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Four Things Procrastinators Need to Learn

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One litmus test for being a serious procrastinator: there are items on your to-do list that were there a year ago.

A year is more than one percent of even a very long life—what could be so difficult or intimidating that we’d avoid it for that long? For some of us, anything really: making a doctor’s appointment, cleaning out the trunk, fixing a leaky faucet.

To be a chronic procrastinator is to be fooled repeatedly by the same illusions about how your mind works and how things actually get done. You hit the same ruts, spin out in the same place, and misunderstand what happened in the same way as every other time.

Once in a while, you spot one of these mirages right before you step into it again, and finally see the truth behind the illusion. Here are four such truths about I wish I could tell my younger self. 

1) Confidence comes after you start, not before.

To the procrastinator, starting a task feels always feels dangerous, because it’s the first moment you can be exposed as a hack or a fool. You can ponder, plan, and envision a task indefinitely, while enjoying a certain sense of safety. But the moment of actually starting brings real-world dangers into the picture: failure, ridicule, complications, and maybe the discovery of a new, deeper level to your ineptitude.

So before you start, you look for a little more assurance that things will go well for you. This inevitably leads to more planning, more thinking, perhaps some flow-charting of possibilities (either mentally or on paper), maybe some haphazard web research. One reliable standby is a thorough round of house cleaning, in order to clarify the mind. Or why not a spa day, to rejuvenate?

How prepared do you need to feel? It’s hard to say, but it’s always a little more than you feel now.

Confidence is helpful for any task, but in reality there’s little you can do to create it before starting. Once you actually start the task itself, things begin to fall into order. You quickly discover where the real effort is required, what’s surprisingly easy, and what possibilities you can ignore. The tendrils of the flowchart fall away. You just do the next thing.

Almost magically, the task shrinks before you, because it’s no longer composed entirely of your imagination. Only then, when some of the reality of the task is behind you, does confidence make its first appearance.

2) Your dilemmas seem tangled together only until you solve one of them.

The longer and dustier your to-do list gets, the more it seems like a hopeless tangle of interconnected problems. You have no idea how long anything will take, and what new problems will emerge when you dig into something. There is a fear of making things worse.

Your list begins to look like a great, singular problem, a cursed ball of Christmas lights that will take a correspondingly great, singular effort in order to untangle. This great effort is always scheduled for next Monday.

In reality, the “tangle” isn’t real. It’s a mirage that is created when you try to map out everything in your head without actually doing anything.

Work is always done in pieces, and you never know quite what any of it looks like until it is happening. As David Allen says: you can’t “do” a project, you can only do actions, and projects are nothing but actions. Even huge projects are made up only of sketches, phone calls, brushstrokes, application forms, little circles made with a polishing cloth, and other tiny, eminently doable actions.

Even when you are literally untangling knotted cords, it’s only ever a matter of patiently passing one strand back along itself, while you ignore everything else.

It’s when you’re trying to trace the path entirely in your head that it feels hopeless. And that hopeless mental task is what the procrastinator is always trying to do: foresee all real difficulties well enough in advance that they can be avoided perfectly.

It’s impossible. You have to choose a piece and solve it. Once you have, the illusion is dispelled and hopelessness lifts. Mark my word: the whole list looks different the moment you knock off one tough thing.

3) Finishing is everything; “working on” is useless or worse.

Finish something every time you sit down to work. Get to the end of a chapter, a section, a definite stage of some sort.

Don’t just work on something. It’s entirely possible to feel a rich sense of progress without actually getting closer to accomplishing anything. In fact, it’s easy to inadvertently make a task bigger as you work on it. You keep adding, refining, replacing, and second-guessing, and at the end of the day you have more work, not less.

If you can’t answer the question “What are you trying to finish right now?” then you’re probably making the task bigger, rather than moving towards its end.

To dispel this illusion, I often write on a scrap of paper what I’m trying to finish in this session. I have one beside me now. It says “Rough drafts of all four sections!”

It’s easy to overlook the necessity of finishing, especially if you’re not used to getting much done, because the sense of joy that comes with getting “somewhere” can be present even when that somewhere hasn’t been defined. Even a ship going in circles feels fast.

4) Doing feels dangerous and stalling feels safe, but the opposite is true. 

Procrastination involves a great amount of thinking about doing, without much actual doing. This thinking is involuntary and often painful, and only ceases after the doing starts.

