenties. Everything sounded so wise and practical until I got to the chapter on procrastination and his advice basically boiled down to “just do it!” – problem solved. I immediately knew that a New York Times bestselling author was not likely to be an expert on not getting things done.

David – I think your approach is very similar to that discussed in WBW but with less humor, which is just fine by me because the consequences of procrastination are usually not all that funny. I see both articles; this one and the one at WBW, to be very insightful, but yours is the one more likely to provide useful strategies.

Anne March 31, 2015 at 12:18 pm

Perfect timing! I have a long to-do list and 2 weeks with a lot of free time. Sounds good. But I’ve spent the past 3 days struggling against the old problems of a generalised feeling of panic and brain-freeze: when I look at the list, my mind goes blank, I feel overwhelmingly tired and tearful, and am quite unable to choose something to work on – it all feels equally impossible. Last night I was up later than usual because a storm was making sleep impossible. I went back to the list and did what BrownVagabonder describes above – told myself that all I had to do was one tiny action for one item on my list. An hour later I fell into bed having crossed off about 4 tasks, at least one of which I’d been putting off for months. For me it’s a combination of breaking the tasks down and being very self-compassionate that sometimes breaks through my procrastination.

Art March 31, 2015 at 1:32 pm

It’s always the case that once you actually start the work, you find out that it wasn’t that difficult to begin with. Same goes for writer’s block, once you actually start writing, BAM, now you don’t have any block.

Bailey March 31, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Thank you for making this concrete. It’s the same with staying in shape- success is possible through being intentional about our goals instead of bargaining with the ego. A book that changed my life comes to mind- Mastery by Robert Greene. As always, looking forward to the next post.

David Cain March 31, 2015 at 4:57 pm

Bargaining is losing, as far as I’m concerned, when it comes to things we resist. We talk ourselves out of things, rather than into them. That’s why I’m big on using the body to begin things, without waiting for the mind to get on board.

Samuel Mandell March 31, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Enjoyable read. I’ve realized that one important distinction I’ve had to make for myself is that work does not always equal progress. Since I’m not a task-motivated person (scored a zero on the ‘D’ of the DISC test), I often found myself feeling good about doing work on a project, but not actually moving it forward (i.e. researching for a decision, but always putting off the decision itself).

Reorienting my to-do lists around this concept (decide on X versus research for decision on X) has really helped me move forward in a lot of projects.

Absolutely Tara March 31, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Great post. I love your graphics. :) Very insightful. Thanks for sharing.

-Tara

Carter Smith March 31, 2015 at 3:32 pm

Great Graphics! It makes clear how ADDICTIVE behavior can extend the counterproductive phase and the HELL ZONE experience. Sex, shopping, drinking, even house cleaning, can bring tempoary relief but extend the suffering. And your chart really clarifies this.
In college I would put off studying to cram the night before the test. And then desperately addictively read Science Fiction until 8, 10, 12, 2, 4, — while bouncing between pure panic and brief moments of relief. Not a good strategy at MIT!
Thanks for your great insights. Maybe I’ll start writing that article on Scott Kiloby’s non-dual inquiries NOW!
Blessings, Carter.

Carter Smith March 31, 2015 at 3:33 pm

Great Graphics! It makes clear how ADDICTIVE behavior can extend the counterproductive phase and the HELL ZONE experience. Sex, shopping, drinking, even house cleaning, can bring temporary relief but extend the suffering. And your chart really clarifies this.
In college I would put off studying to cram the night before the test. And then desperately addictively read Science Fiction until 8, 10, 12, 2, 4, — while bouncing between pure panic and brief moments of relief. Not a good strategy at MIT!
Thanks for your great insights. Maybe I’ll start writing that article on Scott Kiloby’s non-dual inquiries NOW!
Blessings, Carter.

miss agnes March 31, 2015 at 4:32 pm

Excellent article, and one I will keep in my reading list to review again, and again, and again. I could teach classes on how to procrastinate, and you perfectly describe the level of anxiety that goes with it: hell zone is a perfect term for it. I have identified years ago that it was not my fear of failure that was the main culprit, but fear of success, triggered by a childhood event that left a lasting imprint: success = danger. Therapy helped to get past this, but the bad habits are hard to die. I am still struggling to get past my stuff and get things done, this post is an excellent resource and encouragement for me to keep at it and not give up.

David Cain April 1, 2015 at 8:28 am

I always thought the idea of “fear of success” was so ridiculous, but then I realized I had it. Success has downsides, particularly its tendency to raise expectations for next time. When I was a student in school I noticed I would get in trouble for doing things other kids would be praised for, like doing a decent (but not great) job at an assignment. Or I would be put in groups with the difficult kids to “even things out” and end up having to do everything myself. Success and failure are really complicated and we form some pretty strong associations with them early one, which continue our whole lives.

