Bedeviled by procrastination

Like every good procrastinator, I have read far too much about procrastination in my time….and about time management, decluttering, systems for organisation etc. The list goes on. Half the time I feel like these books and articles are written by people who are not like me, who have a super responsible streak, who – even though they say they procrastinate – just knuckle down and get things done in a fairly timely manner. So I have read books about creative people, about the work habits that are 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration about the myth of waiting for one’s muse etc. And through all of this some things have resonated and I thought it worth documenting the story that works for me.

procrastination equationI like a good framework so we must start with this procrastination equation:procrastination equation2



The equation works for me. There are a number of reasons I can’t start work:

  • fear that I can’t pull off what I imagine the final product should be,
  • the enormity of the task – because I’m an optimist and kid myself about how fantastic the end product can be (Others may suffer from the planning fallacy but I suffer from an optimist’s triple version). Maybe my subconscious already knows I’m dreaming.
  • allowing little and urgent to crowd out big and important.
  • failing to set myself scary enough deadlines. Most of what I setup can be undone – other people’s genuine expectations, however, are far more effective.

..and hence I leave things to the last minute, circle my tasks, make myself miserable and then crack an all-nighter. I’ve got a lot better recently – having kids leaves one with less slack to make these sorts of manoeuvres – but I’m a long way off where I’d like to be.

Wait But Why has been a recent find for me that really nails the misery of an extreme piece of procrastination and , as he puts it, far too much time spent in the dark playground.

Productive procrastination is one of my better ways of working. When I do manage to pull this off I get a double whammy – other important things completed and then finally the big thing I’ve been avoiding. And that makes for a very good feeling of satisfaction.

So back to my latest book, ‘motivation’ and the elements that help and undermine it.

300px-Challenge_vs_skill.svgExpectancy is the key to flow. Too hard and fear will de-motivate you, too easy and boredom will. For my own benefit I am going to document all the ideas for finding a peak level of realistic optimism:

  • Success spirals are virtuous. Getting anything done to build on them and to build confidence. Breaking down tasks helps form a success spiral as does formally tracking or counting small successes.
  • Vicarious victories to motivate and inspire.
  • Wish fulfillment to mentally contrast the optimistic hopes and dreams with a detailed dour picture of the alternative.
  • Plan for the worst, hope for the best to build in necessary realism. This includes actively blocking myself from potential diversions. (I read somewhere that a 20second barrier was enough to make most distractions unworthwhile). Steel recommends a recovery plan aimed at reducing the depth and duration of any transgression. (Emergency exits for the dark playground if you will)
  • Accept that I’m addicted to delay – well everyone is really. The old mantra of “just do it” has improved my style enormously over small tasks but I still need better ways to “just start it”.

Value is the next component in the procrastination equation. How to maximise the value I place on my work?

  • Games and goals. Making tasks more challenging, seeing them as part of a longer term goal and framing them in the positive – what I will achieve rather than what I’ll avoid.
  • Energy crisis. Finding the best times for different work (still fine tuning this) and the big tasks in the high energy times. Not getting hungry, exercise, sleep and reducing commitments (making time to play, crafting work around one’s strengths might fit equally well here and ‘Let passion be your vocation’ is one of his points).
  • Productive procrastination, but ideally with a well identified target task and tangent task.
  • Double or nothing: rewarding myself and making the tasks more enjoyable (like listening to podcasts while I’m cooking).

Impulsiveness is obviously a key trait that makes procrastination more of a bugbear for some people than other less impulsive citizens.

  • Bondage (I pay for Rescue Time because I like it as a way to timekeep but also it can give me focused time and block certain websites.)
  • Satiation: Knowing that a blanket ban can be harder to manage than a small allowance of leisure beforehand – needs to managed quite carefully with the most addictive options.
  • Poison. Disincentives have never really appealed to me but makes a living out of ensuring transgression costs you, both socially and financially.
  • Making attention pay: sully temptation by imagining the worst aspects, eliminate cues from one’s workplace and compartmentalise work and play spaces.
  • Scoring goals: specific, close in time subgoals, routinised. Hmmm – I’m working on the habit forming stuff, but have a way to go.

calvinandhobbes1And while Delay didn’t have a chapter of its own, there was plenty of evidence that the further out a task, the longer one waits to get motivated.

I think this post belongs as a companion to an organisation post which lists all the tools I am trying to use and where that is most successful.

Happy productivity,



About Heather

I am an energy and climate change specialist with a background in industrial energy efficiency and climate change policy.
This entry was posted in Booknotes and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s