Through your mind’s eye you can live, and re-live, the horror and struggle of jobs you haven’t even started. This imagined struggle can last months, or years, even for tasks that end up taking less than an hour.

In response to these mental horrors, the procrastinator bides their time, as though delay is an advantage. “Yes, I’ll do it later, when I am more psychologically prepared, when I’ve assembled all my resources, when I can bring the full weight of a new Monday morning to the job.”

Meanwhile, new layers of difficulty are settling onto the original task. By rescheduling the beginning, you’ve made the task harder, taller, more dangerous in your mind. Lead time is burning away, along with any momentum you may have had. Then there’s shame, for having waited so long, which makes the prospect of asking for help go from unpleasant to unthinkable.

Beginning anything without a lot of confidence seems dangerous, but the real danger is delay. Biding your time seems like a move towards safety and self-assuredness, but you don’t actually move anywhere. The task gets even harder, while real, predictable dangers advance on you: missed deadlines, penalties, shame, stress, and further damage to your confidence.

Almost always, the most predictable, most damaging, and most easily avoidable dangers come from stalling. The longer you spend doing a nervous little warm-up dance, the taller the diving board grows.

***

More on this topic: How to Get Yourself to Do Things

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen

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Ameen April 9, 2018 at 2:02 am

This post couldn’t be more timely and is the most practical advice I’ve ever read on how to tackle getting things done. Most advice out there always seems to be about how a lack of discipline is the problem, which ironically is lazy advice. It also only serves the person that gives this sort of advice as a way to implicitly brag that they are disciplined and work hard as opposed to most people.

“Hard work” has become this convenient sound bite for people who have achieved or done anything to elevate themselves above others, rather than actually trying to help people by giving specific, practical steps to go about doing things.

Knowing what I know now, it’s hard for me to believe that anyone is actually lazy or lacks discipline because they usually need to do other errands that are just as time-consuming and require just as much effort as the thing they are avoiding to do. It’s just that to do anything that takes up more than a day to do, doesn’t seem likely to be rewarding enough in the foreseeable future. If you do something that you can finish within a day or two, you can expect to have a great feeling of accomplishment very soon. If the reward is indefinitely far in the future, it seems less real.

I also think the word ‘work’ itself doesn’t help either, it has a lot of negative connotations which probably originated in people’s minds when they were in school, a place where a lot of wrong ideas about life and the world are taught or conditioned. As you said, work is really just a series of small, feasible actions that when dealt with individually, don’t seem as intimidating or terrifying as the enormous undertaking that people see in their imagination.

David Cain April 9, 2018 at 8:43 am

Agreed. I think discipline is a real quality that can be improved, but that improvement takes the form of zeroing in on certain moments when you respond one way rather than another. Once your normal way of operating is the way that’s conducive to moving things forward, you could say you are disciplined. But it’s not some uniform quality that you either have or you don’t.

Ameen April 10, 2018 at 10:25 am

That ability to zero in on certain moments is something that we all had as kids when we were driven by our curiosity but we lose along the way as parents, school, and society trains us to do as we’re told.

And now that I thought about it some more, the reason why people find it difficult to get themselves to do things that they would like to do but end up never doing it is because they’re so trained to only do something when somebody else tells them to do it, whether it’s their parents, school, boss or the government.

A lot of adults are simply not accustomed to act of their own accord. It’s like the friend that never or rarely suggests or initiates a plan for something to do but is always waiting for and going along with somebody else’s plan for an outing.

Many people simply don’t have the ability to make a decision to do anything for themselves unless they’re given an instruction or responsibility to do it by somebody else. I really think that this is the root of the problem of why people procrastinate.

I think the solution to this problem is to surprise yourself by doing small things that are out of character and different from what one is ordinarily used to doing. Even if it’s something not related to self-development and is purely hedonistic behavior such as trying a new flavor of ice cream, or vegetable if you’re concerned about your calories, that you have never tried or heard of before.

Oran April 11, 2018 at 6:25 pm

I really really needed to read this right now, I suffer from guilt from not acting on things that I should.
The part, confidence comes during doing is the greatest, thank you so much to help me remember that. I cannot say in my 52 years I have read a piece of work that appealed to me so directly and timely, thank you very much.

Accidental FIRE April 9, 2018 at 3:15 am

I’ve had a leaky faucet for well over a year now. It’s not leaking much at all, but leaking nonetheless….