Barbara March 31, 2015 at 7:37 pm

Thanks for another excellent article, David.. this one just ringed it for me.

One thing I have found helpful is to give myself permission to just do ‘X’ for one minute – if I am hating on it or myself. (which on most of my to-do lists projects is my want!) Despite myself, I seem to get interested and energized and always spend more than one minute on it.
You’ve given me more concepts and tools to take on my journey. Ta muchly. Barbara.

Vineet March 31, 2015 at 11:31 pm

Hi David,
I am a regular reader of your blog, although I started very recently.

I have drastically altered my life after going through your articles and those of Steve Pavlina’s, MMM’s and several others. I am from India and although many of the ideas expressed here are found in Buddhist and Hindu mystic teachings, it’s far easier to get them to ‘shock you into change’ when you hear it in a form that you are more familiar with; Without which all of it would sound like dry religious sermons.

Thanks again for your writings. I especially like it when you post links to your previous posts in the comments section as it’s not easy to browse through all the posts and even then they don’t form a logical chain of thought.

Raymundo Flores April 1, 2015 at 12:38 pm

This seems to be pretty consistent with a set of principles I made about 2 weeks ago. You may or may not agree or think they are useful, but here they are in case you’re curious, but they help me:

Principles to Follow:
1. It’s always harder, more stressful and less allowable to fulfill a vision or result the longer action is deferred regardless of a time constraint.

2. Bodily Balance is the Key to executing a plan => Sleep as much as possible amidst responsibility.

3. Providing more options increases the need to act => minimize personal options while maximizing possible action, but only for a plan development.

4. An inner calm is necessary for a clear mind and clear communication of serious endeavors such as engineering. Always maintain an inner calm and NEVER underestimate your brain’s ability to make rational judgments. If absolutely necessary, rationalize the need for an inner calm with the idea of humility; your current worries are meaningless in comparison to the bigger picture.

Anna April 1, 2015 at 1:29 pm

This article describes perfectly the way I feel every single day..it’s like you can read my mind. Almost glad to know it’s not just me, we should create a group or something… Keep up the good work!

Kelly April 2, 2015 at 11:40 am

I have never read anything that more accurately described the life cycle of a procrastinator’s psyche. I often think, after finally completing a task, “Hey, that wasn’t so bad. Why did I wait so long?” And then I tell myself I won’t wait so long the next time. And then I wait too long (hello, taxes!) Anyway, thanks for articulating exactly what I thing/feel/do and for making me not feel like bad person for it.

Brett Michaels, musician April 2, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Powerful stuff here, David. I can think of several innovative ways I could be better at my job right now, but those ways would require new behaviors and scary, unfamiliar risks… so I never begin them. I get trapped in a never-ending cycle of dreaming, which I justify under the guise of “planning,” never transforming that potential energy into kinetic energy. It’s embarrassing.

And it ends today.

Zach April 2, 2015 at 5:52 pm

Awesome stuff (or things) David. Just what I needed to see, I have a really hard time with this. I am newly on my own, as in no longer living with parents, and I often find myself overwhelmed. Trying to figure out how to juggle everything. I have a lot of things I want to but I barely know how to use daily life skill. You did a great job describing my exact thought process.

Jamie April 3, 2015 at 9:46 am

Loved this article. I’m a visual learner, so I appreciate the graph. Thank you for taking the time to put this article together.

thejuntotimes April 5, 2015 at 1:19 pm

How to eat an elephant step 1: chop it up into small chunks

Just as one person can’t eat an elephant in a day, some goals are not achievable given timescales. You can determine if something is achievable or not in the planning phase. Usually in the world of work and bosses, the earlier you shake things up and let people know about stretched timescales the better. Under promise and over deliver, that’s the best way to happy customers sometimes when doing work for other people.

yliharma April 7, 2015 at 7:14 am

I’ve been postponing reading this post for a week…guess why? :D
Anyway, now that it’s done I see the point in what you say, and I think that you’re right…I’m going to give it a try!

Free to Pursue April 10, 2015 at 8:05 am

Too funny. I also waited to read this post because I knew I wasn’t ready for the kick in the butt it would provide.

Jo April 9, 2015 at 10:19 pm

I needed this article! Thanks for assuring me I’m not the only one! Although, I have to say that I have only found my way to this article through some serious procrastination………..

midway April 18, 2015 at 6:34 am

Hi David,

I am able to identify with the procrastination thing, somewhat…my problem is that I start working on a task/job well on time, giving it my best shot, but somewhere in between the beginning and the end, I lose interest…I have expended my creative energy, I spend too much time and effort to progress the first 40%, I think the end is not as important, I think if I know the fine details that’s enough to explain to others should the questions come…and am left with guilt from the moment I lose interest to the end of life. Needless to say, this attitude can get u into a lot of trouble professionally.

