I think it helps to understand the cause of your procrastination.
I’ve given a lot of thought to this (probably when I should have been doing other things!) and have come up with 9 causes of procrastination (there are surely more, but these 9 should cover most of the cases).
Each of these causes requires its own solution or set of solutions.
Nine Causes of Procrastination:
- Fuzzy Goals
- Sketchy Plans
- Unexpected Complications
Let’s look at each of these, and consider what thoughts they provoke (so you can diagnose them), and lay out some rough strategies for dealing with them:
1. Fuzzy goals
When you have fuzzy goals, you are likely to think things like this:
- “Why am I doing this project?”
- “What should the final product look like?”
- “How will people actually benefit from this?”
- “Should I work on this now, or is something else more important?”
And here are some strategies for dealing with fuzzy goals:
- Ask yourself why you’re doing the project. When you do this, you will come up with some purpose.Then ask yourself why you’re pursuing that purpose. And keep doing that until your project is set within the context of your whole life.
- After all this, it might turn out you don’t have a good reason to work on this project, and that you need to work on another project.
- Work out the relative importance of all your projects, so you can make sure you’re working on your most important project.
2. Sketchy Plans
When you have sketchy plans, you are likely to think things like this:
- “I have to keep my place in my head too much as I work”
- “I’m not sure this plan will work”
- “I’m a bit concerned that it’s more complicated than it looks”
And here are some strategies for dealing with sketchy plans:
- Break your project down further to expose hidden detail.
- Consider whether there are any conflicts within the project, or between this project and other projects.
- If you find conflicts, resolve them and create a plan that works.
When you’re suffering from overwhelm, you’re likely to think thoughts like this:
- “I can’t get it all done”
- “I need to work, but I can’t stop thinking about [some unrelated issue]”
- “I don’t know if I should work on X or Y or Z”
And here is a sure-fire strategy for dealing with overwhelm:
- Follow the clear mind procedure outlined here:
4. Unexpected Complications
When you encounter unexpected complications, you’re likely to think things like:
- “Why can’t things just work as planned?”
And here are some strategies for dealing with unexpected complications:
- Work in shorter sprints – you should work on only 1-2 week projects that get you feedback regularly. There is less chance of running into unexpected complications when you break projects into smaller deliverable modules.
- Get the complication out of your head and into your plan. That way you’ll see it sooner, and be able to resolve complication before you start working.
When you encounter interruptions, you’re likely to think things like:
- “Why can’t I stay on task?”
And here are some strategies for dealing with interruptions.
- Try to have periods in your work day where you can’t be interrupted, and train the people you work with to respect this.
- When you get interrupted, write down exactly where you are in your plan, and the next step, so you can get back to work right away when the interruption passes.
When you’re bored, you’re likely to think things like:
- “This work is repetitive and beneath me.”
When you’re bored, you can try:
- Playing games within the game (setting mini-goals for yourself, and such)
- Looking for opportunities to outsource the work, if possible.
- Organizing your job/business so you can do more challenging projects.
When you have anxiety about your work, you’re likely to think thoughts like:
- “I don’t know if I’m doing this right”
- “I don’t know how to do this.”
And when you’re feeling anxiety, you can do the following:
- Take some time to plan the project in more detail and identify the areas you don’t understand well enough
- Get expert advice if needed.
When you’re impatient, you ‘re likely to think thoughts like:
- “Are We There Yet?”
- “Why does this have to take so long?”
- “The finish line seems so far away”
And here are some strategies for dealing with impatience:
- Break your work into 1-2 week modules so you don’t ever find yourself 3 months into a project with 3 months to go before getting meaningful feedback.
- Zoom your focus in on TODAY’s work and make up a story about why today’s work is important.
When you’re exhausted, you’re likely to think thoughts like:
- “I can’t think”
- “I can’t keep my eyes open”
- “I need a break”
And here are some strategies for dealing with exhaustion.
- Set up work-rest rhythms at hourly, daily, weekly, and bigger scales.
- Take care to get enough sleep, exercise, sunshine and nutrition to keep your energy high.
- Take a break!
For an expanded discussion, see.