I like #2, about getting a “stage” of a project finished. I’ve been trying to follow this advice and it seems helpful. Getting your mini goals done on something gives you the confidence to get the whole thing done.

David Cain April 9, 2018 at 8:44 am

I find even a relatively small mini-goal adds a LOT to your sense of capability for the rest of them. If it’s a hard one, the effect is even greater.

Anna April 9, 2018 at 3:34 am

Useful article…I must add however that when i had to do a speech for my general assembly for an association i had months to do it but i spent the time watching ted talks about how to give interesting speeches, and ted talks about addiction ( to adress the fact that i kept watching ted talks to avoid doing this speech). about a week before i started making time just to think about what i wanted to write and in one of thèse thinking sessions it suddenly hit me that the ted talks about addiction could be used to talk about my association. It ended up as a really good speech. if i had not done all this procrastination i would not have got such an interesting speech. There are different types of procrastination…. the one where you absolutely try to banish the job from your head by doing things that are pure escapisme and not AT ALL relevant is the one you have to Watch out for i think. If i had watched back épisodes of britains got talent for example that would have been desastrous.

David Cain April 9, 2018 at 8:47 am

I guess the question is whether watching those talks really was a sensible way to spend your time, or if it wasn’t, but you got lucky in that case. Would you prepare the same way for a speech in the future?

Anna April 12, 2018 at 7:06 am

Yes, i would definately do it all again in exactly the same way because my speech was just exactly how i wanted it and i felt prepared and confident because i had not blocked it from my head. Thinking back to it though… i think it was a bit like Descartes method. He said in his method that all the research and talking to other Wise men and reading etc was all Worth it but it was only when he sat in a room on his own and started listening that all his great ideas came. Inspiration can come in a flash but if i had watched épisodes of britains got talent i would have been blocking but the ted talks left space for answers and questions to come and the guilt feeling wasnt there because for me i had been preparing myself all that time. If you search it is impossible for the answer to not come.
I shall pop in Voltaires quote that i love… No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking. ;-)

Vilx- April 9, 2018 at 5:08 am

Thing #5: You’re tired.

You come home in the evening, take care of the most urgent chores, feed the kids & play with them, put them to bed, midnight has passed. You’ve collapsed in your chair at the computer, mind cloudy and you just want to play a few more turns of some computer game before passing out. That side project you want to do for fun and profit… yeah… Maybe tomorrow. Or the weekend. Maybe…

Martin April 9, 2018 at 7:01 am

Very good point.

I have noticed that all the successful people I know who have families are incredibly single-minded and selfish when it comes to getting work done… they ALL neglect their relationships and dump chores/duties and parenting on their partners. They are usually good at overcoming procrastination, bu there is always serious collateral damage.

David Cain April 9, 2018 at 8:53 am

I’m not sure if I would call that procrastination. Not having the time or energy to do everything you want is really a scheduling/lifestyle issue. Procrastination implies that you avoid something plainly worthwhile even though the time and opportunity are there.

Tammy Gartner April 11, 2018 at 3:20 pm

As a procrastinator let say i am going out to eat I decide what i am having during the day the minute i hear where we are going so i don’t just keep sifting through my choices In the end it only causes frustration if i wait. So I say where we going and at that moment I say I will have this Then when i get there i never look at the menu i just order and hope to god they didn’t run out of it lol

Charlotte K April 9, 2018 at 5:31 am

On the other hand, one thing I’ve learned by NOT doing certain things is that they never needed doing at all. I think we’re so obsessed in our culture with “getting things done” and writing things on to do lists that we don’t realize this sometimes. If you haven’t done it within a year, maybe you never wanted to do it in the first place, and if no one is harmed or left behind…well, what’s the problem?

David Cain April 9, 2018 at 8:55 am

If you haven’t done it within a year, maybe you never wanted to do it in the first place, and if no one is harmed or left behind…well, what’s the problem?

What’s the problem is a good question, but often there is a real problem with leaving certain things undone. You can easily let a year go by without making that doctor’s appointment, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important on some level, or that there are no consequences for not doing it.

Charlotte K April 11, 2018 at 5:40 am

That’s why I added “no one is harmed” — of course those things shouldn’t be put off (and I don’t). I was thinking more of all the ideas people have at work that seem like “musts”–but if you can’t get it all done, I think it’s worth looking at whether it all really needs doing. Maybe it feels like procrastination but it really isn’t.

