The real reasons you procrastinate — and how to stop
October 1, 2017 9:38 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever sat down to complete an important task — and then suddenly discovered you were up loading the dishwasher or engrossed in the Wikipedia entry about Chernobyl?...But the best thing that Pychyl recommends is to recognize that you don’t have to be in the mood to do a certain task — just ignore how you feel and get started.

“Most of us seem to tacitly believe that our emotional state has to match the task at hand,” says Pychyl. But that’s just not true. “I have to recognize that I’m rarely going to feel like it, and it doesn’t matter if I don’t feel like it.”

Instead of focusing on feelings, we have to think about what the next action is, Pychyl says. He counsels people to break down their tasks into very small steps that can actually be accomplished. So if it’s something like writing a letter of reference, the first step is just opening the letterhead and writing the date.

Even if it’s an extremely small action, a little progress will typically make you feel better about the task and increase your self-esteem, which in turn reduces the desire to procrastinate to make yourself feel better, he says.


Of course, I am procrastinating by posting this...
posted by whitelotus (77 comments total) 114 users marked this as a favorite
 
Tim Urban points out that the typical advice for procrastinators — essentially, to stop what they’re doing and get down to work, is ridiculous, because procrastination isn’t something that extreme procrastinators feel as though they can control.

Four paragraphs later:

just ignore how you feel and get started.

...
posted by darksasami at 10:08 PM on October 1 [78 favorites]


I have so much work to get done today that I'm gonna sit right down and read this whole article.
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:34 PM on October 1 [42 favorites]


I confess that this kind of advice always baffles me - to me it sounds like an awful lot of words just to say, "having trouble doing the thing? Just do the thing!" I spent all weekend trying to get a certain task done and I just couldn't. It had nothing to do with me consciously "feeling like" doing it or not, the thought of doing the task just kept sliding out my brain like water off a duck's back.
posted by btfreek at 10:36 PM on October 1 [18 favorites]


Have I ever done this, like for example read Metafilter while I should be working on my thesis? Whaaaaaaaat? Me?! No. No not me. My friend has though. She should, um, stop doing that and get back to work. She definitely shouldn't read that article, as that's just further procrastinating. She should stop being a dong and work on her methodology.

...
...
...
*click*
posted by supercrayon at 10:55 PM on October 1 [6 favorites]


That was the first time I felt like an article was written by an algorithm. Especially the part where it does the 'drop names of celebs to increase your reach' thing and then doesn't know what to do with them.
posted by Ashenmote at 10:56 PM on October 1 [10 favorites]


I like to think that procrastinating results from our subconscious knowing that our time is better spent on the now, which is more likely, then the future, which is more of a gamble.
posted by Hicksu at 11:03 PM on October 1 [21 favorites]


Have you ever sat down to complete an important task — and then suddenly discovered you were up loading the dishwasher or engrossed in the Wikipedia entry about Chernobyl?.

I hate it when articles do this. It's the web - you're allowed to have links to stuff.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:06 PM on October 1 [13 favorites]


Here's a summary of the article, so all you procrastinators have no excuse for clicking through:

1. People procrastinate because they prefer to do fun, interesting or diverting things to boring and stressful things.
2. Cartoon with monkeys, and some other stuff
3. It might help if you don't stress too much about it.
4. Ultimately, the way to not do this is not to do this.

And yes, I am at work and have a bunch of stuff to do.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:14 PM on October 1 [29 favorites]


I confess that this kind of advice always baffles me - to me it sounds like an awful lot of words just to say, "having trouble doing the thing? Just do the thing!"

You're depressed? Why don't you just cheer up?
posted by Splunge at 11:36 PM on October 1 [65 favorites]


Here's what I took away from the article that I found sort of actionable:
  • Forgive yourself for procrastinating.
  • Focus less on your feelings about what you have to do and more about your immediate next steps.
  • Break down your tasks into small steps because you'll start feeling better after doing even a tiny thing.
I hadn't heard an emphasis on forgiving yourself for procrastinating before.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 11:37 PM on October 1 [42 favorites]


In procrastinators' defense, the Wikipedia page for deaths due to the Chernobyl disaster makes for pretty compelling reading. It contains entries like:
Proskuryakov, Viktor Vasilyevich: Present in the control room at the moment of explosion; received fatal dose of radiation during attempt to manually lower the control rods as he looked directly onto the open reactor core and suffered 100% radiation burns.
Directly onto the open reactor core. That is some Noisy-Rhysling-in-real-life material right there.

