July 7, 2006

Procrastination Update

Posted in GTD, Procrastination at 11:38 am by a11en

Sorry it’s been so long since my last post. I’m going to skip the University Mentorship discussion for another post when I have more time (please let me know if you came here specifically for that discussion and I’ll try and post it quicker).

Procrastination Update

Last time I posted on Procrastination, I mentioned the book “The Now Habit”. I’m now about half-way through the book, and I can definitively say that the first-half alone is easily worth the price of the book. I want to share some concepts with you regarding the book, but wish to ensure I’m not putting in too much from it. However, I strongly recommend the book for anyone who is currently having difficulty with procrastination, as it has described my problem to a T, and also promoted solutions which should positively influence my work. Let me run down some basic ideas in the book, perhaps with a bit of my own explanaitions.

  • There are a number of reasons that people procrastinate:
    1. Gain power over a situation you feel you have no control over. This is likely what happens when you are given a task to complete – one which you abhorr. To punish those who gave you the task, you may use procrastination as a subtle way of exerting power.
    2. Avoid failure. If you have before you a huge task which you know is critical in some way to your advancement, or progress, quite possibly you have serious fear of failure. The way you attempt to avoid this failure, may be procrastination. If you simply don’t do the task, or wait until the last second- you either (i) fool yourself into thinking that you can avoid the failure (even though non-completion is a priori a failure) (ii) do the task in such a short time that you avoid the self-criticism by explaining that you couldn’t possibly achieve a good work in such a short time.
    3. Avoid Success. Often we are not really afraid of failure, but afraid of success! What if we actually were to accomplish this? We might have to move, find a job somewhere new, actually ask that girl to marry you, or move on to a larger perhaps scarrier task, or even a new big office with bigger responsibilities!
    4. Some things resolve without our work. Often a conflict will resolve with more time before being confronted, or perhaps an option in the choice will simply cease to be available after a time-period. We’ve all been there… if you ignore the task long enough it actually might go away.
  • Paying attention to how we spend our time can often highlight our procrastination. This is a difficult task to accomplish, but it can really help you to see how your time is spent. Simply track your time for a number of days. Doing this may highlight to you exactly how little or how much is spent on important tasks. Sometimes things we feel are not work, actually are in some manner- those correspondences, etc., which are required. Careful attention to your time can help you track these things.
  • Watch the times you procrastinate. Highlight those times when you know you are procrastinating. Write them down! Track them! What is causing you to procrastinate? What are you feeling when you procrastinate? This is the first step to changing your actions- you need to trigger your awareness to when you’re procrastinating and highlight your feelings which are causing the procrastination.
  • Turn negative speech/thought patterns into positive productive patterns. The “I should”‘s, “I have to”‘s, “I have to finish”‘s and “This is a huge task”‘s are really negative self-deprecating speech patterns. Notice these and turn them into “I choose to”‘s, “When can I start”‘s, “I can take one small step”‘s. And an important one: the “It must be perfect”‘s must be changed to “I can be human”. I’ve been doing this recently, and it’s amazing how much this can turn around our ability to work. When you realize that you can be human about your task, start small and imperfectly, and choose to either work or accept responsibility for not working, you will begin a huge change in your psyche and how you view your work.

I’ll add more as I come to it. But for now, watch those procrastinations- many of us are aware of them. For me, they turned into mini-depressive episodes where I knew I should have been working, but I didn’t for whatever reason- (see above). That sadness merely increased my lack of self-worth and belief I would fail in my task(s) and self-fed the procrastination. See why I wish to be rid of this? πŸ™‚ Ultimately, this is why confrontation is rarely helpful. This utlimately is a psychological issue that I feel can be improved or solved by awareness and positive thinking and positive choice-making. Empowerment through the “I chose to”‘s, “I can take one small step”‘s, and “I can be human” can really improve one’s ability to get the job done.

To bring the discussion back around to GTD- the “next-action” list can be seen as a the “one small step” you can take instead of the Huge Looming Project. In fact, that’s almost the very definition of the next-action. Project-folders allow that Huge Looming Project to become merely a container of your smaller items for that project. Seen as list-items which can actually be done, a large project takes on the true nature of a project able to be completed. Those small next-actions are things that are easy to “choose to do” or choose not to and face the consequences. And remember, we’re human… small imperfections allow us to advance our knowledge and ability to do our work. We learn from them. There’s no way to not have them- they come with the territory after all. Trying to accomplish some huge looming important project perfectly is going to be impossible. A house is built one step at a time. So should your project. Break down the tasks into next-actions, and choose to get started on even just one. Before you know it, that project will be well on its way!