What would u suggest to improve this situation? Fantastic writing style yours!

Melodie Elaine Estes April 19, 2015 at 2:18 pm

This is excellent advice and very perceptive of what procrastinators experience. Being retired I lead a low pressure life. The biggest pressures I have are keeping the house clean with two cats and just me living there. I have found my procrastinated activity rests quite well until a drive to do something starts. That something is usually a small area that has reached the point that it bothers me. So I start cleaning that area, pulling out more and more cleaning supplies. The next thing I know I think to myself, as long as I have these things out, why don’t I clean this and this and so on.
The simplest thing to handle a lot of chores is to “divide and conquer (or more correctly govern or rule.” This helps break down big jobs into more manageable chunks.

I find that if I make entries with a list of small chores on my cell phone for a day with no plans, I can erase the entries from that day as I do them. If some are left over, I simply change the date. That way I don’t come up one day wondering, “What was it I was supposed to do.”

Andy Mercer May 19, 2015 at 8:17 am

I read this and it felt like I was looking into a metaphorical mirror. Everything about this is so exactly spot on.

The slow building pressure of knowing something needs to be done. The choice to put it off and not deal with it. And dealing with it gets worse and worse over time, so it is harder and harder to start and deal with it.

Then the final crisis, and the mad rush to finish. Even after years, it’s always almost a surprise at how much less stressful life becomes when I’m actually working, rather than putting it off.

It’s really nice to know that there are other people who experience the same things.

andre May 19, 2015 at 9:56 am

Hi, i read your article.. and its pretty good..

I procrastinate procrastinating every day. I have a list of things i need to do.. and i usually do the ones that if i dont complete will end up costing me money. it seems the rest are optional.

My dad is a very old village caveman style thinker.. and no matter what scores i bring home from school.. he will always say “why isnt it an A+? A is not good enough.” no matter the task, 10 years of no encouragement and no support, makes one believe that no matter the task, the one person you look up to wont be satisfied.. so why bother trying? and thats the root of procrastination. its not that you dont want to do things.. its the knowing that your efforts are never good enough that stops you from starting.

can i ask how many in here agree with that to some degree?

there is things that i have accomplished.. that my dad could care less about because he does not care about the outcome.. and in these fields i excel.. because im doing it for myself.. its not going to be judged by anyone else.. I went from Djaying in a tiny bar with 80 people.. to 3 years on a top 12 club in the world with a 3000 people attendance and in international DJ playing after me ever week for 6 months of European summers. ask my dad what i did in Europe for 4 years? he will just say ” he was djaying at some bar i think” he didn’t even care to find out where, or what.. (it does not interest him, so he didn’t ask me directly, but i know he will secretly ask others that know my wherabouts what im up to.. and they dont even come to my sets.. so the best they answer is “i think hes playing at a beach bar.. on wednesdays and sundays” )) yeh i know my old mans a cunt.. but there is worse dads out there.. rapists, child molesters, ect.. that’s the cause of my procrastination, as long as the work i do is reliant on other judging my work.. its very hard to start.. I no longer seek approval from my dad.. or anyone else for that matter.. and shits getting done slowly but surely.

thanks for reading.

Matt J. May 19, 2015 at 6:25 pm

Good post. Love the charts.

One note: “things can only REALLY go wrong if you start working on them”. Sadly, this DOES seem to be largely true with regards to DIY plumbing.

Ian May 20, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Or drilling tiles. Or replacing skirting board on old walls that aren’t straight.

Lucas May 19, 2015 at 8:44 pm

Amazing post. Really like it.

Ian May 20, 2015 at 3:14 pm

This is hard to describe, but somehow that third graph captures the exact emotion that I ‘feel’. It captures the chaos perfectly. Pretty unnerving but fascinating reading none the less.

Kenny May 21, 2015 at 6:59 am

If you resonate with this post, then you should check out the productivity system GTD; it’s modeled on this exact behavior of forcing you to define the next action on each thread in your life.

David Cain May 21, 2015 at 7:14 am

I have been using aspects of GTD for years, and you’re right about defining your work. So often we can’t start on something because we haven’t clarified to ourselves what the hell we should actually do

But that only brings us to the start of the graph. One criticism of GTD is that it doesn’t address motivation or fear. It’s well suited to people who already get things done to some extent, and do not have pathological procrastination problems.

yiwu market May 21, 2015 at 10:49 pm

It’s really amazing! I’m going to give it a try!

Fel June 2, 2015 at 3:59 am

“Action is the antidote to despair.”
Joan Baez

One of my all time faves.

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