Eric N April 11, 2018 at 4:18 pm

I completely agree that many work tasks are weighted with more urgency than the end results warrant. However, I think David Cain is more focused on projects or tasks that are highly meaningful to you, as an individual. These could potentially be work tasks, if you are highly invested in job success. But, I think the type of procrastination that is caused by meaningless or unproductive work projects is a different kind of procrastination. I have dealt with that as well…one way to overcome is to change the project so that it IS meaningful and/or productive, if you have that kind of freedom and influence in your workplace.

Jaime G April 16, 2018 at 2:37 pm

the wonderful thing, sometimes, about procrastination (of certain activities) is that after a while, it becomes moot.

what a deal, I get to knock that item off my to-do list (earning a “point” in my G.T.D. game) without doing anything! I often use slips of paper as to-do, it is so satisfying to crumple one up and toss it as “Done”, even more so if it cost me no time or effort at all!

This is particularly salient for need-to-buy purchases. I find that if instead of buying something (on Amazon for example), I just leave it in my Shopping Cart, that when I return to it a week or three later, I realize I don’t really need it at all. Same with my grocery shopping list. A handy way to Not Spend Money.

Andy April 9, 2018 at 6:39 am

One thing I’m guilty of is adding small, easy things to my to-do list and completing them and then adding more, but never getting around to the big or unpleasant ones. Those are the ones that end up lingering around for ages. I get the feeling that I’m accomplishing things, but I’m never addressing the nagging items that I’m procrastinating. That’s why I think sometimes it’s worthwhile to make a promise to yourself to not just accomplish things, but to ask “which of these do I least want to do?” and then not do any of the other items until that one is complete.

David Cain April 9, 2018 at 8:58 am

For sure. I forget who it was — Merlin Mann? — who wrote about how he will book “hardest thing first” days, in order to tackle the big rocks on his list, and also “easiest first” to eliminate as many little things as possible. But we can’t ignore either completely.

Drew April 9, 2018 at 6:55 am

Competence equals confidence. You can’t create competencies without doing.

Another great article. Thank you.

Vilx- April 9, 2018 at 7:55 am

And yet, the Dunning–Kruger effect comes to mind.

David Cain April 9, 2018 at 4:37 pm

Thanks Drew

Wayne Ferguson April 9, 2018 at 9:02 am

From “Notes to Myself” by Hugh Prather:

“Why do I judge my day by how much I have ‘accomplished’?

When I get to where I can enjoy just lying on the rug picking up lint balls, I will no longer be too ambitious.

I’m holding this cat in my arms so it can sleep, and what more is there.

After I had written this book I told several friends. Their reaction was polite and mild. Later I was able to tell them the book was going to be published. Most of them responded with the words ‘I’m proud of you.’ Proud of the results but not of the action.

Everyone but I must look *back* on my behavior. They can only see my acts coupled with their results. But I must act *now* without knowing the results. Thus I give my actions their only possible meaning for me. And true meaning always issues from: ‘I choose to respond to this part of me and not to that part.’

I don’t live in a laboratory: I have no way of knowing what results my actions will have. To live my life for results would be to sentence myself to continuous frustration and to hang over my head the threat that death may at any moment make my having lived a waste. My only sure reward is in my actions and not from them. The quality of my reward is in the depth of my response, the centralness of the part of me I act from.

Because the results are unpredictable, no effort of mine is doomed to failure. And even a failure will not take the form I imagine. ‘It will be interesting to see what happens’ is a more realistic attitude toward future consequences than worry. Excitement, dejection, and irritation also assume a knowledge of results that I cannot possess.

If I work toward an end, meantime I am confined to a process.

The rainbow is more beautiful than the pot at the end of it, because the pot never turns out to be quite what I expected.”

— Hugh Prather, “Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person.”

John Brier April 9, 2018 at 2:49 pm

Thank you so much for sharing this. For me it’s poignant.

David Cain April 9, 2018 at 4:43 pm

This is great, thank you. In my experience it seems like there’s paradox between moving towards “ends” we idealize in our minds, and also recognizing that you really don’t know how anything is going to look until it is happening. But there isn’t really a paradox. We need a spot on the distance to aim at in order to move ourselves through life in a way that isn’t haphazard and reactive, but we can do that and still be aware that the reality will never match our expectations of it.

Sharon Hanna April 10, 2018 at 5:53 pm

Wow – the Prather quote – thanks. Yes it’s all so true, and yet, and yet. I did get out to plant the peas today. It’s been raining non-stop but they were jumping out of their skins.

