Building Awareness of the Procrastination Urge

Post written by Leo Babauta.

It’s the first real step in beating procrastination: awareness.

If you can’t develop awareness of the procrastination urge, you won’t ever really beat it.

The good news is that it just takes a bit of conscious effort, and practice. You got this.

Before we dive into the how, let’s look at the why for a sec:

Let’s say you’re afraid of a task because you don’t think you’ll do well at it. So you start playing Words with Friends, or checking email, when you know you should be working on the task. Later, after procrastinating for a few hours, you might blame the game, or email, when the real culprit is the fear. And even if you know the fear is there, you can’t stop it from working if you don’t realize it when it’s happening.

So you need to be aware that it’s happening to stop it, and to figure out what’s going on.

Let’s dive into how to do that.

How to Develop the Awareness Habit

Developing awareness can be tricky because when we procrastinate, we tend to be in autopilot mode — we aren’t doing things very consciously, but out of habit.

Luckily there are some techniques you can use to help:

1. Create reminders. Write notes to yourself on pieces of paper, and put them around the areas you usually procrastinate. Create a desktop picture/wallpaper with the words: be aware! Have reminders pop up on your computer or phone to be aware.

2. Set up reminders on the computer. Let’s say you need to focus on writing. Save all the open tabs on your browser, set your browser home page to something that will remind you to be aware. Or use a program like SelfControl to block your favorite distractions for a certain amount of time.

3. Use tally marks. Carry around a little piece of paper and a pencil or pen. Throughout the day, when you notice yourself get the urge to procrastinate, simply put a little tally mark on the paper. Tally marks are neither good nor bad, but just a way for you to develop awareness.

4. The rubber band method. Wear a rubber band around one wrist. When you notice the urge to procrastinate, just switch the rubber band to another wrist. This is similar to the tally mark method, but many swear by it. Either can be used.

5. Log it daily. However you do it, be sure to log whether you did the awareness habit satisfatorily that day, each day, in the group habit tracker. How you define satisfactorily is up to you, but set the bar low the first couple days, and build up from there.