A small addition to finish- I’ve found that my graduate school experience (with a poor manager as my first Prof. who learned old-school management techniques of pitting coworkers against each other and fear-mongering) essentially lowered my own opinion of myself. I came from school with a strong sense of self. I may not have been excellent in my undergraduate work (at least not to my liking), but I had come from various successes in my past- one of a dozen in the nation in fact. Unfortunately, the lack of mentorship and proper management both personal and work-oriented led to the brunt of students in this particular group being completely disenfranchized with their degrees. We all became a$$holes, and b*tches… why? We were in war. The war of trying to obtain our degree under extreme circumstances. You could see it in the eyes of those who were close. They put aside their own morality, did whatever the boss asked of them, even accepted personal affronts from him/her all in the hopes of obtaining that elusive and all-glorious degree. Sad to see, honestly. I think this ultimately fed my procrastination. I determined that I would never become that. I have been semi-successful on that front, but I have done so by feeding an attitude which clearly wasn’t supportive of the wonderful world of scientific discovery I had loved as a child. Experimentation, working with my hands, enjoying the wonders of God’s creation and learning of how they worked, was what fed me when young. This has turned into the drive to obtain my degree- forgetting the child-like nature of the unformed-block. There is a strong link here with procrastination and the concept of discovery and play. Next post will be about this. The good news? I’m learning to relearn. πŸ™‚ It’s a joy to discover again. By letting go of this insane desire to obtain a degree, I now focus on my actions and learning what I need to learn, and the degree will come, or it won’t come, I could care less. πŸ˜‰ Well, I care, surely, but it isn’t “me”. Hell, we’ve all seen “Dr. Idiot”… who cares if he’s “Dr.” eh?

Next up: Parker “51” finally finds its way to me, and more Procrastination updates if I have time to work on them. πŸ™‚


  1. planetpooks said,

    You’ve convinced me.

    I’ve got to get the book.

  2. a11en said,

    Hey Pooks!

    Wonderful to see you comment here! πŸ™‚ [If you guys haven’t checked out Pook’s blog- you should, it’s wonderful! – check out her desk before and after GTD- amazing.]

    I have to admit I really didn’t realize I was supporting my own procrastination by being a bit of a slave-monger to myself… I would say “I have to do this…” or “I should do this…” and I’d often ensure I had nothing else to do in my day other than my work. Afterall, I should be working, right? So, I’d steal time, because Lord knows I didn’t have the time- to play… and hence, I’d play, halfway, always knowing I should be doing my work. This would self-feed… the more I half-played the more I was sad I wasn’t working… the more I’d play to avoid the sadwork, that I knew would fail… Yikes!

    Slowly I’m starting to learn a bit… but I can see it’s gonna be a long road.

    I hope it helps ya, Pooks! It’s not fun to procrastinate… and ultimately, what’s sad is somehow we’ve lost the understanding that what we do is our choice! We’ve chosen these hard tasks because we *want* to accomplish them!!

    πŸ™‚ Thanks for the great comment, Pooks! Let me know if you don’t like the book, I may have a friend who’d like a copy.

  3. planetpooks said,

    It’s out of print, or so it seems! I could have sworn I also saw it on audible as an audio download, but it’s not there, either. I guess I will be forced, FORCED, I tell you, to go to Half-Price Books this weekend. Life’s hard. (wink)

  4. a11en said,

    Weird… are you sure? Here’s a link:



  5. planetpooks said,

    Okay, that was weird. I could have sworn it was out of print when I looked before. Okay, NOW I’ve ordered it!

  6. a11en said,

    πŸ™‚ he he he… BTW, you know it was also in 43folder’s store? I probably should have linked you there, actually… to help out the “mann”.. πŸ˜‰ But, I think you got a better price on that than I did. πŸ™‚ Please let me know how you like it, pooks. Very interested. It’s really hitting home for me. Just having a book completely mirror your experience with procrastination is a great thing. We’ll see if it can change my habits as well…


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