Wait, what was TFA about again?
posted by The Tensor at 11:42 PM on October 1 [39 favorites]


At least nobody has linked to TV Tropes yet.
posted by kersplunk at 12:05 AM on October 2 [7 favorites]


There must be plenty of Chernobyl-related tropes.
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:16 AM on October 2


Wow, you're not lying;

Lelechenko, Aleksandr Grigoryevich
Former Leningrad power plant electrical shop shift leader at the central control room with Kukhar; at the moment of explosion just arrived to the block 4 control room; in order to spare his younger colleagues of radiation exposure, he went through radioactive water and debris three times to switch off the electrolyzers and the feed of hydrogen to the generators, then tried to supply voltage to the feedwater pumps.

Pravik, Vladimir Pavlovych
Lieutenant, leader of the first crew on the reactor roof, repeatedly visited the reactor and the roof of Unit C at Level 71 to supervise the firefighting; received fatal dose during attempt to extinguish the roof and the reactor core. His eyes are said to have been turned from brown to blue by the intensity of the radiation.
posted by kersplunk at 12:16 AM on October 2 [18 favorites]


I do things that make sense. I think long-term. I am not a child.

This illustration is a perfect example of someone who waited five minutes before it was due to open MSPAINT.
posted by adept256 at 12:25 AM on October 2 [5 favorites]


The real [reason] you procrastinate...

Because there's always something new to check out that’s been posted to the blue.
posted by LeLiLo at 12:31 AM on October 2 [3 favorites]


I'm thinking one of the benefits of a lesson like "just do it, ignore your feelings" is because if you're receptive enough to the lesson, it serves as a fourth-wall breaking advice that can force the hearer to go, "egad! I have permission to act against my instincts!" So I guess reverse Obi-Wanning leads to winning.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:36 AM on October 2 [5 favorites]


Previously.
posted by liebchen at 12:52 AM on October 2 [2 favorites]


As a comically bad procrastinator, this did make sense. I thought there was more to it than just "do the thing."

One thing I wish people would write more about is addictive behavior. There's definitely an anxiety component to procrastination, but for me at least, there's also a major compulsive element. Hour by hour, I think I've spent more time dicking around on the internet than I've spent doing probably anything else. And by "dicking around," I don't even mean watching videos of Justin Bieber's mom, I mean compulsively clicking back and forth between websites. I'll be looking at this site, close the tab, and instantly open a new tab and start typing metafilter.com without even thinking about it. I'll do it without even realizing that's what I'm doing (it's how I started reading this thread, for example). I'm probably not exaggerating when I say I could go an hour without reading anything, just clicking back and forth, typing and retyping URLs.

It's a genuine addiction. I feel like I've more or less wasted my life, and I'm not even being hyperbolic. My life is consumed by automatic behavior that reinforces itself and sucks up time when I could be doing literally anything else. I like the idea of forgiving myself for being a procrastinator, but I'm beginning to think I need to treat it as a serious addiction.

And I could "just do the thing" and get offline. I would love to go cold-turkey. The problem is that the internet is designed to keep you from quitting. Facebook keeps you in touch with your friends, and you know you'll miss out on keeping up to date with everyone if you leave (they know it; on the account "suspension" page, it shows you pictures of your friends and tells you "so-and-so will miss you"). Reddit lets you rack up points and a reputation; close your account, and you'll lose it all permanently. Even this site, which is far more forgiving, makes it hard to leave; I've been kind of begging myself to close my account, but then I won't be able to ask questions on AskMe. Spend less time online, and you'll be less up to date on news and politics and communities of like-minded people.