Barb April 10, 2018 at 9:36 pm

I love that book and think of this exact passage often. Thank you for reminding me of it today.

Cami April 9, 2018 at 11:43 am

Really insightful and helpful article! Adding the Asana app has helped mitigate the tendency to procrastinate in my life. It offers real-time and customizable reminders on my cell phone and online with Tasks and Projects tracking. Our distraction-filled lives are so prone to putting off what needs to get started. Anything to bolster one’s discipline is a good thing.

Jenn April 9, 2018 at 12:17 pm

Thank you for this post. You have no idea how much every word of it resonates. I laughed when i got to the housecleaning. Yuuuuuuup. Also, the endless tweaking. The resolutions to get it done for real this time, starting next Monday. The shame of falling into the same rut over and over. What a colossal waste of time and energy it all is (especially the worrying, disguised as “planning”). I am definitely going to try your “What am I trying to finish?” strategy. Maybe it will help me get out of my head and get more actually accomplished.

Tobi April 9, 2018 at 5:29 pm

Nah I’m just lazy lol

Great article though

Tony April 10, 2018 at 5:40 am

I reduce the stuff on my to do list by following Henk Kraaijenhof’s advice: “Do as little as needed, not as much as possible”.
Great post, thank you David.

Abhijeet Kumar April 10, 2018 at 2:33 pm

This brings me to my own personal dilemmas, in a good way. For some time, I was all about achieving results. And unfortunately, that was in the world of academia, or quite recently at my day job. I would get projects done quickly. And yet, it would never end. “That code could be better!” On the flip side, I would feel a heart ache, considering I felt not connected to anything. People around me would have hobbies, weaknesses and strengths, vulnerability. In a way, I began to hate achieving, hate perfection. I wanted to wake up a vulnerable side of me. That can feel connected even in the face of not achieving anything.

I began meditation. I read Eckhart Tolle’s ‘Power of Now’. For me, these steps were a little different, I wasn’t trying to improve myself or achieve perfection, but just feel human, comfortable in the moment, comfortable in feeling vulnerable, comfortable in not-knowing. And that worked out.

I had to embrace the result achiever side. Embrace all sides. They come and go.

Rebecca April 11, 2018 at 11:17 am

Another well-written article. You have a gift for seeing and describing life in a way that no one else does. I am a procrastinator, and I do find that planning helps me untangle some of the overwhelm in starting a project (or in managing multiple ongoing projects). But I have often found myself falling into over-planning and delay. I’m going to revisit this post the next time I find myself following the path of avoidance. So maybe later today? ;)

Thank you for your writings, and thank you to your followers for their insightful comments.

Mike April 11, 2018 at 1:12 pm

I can relate to this article because some of your points are true to my case. Keep on writing posts like this.

j April 11, 2018 at 1:20 pm

numbers 2 and 3 really hit home and offer good things to think about while getting my work done!

Jason April 11, 2018 at 1:38 pm

These things may be true, but sometimes rushing out to do something makes more work or problems.
If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you. Calvin Coolidge

Ryan April 11, 2018 at 1:51 pm

I’ll read this tomorrow…

Steve h April 11, 2018 at 1:57 pm

Ill read this article tomorrow.

Mike April 11, 2018 at 1:59 pm

Real procrastinators don’t even have to-do lists.

Angel Gillaspie April 11, 2018 at 2:42 pm

Real procrastinators have a million to-do lists, can easily avoid doing anything on any of them by constantly revising them, lose at least a hundred of them, and will ultimately create and maintain a Master list of all the lists.

Jenn April 12, 2018 at 6:23 pm

^This. Don’t forget trying out 50 different to-do-list management systems/ apps/ special notebooks.

G.L. April 14, 2018 at 2:37 pm

As a lifelong, 50+ year master procrastinator, I can attest this is *EXACTLY* how it works. Thanks, David, for a PRACTICAL article that gives me a modicum of hope that I will lick this devil yet. As Mary Pickford said, “You may have a fresh start any moment, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.”

Alisa April 11, 2018 at 2:13 pm

Thank you for such a precisely articulates article. It definitely will be on mind when I put things off.

