Unprocrastination Q&As, Part 2

By Leo Babauta

In this Q&A, I answer some of your questions (see Part 1 here):

1. How do you keep track of MIT’s, tasks, projects, etc. I just find that I have so many different projects and they all seem pretty important. I am trying to keep the core ones as my main MIT’s. I guess the question is, how do you keep track if your MITs, or do you have MITS that stay the same throughout your year? Or maybe it is better to see what comes up from day to day as important, or whether it is better to have a bigger picture plan – quarterly or even yearly.

Leo: The simpler you can do it, the better, though each person will have different requirements. I tend to keep a list — at the top is just a short list of projects (the shorter the better), then a list of tasks (it’s not usually comprehensive, just reminders). My MITs for the day might not even be on this list, because I usually know what they are — write a blog post, write an article for this course, set up a website (for example). I don’t need to write those down these days — I just know what they are. I do recommend writing down the MITs in the beginning, to give you focus, perhaps right below your project list.

It’s easy to overthink planning. It should take as little time as you can — just know the big picture, a bunch of the little things you need to do later, and the important things you need to do now.

2. I have some anxiety issues, and my MIT is often anxiety-provoking. How can I more reliably and comfortably approach and complete anxiety-provoking MITs?

Leo: This is a good way to practice dealing with anxiety. As you approach your first MIT in the morning, before doing it, sit for a minute and think about the MIT. Notice the anxiety, but instead of avoiding it, notice how it feels, and see that it’s not something you have to avoid. You can get through the discomfort. It’s the avoiding of this discomfort that causes even more pain. Now examine what fear related to this task is making you feel anxious. Are you afraid you’re not good enough? Now think rationally for a minute about the worst thing that could happen — what would you do if that happened? Would the world fall apart, or would life go on? This isn’t meant to be condescending, but to show that we can see that these fears aren’t true if we think about them for a minute.

As you do this, also just tell yourself that you don’t need to do the entire MIT — just start on it. You don’t have to tackle a huge, scary task that you might fail at — you just need to get started, and that’s a success. Then as you start, practice being in the moment with the task, instead of thinking about the possible outcome. Focus on the process, not the thing that might happen that makes you anxious.

3. My issue is prioritising between different parts of my life … I’m starting a new business (self-employed) — need to put effort in so income can follow, finishing building a new house (so stuff needs finishing or it may get wrecked — e.g. timber protected/painted), parenting — kids grow up so it’s important to spend time with them whilst they are still here, and they need you + all their school, sport & music activities that they are passionate about. I’ve tried scheduling each to a day, to a timeslot but none of it works.

Leo: There are a few things to look at here:

4. Many of the things I need to get done that I am procrastinating on are BIG activities. Yes, I know you need to break them down to bite size, but some are very hard to do (e.g. painting – doing it in little bits is very time and material wasteful as you spend more time cleaning equipment and moving stuff out/back). So struggle to un-procrastinate on BIG jobs.

Leo: If you can’t break it into a smaller task, which I recommend most of the time, then just focus on starting. Don’t think of the entire task — put your mind into the small moment of starting. If you get started, you’re likely to keep going, but the moment of starting is not a big task. It’s really easy. Another tip is to make the big tasks social if possible — have a friend or spouse help with the painting. It makes it more fun, plus there’s accountability — if you both agreed to start at a certain time, you’re more likely to actually do it.

5. I had a question that is related to one of the other questions. One individual mentioned that he got derailed from his MIT on a Saturday. I haven’t even been setting an MIT on the weekends. I just assumed that weekends should be time to relax and enjoy my family and take a little time off from trying to accomplish things. What’s your take on this?

Leo: Your MIT on the weekend is spending time with your family. That’s really important, and you have your priorities right. No need to write down the MIT if you already know it with your heart.

6. How to beat perfectionism?

Leo: Learn to get to good enough, and then let go. Watch yourself as the perfectionism kicks in, and tell yourself that 1) you’re procrastinating by trying to get things perfect, and 2) you have a fantasy about how the thing should be perfect, but it’s not reality and it’s not necessary. Let go of the fantasy, and stop procrastinating — get to good enough, and move on. It takes some practice.

7. I would like to know how do you manage personally meditation, sport and MIT. Do you consider meditation as an MIT and do you begin with it ? I am beginning my job early (7H30) which means that I don’t have so many time before to work (30 minutes) between 6H30 to 7H. I would like to stay mindfulness which means doing meditation but also I like to do some gym (push up) and to write about my passions. How to choose and do you do? When I do meditation 20 minutes then it’s hard to work on my writing or doing gym.

Leo: I wake up earlier so I have more time for meditation and exercise and writing. However, you might consider just doing 2 out of 3 of those if you are pressed for time. See if you can wake up a little earlier if you want to add meditation — start with 15 minutes earlier, and just meditate for 3-5 minutes. Then, after a little while, wake up another 15 minutes earlier, and meditate for 10 minutes. Each day, meditate and either do pushups or writing after (not both).

8. How do you make sure you set an MIT that is to ‘pay yourself first’ (i.e. a small step towards your habit changes) but also get the “boring but important” stuff done – like paying bills , housework and errands – these seem to become the MIT of the moment and I never seem get to the stuff for me!

For example , I set an MIT of doing yoga or decluttering a drawer, then I remember other day to day things that have to get done like paying a bill, making doctor’s appointment (basically chores or errands) that have to take priority as they are things that simply have to get done — the next thing you know you’re at work, back home and the day’s gone!

Leo: In this example, you’re not paying yourself first. You start by doing an MIT, but then you start taking care of the little things. It’s best to write down the little things when you remember them, but stick with the MIT (this is where the Pause helps). Don’t switch. Then do the little things later in the day (afternoon or evening) after you’ve done at least a couple of your MITs.

9. I’ve had a couple of bouts of “screw it” syndrome, where I set my MIT the night before, and then procrastinate before I do it, and then say “screw it! I didn’t do it first thing, so I’ll try again tomorrow!” And then I don’t do it at all that day.

How should I deal with this? Should I try to do the MIT later in the day even if I didn’t do it first thing, according to plan? Or is it actually a good idea to set it aside and try it first thing the following day?

I’m not sure if postponing the MIT for the following day for another go is the rational thing to do or just a rationalization for procrastination.

Leo: If you procrastinated at the start of the day, just acknowledge that, let go of the guilt, and start as soon as you can. Think about why you procrastinated — what you’re avoiding, what distracted you — and how you can change your setup so that doesn’t happen again. And again, start on the MIT as soon as you can. Don’t overthink it — just do it.