The Unprocrastination Month Overview

Post written by Leo Babauta.

In the coming month, we’re going to dissolve our procrastination.

For years, it has gripped us — me, you, everyone we know. Let’s just confess it: we procrastinate. Let’s start by dissolving the guilt — imagine that guilt melting away, evaporating, leaving your body.

Now that the guilt has dissolved, how can we dissolve our procrastination?

One small step at a time. But first, let’s look at this beast we call procrastination. What is it?

What is Procrastination?

It’s important to identify the causes of your procrastination, which can be varied. It’s usually not that difficult to deal with the causes once we’ve identified them, so let’s look at the more common causes.

1. Fear. Actually procrastination is usually the result of some kind of fear, so it’s not that useful to just say “fear” here. Fear might be fear that you’re not going to do well, fear of not knowing how to do something, fear of starting in the wrong place, fear of succeeding and not knowing what to do once you succeed, fear of doing something that you’re not already comfortable doing, etc. These are all obviously related, and they can be summed up as “fear of failure or not being good enough”.

2. Perfectionism. Spending a ton of time trying to get something perfect, or having the perfect tool or setup or software, or doing it exactly with the right procedure, is a form of procrastination and a cause of it.

3. Distractions. There are so many distractions it’s impossible to list them all, but they might include Facebook, reading blogs, checking the news, watching TV or YouTube, checking email or text messages, playing computer or video or Facebook games, etc. They all come with a reward (new message! fun game!) while the tasks you’re putting off come with pain (fear, hard work, etc.). So you tend to go for the things with reward rather than pain.

4. Smaller tasks. A new email comes in asking you to do something urgent but easy. So you tackle that rather than the thing you know you’re supposed to do. Or your to-do list has a dozen small tasks and one big one, and so you feel productive by getting the small ones done.

5. Feeling tired, lazy, unmotivated. You just don’t have the energy right now to tackle the hard stuff. So you go to the distractions, go to the easy stuff.

6. Being stressed, worried, anxious, overwhelmed. Related to the last item, these feelings make you less likely to want to focus on something hard. Your energy and focus are on other things — the overwhelming amount of things you have to do, something going on elsewhere in your life, other stressful projects, etc.

7. Task is too complex, vague, difficult. There’s too much to think about with this task! Too many moving parts, too many problems to solve, and you’re not sure how to tackle it, where to start, or who should be involved. You’re not comfortable with this task because you haven’t done it a lot before. Or it’s just too hard.

8. Not knowing where to start. The most important thing is to start, not to start at the perfect place. So pick a place that seems as good as any other, and just start. It can be in the middle or end instead of the beginning. Just start.

You think you’ll be more motivated later: It’s not true. You won’t be more motivated in the future than you are now. Do it now, because now is the perfect time to start.

9. Organizing as procrastination. Spending a lot of time on your to-do list or productivity software, getting your desk or computer organized, trying to perfect your organizational system … these are all fors of procrastination. We think we’re being productive by doing it, and it’s easier than doing the thing we’re putting off.

10. Other common causes: being disorganized, overestimating your ability to do this task later, thinking you’ll be more motivated later, thinking you’ll work better under pressure, thinking it’s already too late so why should I even start.

The good news is that these are all fixable by changing your setup and creating some simple habits.

How to Tackle Procrastination

So we’ve identified some of the more common causes … now what?

We’re going to tackle them with some simple habits, but first realize that while the fixes might be simple, it’s not going to change overnight. Procrastination is a set of habits we’ve formed over years of repetition, and so changing those habits will take conscious effort and repetition. That’s not to say it will be hard work — it can be fun to change these habits. But just realize it might not change in one day.

Next, the most important step is developing awareness. Start to notice when you’re procrastinating, and start to look at the causes at work on you. This is a habit to develop, and we’ll talk more about it in the Unprocrastination Plan.

Third, start changing your setup so that those causes have less power over you. We’ll talk more about that in the Unprocrastination Plan, but creating the right environment for focus can make all the difference in the world, and it’s something that’s not that difficult to do.

Fourth, we’ll develop some small, simple habits over time. This is the part that we’ll focus on during this module, so let’s dive in!

Next: The Unprocrastination Plan.