Procrastination is what happens when we have something we know we should do, but can’t seem to get ourselves to do it.
So how do we overcome procrastination?
The answer to that question is actually simple,1Just do it. but implementing it is more complex.
The long-term solution is to make sure that you have a solid time management stack. That you have your health, your inner game and your systems working and in place.
But if we look at it from a different perspective, we can also handle procrastination in the here and now with a simple model and system.
A Simple Model for Handling Different Types of Procrastination
This is what the procrastination troubleshooting model looks like:
This model recognises that procrastination is not a singular thing, but is usually caused by one of four different things:
By using this model we can address each of the causes of procrastination head-on, and deal with it immediately.
This is less effective in the long-run than having a good time management stack, but can help if you have something you need to handle right here, right now.
1. Procrastination caused by emotion
Emotion is the biggest cause of procrastination.
It is usually expressed as “I just don’t feel like it”.
If it’s a task that can wait until later, you can just note down the task and come back to it – later today, tomorrow or in a few days’ time.
If you have tried this or the task is pressing, then you should ask why. Is the task:
- Of low perceived value?
- Too difficult?
- Not related to your purpose?2i.e., you are not sufficiently motivated.
- Not one of the things you’d rather be doing?
Once you know why you are procrastinating, you can troubleshoot with a simple solution.
If the task is of low perceived value,3i.e., “beneath you”. then tell yourself that you’re going to do it now and then immediately find a way to never have to do it again in the future. Do it “just one last time”.
If the task is too difficult for your skill level, then you need to break it down into manageable parts and proceed one step at a time.
If the task is not motivating enough or not related to your purpose, the simplest way to get it done is to rationalise it and relate it to your purpose. Yes, this is a headfake, but one that is actually useful.
If none of these things work, you can also burn some willpower reserves and force yourself to just do it.
This could simply be snapping into action or it could be using any of the time management hacks available to you:
- Most important task.
- Batching tasks.
- “Just five minutes”.
I would only recommend this as a last resort, as willpower is not a resource that should be wasted.
2. Procrastination caused by cognition
Procrastination caused by cognition is procrastination caused by (over)thinking.
Most of this is just a fancy rationalisation of your emotional state. If we logically and rationally know that we have to do something and still don’t want to do it – the problem is not with our thinking.
The easiest way to overcome this type of procrastination is to sit down and rationally write out what you have to do.
This will provide you with the clarity you need to do the task.
Take your task at hand and write it out using the S.M.A.R.T. format:
You may also want to get technical and write out the specific steps that you will take to complete the task.
If this seems like overkill, it is.
But when you really need to get something done now, writing things out in detail can point out the obvious and give you the clarity and rationalisations you need.4Or you will realise that there are no bad consequences from not doing the task and just drop it.
3. Procrastination caused by time
Procrastination caused by lack of time is a simple one: find another time to do the task.
You can also go one step further and block out a specific time in your schedule for the task.
4. Procrastination caused by your environment
Procrastination which comes from the environment is a matter of not the right place or not the right tools.
It is where the environment around you is not conducive to getting a particular thing done, whether that is because of distractions, people or otherwise.
It also has a simple solution: put yourself in the right place with the right tools and work on the task.
This could be as simple as putting on pair of headphones to isolate and focus yourself.
The Endgame – Improve Your Time Management Stack
The endgame for procrastination is actually to improve your time management stack.
If you do this, then you’ll find that procrastination largely goes away by itself.
Yes, there will be odd moments of “I don’t want to do this” but they will become the exception, not the rule.
The most important levels of the time management stack for addressing procrastination are the bottom three levels:
- Health and energy.
- Inner game and mindset.
If you have these three levels handled, then procrastination almost never happens. Why?
Your health and energy give you the physical capacity and in turn, the mental clarity, to perform the task at hand.
Your inner game and mindset help to clear the mental barriers to doing things.
You have a clear pathway between your purpose and the task you are working on, and there is little mental resistance to taking action.
You will also have the right beliefs, habits and virtues for taking right action.
And this is all in addition to being aware of the consequences of not completing the task at hand.
Your systems help you manage the various parts of your life and will present you with the right task at the right time.
This means that any external or environmental resistance is minimised and you are operating in a perpetual flow state.
In addition to the three bottom levels, the very top level of the time management stack consists of the small hacks that can be used in the event that you do run into the odd occasion of minor resistance.
What To Do Next
Use the short-term troubleshooting model to overcome your immediate procrastination.
And then build up your time management stack – this is what will help you overcome procrastination, forever.
- Just do it.
- i.e., you are not sufficiently motivated.
- i.e., “beneath you”.
- Or you will realise that there are no bad consequences from not doing the task and just drop it.
Photo by Chris Arthur-Collins.