Unprocrastination Questions & Answers

By Leo Babauta

In this Q&A, I answer some of the questions you submitted via our survey:

Unprocrastination Q&A with Leo

1. I am never alone for long in the morning, and so I’m doing the MIT whenever I can during the day. I think about it as I go to bed, then during the day I keep it in mind until I get the chance to get it done. Is it important to get it done first thing in the morning? My days are quite unstructured (2 small kids at home) but I still get it done (since I started Unprocrastination Month, I mean), just not as I wake up.

Leo: What’s important is that you choose the MIT, and when you have time to do it, you focus on it without switching a bunch of times. So if you only have 5-10 minutes increments during the day, just say, “OK, I have 10 minutes right now, and I’m going to focus on my MIT.” Then focus on it, rather than switching between 2-3 different things at once. The time of day doesn’t matter — I suggest the beginning of the day because otherwise we tend to push things back until later, and then not do them when things get busy. But do what works for you.

2. I have been doing really well so far. Picking one (sometimes more ) MIT at the start of the day and, amazingly, doing it!

But yesterday (Saturday) I went right off the rails. Complete procrastination, all day. And I could see what I was doing. I just kept telling myself – I’ll just read this blog post first, just check my emails first, just look on FaceBook, just sign up for this affiliate program… before I knew it it was 11pm, way past normal bedtime which even screwed my hopes of getting up early this morning!

I just want to know how to stop myself going off the rails like that. I could see I was doing it but I don’t know how to change it. It’s really starting to get me down because I love the stuff I need to be doing, and I love where it will get me. So why can’t I just do it?

Leo: Small steps. You’re choosing your MIT, and you’re aware of what you’re doing. That’s progress, and these habits aren’t built overnight. When you start to go off the rails, notice what’s happening — are you checking Twitter, or email, or Facebook? Make it a rule not to go to these things until after your MIT is done. Block them if necessary. What are you worried might happen if you don’t check them now? Let go of that worry. Are you avoiding doing something difficult? If so, make the difficult thing easier or more fun.

3. About choosing the MIT: you say choose what will have the most impact on your life. Can you elaborate on that a little? I know you don’t want us to agonize over choosing the MIT, but if you could give a little guidance about assessing what will have maximum impact, the evaluative process, it would be great.

Leo: First, as you said, you shouldn’t get hung up on this — what you choose is not as important as choosing something, so if you’re getting stuck on how to choose, just pick something randomly and get started on it. You’ll learn about what has an impact as you pay closer attention to the impact things have. Second, the evaluative process is more intuitive than logical — it starts with knowing what you’re trying to accomplish, and then learning what things make the biggest difference towards that goal. For example, as a writer my goal isn’t to have a million readers, but to help people. Over time, by paying attention, I learn that writing articles that address people’s problems have a bigger impact on helping people than, say, responding to tweets or emails. Writing a new book that helps people is better than meeting with a bunch of people. So writing becomes my MIT each day, not Twitter or comments or emails or meetings.

4. I have problems with doing the MIT right in the morning, cause I have a habit to drink coffee first, and while drinking coffee I read my Twitter feed – so I have 2 procrastination habits. And after that I talk to my husband and go to take a shower … etc. So I have the obstacles that are stronger than me to do my most important task (have 10-15 abs or 15 min of yoga) in the morning. How could I get rid of that?

Leo: At this point, you know your MIT, and you know what things are pulling you away from doing it. You are aware of the urge to do other things, so you are doing well. Now you need to learn to start. So put all of your efforts into the Start — after your cup of coffee (give yourself 10 minutes to drink coffee), do everything in your power to just start your MIT. Don’t worry about 15 minutes of yoga — you just need to do the first yoga pose. Drink coffee, start yoga. That’s all you need to focus on.

5. So I know what my MITs are, I know which one to start with, but I have no inspiration nor motivation to do them. How do you get started at that point?

Leo: Just focus on the start. If your MIT is to exercise, just focus on the first pushup. If it is to write, just focus on clearing everything, and getting your writing editor open, and writing the first sentence. Put everything you have into the start. Enjoy that moment of starting.

6. I would love to know how you deal with doing things you just really don’t want to do or hate doing, that literally have to get done. I have thought about this when i have read you say “enjoy” what you are doing, or move to something else you enjoy … but some things I have to do … and I simply do not/can not enjoy, and never will: taxes, accounting, insurance tasks, tiling/grouting my bathroom. And no, I cannot pay someone else, etc. — I have to do them. I hate doing them, so what are some strategies?

Leo: Why do you hate them so much? There is some fear that is causing you to hate doing these things. The activities themselves are not that bad — taxes and accounting and insurance are filling out some forms, which isn’t inherently bad. What you are dreading isn’t the activity itself, but something you fear. Let go of the tightness, let go of the fear, and just focus on being in the moment — fill out some forms, get some information for the forms, do one thing at a time, smile and breathe and savor the moment of being alive. This isn’t so bad. Cleaning a bathroom, putting down some tiles, these aren’t bad things. They are just routine tasks that we can use to practice mindfulness, and gratitude for being alive. Let go of the tightness and fear, and enjoy the moment.

7. When you get really busy and there are a mountain of urgent and important tasks how do you prioritise? I ended up today with 20 tasks of which 8 were marked as ‘priority’. I completed my MITs, the most important of the priority tasks, but felt a bit overwhelmed by the ones that were still waiting. I think I list so many priority tasks because I want to recognise their importance and don’t want to lose track of them. How do I limit myself to a reasonable number of MITs and keep all the high and lower priority tasks that need to be done somewhere else so I can pick more once I have completed the ones I have chosen for that day?

Leo: You will never get all your priority tasks done in a day. It’s impossible that you’ll get 20 things done today, and improbable that you’ll get 8 important things done in a day. So the first thing to do is let go of the idea of getting everything done. It can’t happen, so focus on one thing at a time, do that thing, then focus on the next thing. That’s all you can do. Next, learn to trust that you’re not going to lose things on your list. Put them on the list, put the most important thing at the top of the list, do the most important thing. Review the list when you’re done with that, and do the next thing you should do. Just make it a habit to review the list regularly, at least a couple times a day, and perhaps batch the small less important things at the end of the day. If you review the list regularly, you’ll trust yourself not to lose any task.