I don't think all the thinkpieces on procrastination have done enough to take this into account. There is a very powerful social force guiding you directly towards the internet. It's not by chance that so many of us procrastinators waste our time in front of a screen.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:26 AM on October 2 [88 favorites]


I generally find I have to make a conscious decision to do housework while I'm supposed to be working at home. The zombie mode is more likely to lead to me suddenly realising I'm up to the battle of Sharif and obviously I can hardly turn off now.
posted by biffa at 1:28 AM on October 2 [3 favorites]


I do love how the article ends with "more like this...".

I know procrastination can be debilitating for some - and that it is probably damaging for all of us at one time or another. But I also like to think of it as being at least somewhat adaptive mental behaviour - like forgetting. That chore that our consciousness tells us we should be doing isn't always quite as important as we might think. The pain that tells us we really ought to go and see a doctor right now - might just vanish of its own accord tomorrow - in the mean time life has many other low hanging fruits to distract us - wouln't want to miss them!
posted by rongorongo at 1:28 AM on October 2 [1 favorite]


Looks cool. I'll read it tomorrow. (My ongoing battle with WaPo adblocking false triggering just isn't worth it tonight.)
posted by Samizdata at 1:39 AM on October 2


There is a very powerful social force guiding you directly towards the internet.

Articles on procrastination usually suggest "this is pretty common, here are some tips to deal with it, etc".

What I rarely hear is "the advertising complex has spent billions upon billions over decades determining how to get your attention away from unprofitable things and toward profitable ones; and with the rise of directly advertising-funded models, this has become less about conversions and more about eyeballs".

I do feel like less of a failure that way, though it makes me think I should probably scrub my internet presence as much as possible.
posted by solarion at 2:09 AM on October 2 [25 favorites]


Yeah, by "forces" I was thinking specifically about all the algorithms and marketing tools that keep you hooked in. "Anger makes people click," and all that. News feed algorithms are designed to feed you stuff you're going to click on.

I have fantasies that I'll unlock my true potential if I cut myself off from the internet, but I'm not sure I would know what to do with myself. I guess that's the fantasy about procrastinating: when you've eliminated every distraction, you'll be able to do what needs to get done.

Honestly, at this point, I'd be happy just doing more with my time, even if it's not productive. Reading more books, or something. Going for more walks, or cleaning the apartment. It's 2 AM and I still need to do the dishes. High-functioning procrastinators don't know how lucky they have it.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:18 AM on October 2 [5 favorites]


God, yes, just reading an actual book rather than my entire Twitter timeline — and going back to the top and starting over — is such a victory. When I first learned about the Internet, I scoffed at the very notion and pre-scorned anyone who would sit all day and read things on a screen. I've got a Kindle on the way because I apparently read many things on a screen, now. And yes, some vestigial scorn lingers. (I should have known better; people were already hooked on the TV screen.)

I do find that if I can kick the monkey to one side even briefly and take one solid step toward the goal, I can get at least some of it done. But the monkey is a persistent little fucker, and Nike's "Just Do It" is no antidote. (Interesting story about that slogan here.)

Couldn't help but think of Gurney Halleck from Frank Herbert's Dune: “What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises — no matter the mood! Mood's a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It's not for fighting.”
posted by bryon at 2:37 AM on October 2 [9 favorites]


I quickly moved on from the Chernobyl article (been there, done that, played the video games) but now it's 4:30 in the morning and I've just spent an hour reading about the sinking of the Kursk.

I'll get around to reading that procrastination article eventually.
posted by neckro23 at 2:40 AM on October 2 [6 favorites]


I've taken this advice - ignore your feelings and just do it - after seeing it in an AskMe answer.

It worked great - I got a lot done - but after a couple of months of it I was constantly stressed and angry. I was yelling at my daughter, and her behaviour at school was taking a turn for the worse.

Things have gone better since I decided to use the advice only to get the essentials done, not to get everything done.
posted by clawsoon at 2:48 AM on October 2 [26 favorites]


My ongoing battle with WaPo adblocking false triggering just isn't worth it tonight.