Piggy April 11, 2018 at 2:37 pm

I only read the 4 headings then went straight to comments . That’s how I roll ( halfway down the hill )

CK April 11, 2018 at 2:43 pm

I apply much of this advice when I try to get my shop cleaned up. Unfortunately, the part about the longer a task takes the tougher it is to get started, applies here in spades. I start by selecting a corner or a bench to clean up. I clean it, then automatically move to the bench or corner next to it, and this pattern repeats itself throughout a day or even a weekend, but I never complete the clean-up project before I either have to go to work on Monday or I just plain get tired of cleaning.

Then, low and behold I have to work on something, and I proceed to get out some tools, some lumber, some nails or screws, etc. and the next thing I know, the shop is a big fat mess again! :)

Yes, the answer to this is having the discipline to clean up after each little project. When I acquire that discipline, only then will my shop get completely cleaned up! :)

Navs April 11, 2018 at 2:59 pm

Great article, im gonna read this when ever im not doing what im supposed to be doing .

Brian April 11, 2018 at 3:40 pm

So good. I’ve subscribed. I resonate a lot with this. Reminds me of ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield. It felt spiritual when I read that book. In some sense, this problem is really a “naysayer” within.

RM April 11, 2018 at 4:18 pm

This is a valuable article. I personally know dozens of people who flunked individual college classes due to procrastination. Some flunked entirely out of college and were left with huge student loans and no college degree to show for it. Very sad. I wish high schools and colleges would attempt to impart these life skills to kids, since parents can’t be counted upon to do so.

Lee April 11, 2018 at 4:29 pm

Title should read :Four Things Procrastinators Need to Learn…. In due time

Angel April 11, 2018 at 4:35 pm

All these points seem to be true for me and I am a big time procrastinator unfortunately. I have recently been having similar thoughts as the points in this article and have begun starting projects even if I know it’s not going to be done that day. My list of things to do was becoming so big I had started doubting I would ever finish everything on my list… so I have started making myself cross off as many off my list as I can little by little, every time I get a chance. Due to time and scheduling I used to delay a project because I knew I wouldn’t finish it, (or for many other reasons) but recently I have been approaching things more like the advice in this article, starting them and at least get a section done. I still have not seen the end product of my work from many of the projects on my list, but I am finding that even though I haven’t seen the end of one thing, I am seeing that A LOT of things are getting slowly improved and closer to completion. Soon enough, I will see the end to many of the items on my list… I just have to keep telling myself that the end of the project will come and just be patient. The advice in this article is definitely helpful and is spot on with how I have been feeling lately… My wife would tell me, “We need to get this done…” and I would just say “well just add it to the list” lol, well at least now my list is getting done! It’s kind of like that Nike saying, “just do it” lol

Carbolineum April 11, 2018 at 4:54 pm

I first learned about the Procrastinators Club many years ago while still a child. It seemed like it would be fun to join. Now that I’m 65 it still seems like it would be fun to join…some day.

Ben April 11, 2018 at 5:23 pm

This article really hits home hard, wow. But, in a good way. Very insightful stuff. Funny that I had just messaged the wife that I needed an extra hour at the office to clear some paperwork off my desk. I’ve been drowning in other tasks and have neglected the pile literally sitting in front of me for over a week. I opened a new tab in the browser to start the process, saw this suggested article, and have spent the last 10-15 minutes reading it and all the comments. Oops, back to work.

Maegan April 11, 2018 at 5:38 pm

This is the most helpful and insightful piece about procrastination I have ever read. Thank you.

Lisa April 11, 2018 at 5:40 pm

I have long worn the Scarlett O’Hara label in my circle, but I think it all comes down to awareness. Lack of confidence is the usual culprit for hesitating and even if action improves confidence, it is a bit of a chicken and egg dilemma. The trick for me is to be aware of the hesitation. If something is continually being relegated to the bottom of my list – and it isn’t easily categorized as one of those jobs to be done that I just don’t want to do – then I need to be aware that it is my own self-doubt that is making me pause. The danger is really when you aren’t aware of the reason you are putting things off. It’s OK to feel uncertain. Not so OK to pretend that you aren’t. And to avoid the chicken and egg effect, I have learned to be careful about how tasks are put on the list – in small, easily achievable portions whenever possible.

Sherman April 11, 2018 at 5:54 pm

What non-procrastinators fail to grasp is that if you leave a task undone long enough you mat discover that you never really needed to do it.

Prioritize, get some easy things done, then the stuff that absolutely must get done, then put the rest on a list. After some time you can copy a few things that still need doing onto another list and recycle the first list. Great time saver.