I worked this out and feel compelled to tell people:

WaPo correctly triggers its adblock drawbridge for me. The problem for them is that WaPo foolishly sends the entire article and then decides it won't let you read it, which means that you can tell your browser to ignore all the things that stop you from reading the article normally.

If you right-click the adblocker block, and click Inspect, it pops up the code for the site, highlights what bit means what, and if you right-click, you can edit the page. You can do a Ctrl+F search for 'drawbridge' here. There's two things you need to remove: the actual left panel complaining about your adblock, which has 'drawbridge-base' in the name (you can alternatively remove one slightly further up that's called 'bottom-furniture'); and at the very top, you need to right-click on the very first part, select 'Edit Attribute', and remove 'drawbridge-up' from the text, which stops the article from scrolling.

There's probably a plugin that does this.
posted by Merus at 3:19 AM on October 2 [8 favorites]


Since October is ADHD awareness month, I’m just going to leave this and this here for anyone planning to forward this to someone with severe adult ADHD/ADD, because this kind of advice tends to get dumped on us like those old “Just say no!” or “Just read Florida!” PR campaigns.

Just to get this on the record, with attention disorders it’s not just about being “in the mood” or “watching your self talk.” The dysfunction in control of attention is the disorder. There’s not much conscious choice involved. You don’t “procrastinate” so much as find that your attention slips away from you regardless of how much deliberate or conscious effort you make to remember to do something or stay focused on a particular priority.

You can, to a point, work to change your situation to make it more manageable—i.e., medicate if that works for you and streamline and reduce and optimize your lifestyle to accommodate the hard limits on your ability to maintain focus on what you’d prefer or need most to prioritize—but expecting to just teach and lecture someone with ADHD to adopt better habits that will magically make us function effortlessly like we don’t have a disability is misguided and more hurtful than helping due to the stigmatizing effects.

In fact, people with ADHD are in many cases much better at sustaining long term focus on particular activitites and tasks, the nature of the disorder can just make it significantly harder to direct and keep that focus directed where you want and need it to be.

To put a finer point on it so there’s no confusion, your friends and relatives with diagnosed ADHD/ADD aren’t “procrastinating,” even if that’s what it looks like from the outside. They’re suffering from an abnormal executive function that makes their attention not as easily consciously controlled and directed as it might be for you, so just condescendingly telling them over and over they should learn to control and direct their memory and attention more like other people without the disability isn’t going to do much more than cause both parties to the exchange unnecessary and distracting amounts of extra stress and frustration (which of course exacerbates the original problem).

So as helpful as advice like this might potentially be to people without an attention disorder, please don’t pass it along to anyone you know with ADHD and fool yourself into thinking you’re being helpful or compassionate. You’re not if you do that. You might as well just tell a wheel chair bound paraplegic their problem is that they need to learn to have better control of their legs and tell them they’ll have an easier time dealing with the lack of wheel chair access in public spaces if only they’d follow this Wikhow article on the mechanics of climbing stairs.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:35 AM on October 2 [33 favorites]


I just did
CTRL-A CTRL-C
Then tabbed to notepad.pw
CTRL-V

Which just gets me a nice text only version.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:36 AM on October 2 [2 favorites]


If I have a big report or an essay to write then the stages include:

-Planning on getting started in really good time, following all the tips (start small, use a timer etc)
-Getting increasingly anxious because it's not working despite multiple attempts
-Reading all the things on the Internet.
-Anxiety about the due date causing nightmare stress dreams and wanting to lay on the floor -kicking and screaming (I tried to avoid that at work but home is fair game)
-Hopeless resignation - I have to write the damn thing or die trying.
-It gets written. Not a big deal at all, why didn't I start ages ago?
-I need a week at home in a dark room to recover.

It's just unbelievably exhausting not doing the thing straight away. But I can't. I just can't until I hit rock bottom.
posted by kitten magic at 3:51 AM on October 2 [30 favorites]


Also the bit about remembering to feed the dog made me laugh. I have cats. There's no forgetting.
posted by kitten magic at 3:53 AM on October 2 [6 favorites]


I highly recommend a site blocker plugin. You can put in specific sites that are attention suckers (for me that includes Mefi, NYT, Facebook) and even redirect to another page when you visit a blocked site (for me that's an inspirational piece of text about awareness). I believe you can even set the times that the blocker works during (for example, working hours). Of course, you can easily disable it, but it's a way of putting a slight speed bump between that impulse to do something else and actually doing it. Often, I find that's what I need - a brief delay to let myself see what I'm doing, catch myself, and return to what really needs taking care of.
posted by kokaku at 4:02 AM on October 2 [1 favorite]


There is something about cell/mobile/smart phones that is super addictive. We refer to it as 'smoking'. Watch at the next social gathering - people 'smoking' right there at the dinner table!
I'm not immune. I have spent hours and hours scrolling. Facebook. Metafilter. Ask me. Metatalk. I can't spend too long on fanfare or it will suck me in too.

Thanks for the Adult ADHD links above - the more I teach kids with Adhd or ADD diagnosises I look at myself and wonder.
posted by freethefeet at 4:14 AM on October 2 [3 favorites]


re: Site blocking tools. I use a tool called RescueTime.

It tracks all that you do, categorises in terms of productivity and you can set yourself timeouts where it will just block non-productive sites.
So on days where I'm very tired and can't focus it will kick in after an hour of unproductiveness and block everything distracting.

It will also pop up every hour of productive work to ask what I've been doing, so it's a helpful work log.

You can then check back in time to see how your work distribution is.
Oh, and it syncs with exist.io which tracks a bunch of other stuff so I can see if there are correlations between having no sleep and doing no work.
Also, it records my todoist tasks and my outlook and gcal meetings, so I can see what tasks I did that day and what meetings I had.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:38 AM on October 2 [3 favorites]


or engrossed in the Wikipedia entry about Chernobyl?

How do they know?
posted by run"monty at 5:07 AM on October 2 [2 favorites]


The only viable solution I’ve found is the slingshot method.

1) Pick two things that need to get done
2) channel the urge to procrastinate on one into making progress on the other
3) when I reach the do-or-die stage on either, I’ve usually got enough of it done that I can finish without blowing up my life

I’m not saying it works well. But it works enough of the time and better than anything else.
posted by sixswitch at 5:38 AM on October 2 [24 favorites]


So as helpful as advice like this might potentially be to people without an attention disorder, please don’t pass it along to anyone you know with ADHD and fool yourself into thinking you’re being helpful or compassionate. You’re not if you do that. You might as well just tell a wheel chair bound paraplegic their problem is that they need to learn to have better control of their legs and tell them they’ll have an easier time dealing with the lack of wheel chair access in public spaces if only they’d follow this Wikhow article on the mechanics of climbing stairs.

I hear you saulgoodman. That’s an excellent rant, and I had no idea we had an awareness month. I’ll be honest though, I’m almost as resistant tox relentless pathologizing as I am to cognitive behavioural therapy.

Prevailing discourses demand our conformity to capitalist standards of productivity, but we all know intuitively that innovation is driven by another way of thinking altogether. The more I learn about my condition, the more I’m convinced that our obsession with Getting Things Done is the enemy of creative problem solving and that instead of fighting the default position of Putting Things Off we need to learn to embrace it constructively. If we’re going to create better social affordances for people on the spectrum we should be doing more to explore these differences on a cultural level.