Christian Deuett April 12, 2018 at 12:03 am

Great article!

Greg Weber April 12, 2018 at 4:16 pm

Wow! This is powerful! I love not focusing on what you’re working on, but focusing on what you’re finishing. Sharing with my followers & customers.

Fuzz Manchu April 12, 2018 at 5:46 pm

I hate unpleasant tasks, but I complete several per day. I also have some that I never even get near, because they scare the hell out of me. Some of those fester and boil, while others just seem to fade away because they lacked the potential for any real impact on my life. I probably over-reacted in the first place. Sometimes it’s good to stall because during that stalling period you might come up with a better idea about how to complete that task or solve that problem. I think you have to feel it out as to whether or not you need to be in a great big rush to do things or not.

Bronwen April 12, 2018 at 6:44 pm

Me to a T!

John G. Maguire April 13, 2018 at 3:14 pm

I’m a freelance writer and publisher and no one sets my tasks but me; I can be exceedingly anxious and avoidant and like many writers have procrastinated a lot. Here’s a report on some behaviors that have worked for me. I am proud of them because I thought most of them up myself over the last 8 years and they have made me a more solid worker.

I once saw procrastination defined as doing the less important tasks first, and I think it’s true. It has been hard for me to “eat the biggest frog first” each day, but the more I do it, the easier it is. Still, each day has its own biggest frog, and they never taste good. They get eaten, and I can look back and say “I ate that sucker, yay for me,” but I can never say “that didn’t taste bad at all.”

Key tool is a daybook. I have a daybook with big blank pages which I spread open each morning at about 730. It has everything I’m thinking of doing, and I keep a kind of time-card on the right hand page, while the left-hand page holds notes and goals and urgent tasks. While I am working, the daybook is open and I note what I have begun or have finished. When I stop the day’s work, the daybook is closed. Sometimes, when deeply anxious about a task, I define a short-term goal called “20 solid minutes on task X.” I use a timer and check-box the task when I finish the 20-minute block. Then often I’ll do another one.

Another thing I sometimes do in the early morning is write at the top of the left-hand page this sentence: “I have to finish X for this day to be a win.” That helps order my production, give me a positive sense of self-direction.

David Cain April 13, 2018 at 3:20 pm

I appreciate this, thanks John. “Doing the less important tasks first” is a pretty good definition actually — I can’t think of an instance where I am procrastinating that does not take that form. And that means that the remedy is frog-eating of some sort. One frog a day would make for a pretty good week, but I guess it’s not going to get done if it’s not first on the list.

KG April 13, 2018 at 8:27 pm

Great post! #3 I love the journey and crossing the finish line.

Johan April 17, 2018 at 9:46 am

One thing I’ve stopped doing is “multitasking”. I’m now proud of doing one thing at a time. I think we tend to multitask to avoid doing the one hard thing that would actually make significant progress in an area in our life. Multitasking now seems like a way of keeping busy without accomplishing anything.

nidhi thakur April 18, 2018 at 6:41 am

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Mr. Income Master April 19, 2018 at 7:54 am

I find jotting down goals, little tasks etc in a daily diary keeps me honest and ensures each day I am moving forward and getting things done.

lauren April 19, 2018 at 9:25 pm

I was recently doing an “academic conduct essentials” unit as part of a university course I’ve enrolled in, and one of the suggested tactics in time management was to write in parts – research and complete one section of the task and then move onto the next. This is so simple and obvious but I have found it revolutionary! I would previously spend hours and hours on research, falling down more and more rabbit holes, trying to contemplate every possibility, leaving myself little (or no) time to complete writing, then putting something together and realising half of the work I’ve done is not relevant or not required. I’m still working on this but I think it’s already making my life easier.

Abhijeet Kumar April 25, 2018 at 6:23 pm

I am revisiting this, to add my comment from a renewed perspective. This is invaluable. I decided to take a sabbatical from my job. There is a new perspective that comes when we take full responsibility for our life. Most of my recent experiences have been spiritual in nature, understanding reality from an absolute perspective. That is beautiful, and invaluable in its way. Being present, and realizing deeper realities. But that flow itself brought me to a point, where I had to self actualize. At the end, I will live this life as a human. I am only 30, and that spiritual process had to inevitably bring me back on my feet.

From the perspective of I am responsible for my life, thank you for this blog. Procrastination can be nasty, and a time sink. Taking steps in the present, and defining the steps in manageable, achievable manner is huge.

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