So my drive by response to the OP is to shrug it off as prevarication for neurotypicals. For sure, there’s some useful stuff in here if you like that sort of thing, but at its core it’s a deeply unsophisticated view of the fine art of procrastination. For a more philosophical approach, I highly recommend Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, which is far better than any todo list.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 6:05 AM on October 2 [6 favorites]


Procastination happens because the society in which we live is not fulfilling us. Not making us happy. How to stop procastinating? Try to live in a place where your hobbies/work make you satisfied and happy. Try something close to nature, away from the big city. Big cities suck your energy and motivation. Then, you will realize that instead of procastination you will have too many things to do.
posted by gogreensolar at 6:23 AM on October 2 [1 favorite]


Funny. I’ve lived in both and my location had no effect on procrastination. Are you sure you aren’t thinking of self-importance?
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:25 AM on October 2 [13 favorites]


Came to snark but being a bad procrastinator there is more to it than "just don't want to" and it can be a real psychological issue, but one that is not well addressed by most professionals in the psychology field.
posted by sammyo at 6:29 AM on October 2


You're depressed? Why don't you just cheer up?

Many times I have told myself, hey, get up and do the thing - you can brood about the labyrinth of failure at the center of your life just as well while doing the thing as you can on the couch! But it can be surprisingly hard to do that.
posted by thelonius at 6:59 AM on October 2 [6 favorites]


I got my method from AskMe years and years ago. It isn't healthy, but it works. When I'm avoiding doing something, I generally avoid thinking about it, because it's stressful. But! AskMe suggested, what if instead you think about how much it sucks REALLY HARD? So instead of going, "I'm not going to think about my taxes and dealing with my taxes, I'm just going to ignore it," whenever my taxes flit across my mind I take a moment and focus on how much it sucks and how badly I want to not do them and how much I'm going to hate it, which causes the dread to grow and grow, until it becomes so overwhelmingly miserable that I go, "FUCK IT! I AM GOING TO DO THEM RIGHT NOW SO I CAN STOP THEM HANGING OVER ME!"

In short, I make NOT doing the thing so miserable I will do the shitty thing just to be less miserable.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:07 AM on October 2 [15 favorites]


Procrastination solutions are like diets, and must be finely-tuned to fit the needs and composition of the recipient.
posted by mecran01 at 7:18 AM on October 2 [8 favorites]


I dunno; to me, there's a definite difference between procrastination (which in me is usually anxiety-mediated rather than boredom-mediated) and not being able to focus because I'm having a really bad brain day. Procrastination is like looking frantically for something, anything else to do that is not the scary thing; ADHD shit is like... getting up, trying to do the thing, but when I hit the accelerator to make my body get up and do it nothing happens. And then I wind up yelling at myself and cycling in an unpleasant way rather than, y'know, getting up. A strategy like Eyebrows' doesn't work for me because it's too easy to wind up accidentally hanging out in that shitty place.

On the other hand, I'm much more prone to hyperfocus than I am to not being able to focus at all, which means that other neuroatypicals' mileage may vary. I have a fucking hard time tearing myself away from things and prioritizing, not so much with avoiding unless something is actively freaking me out.
posted by sciatrix at 7:52 AM on October 2 [9 favorites]


I'm pretty good at "just doing the thing." Like, my floors are freshly scrubbed (I hate doing that) and the kitty litter is spotless.

When I procrastinate there is way more going on than just a lack of interest in doing the task. Usually it's that the task makes me feel bad emotions. Inferiority, anger, etc. I have a second job that I keep putting off working on because I feel angry and helpless and stupid for being almost 40, fully employed, and still unable to support myself monetarily. I think about how my glasses are ten years old, how I'm grinding my teeth to dust, etc. So yeah. It's complicated.
posted by Stonkle at 8:17 AM on October 2 [9 favorites]


As a lifelong procrastinator, I can readily attest to the fact that there is some emotional pull or force that resists the conscious, logical decision to do something. Emotion influences most of our decisions and choices.

There are medications and other therapies that can help to 'mute' the emotional resistance, but there's not that many people who travel through life without any emotional headwind... and whether you're an average procrastinator, or have some greater challenges, you're always going to have to just push through some resistance.

Q. How does one eat an elephant?

A. One bite at a time.

For me, in moments of max procrast, what works is to take the impossible thing and break it into the smallest possible units, choose the top three, put them in order, and start in on #1.

(of course I'm here right now, and not working on #1, but I allowed myself this. Also part of the strategy: rewards)
posted by Artful Codger at 9:04 AM on October 2 [4 favorites]


Nature is good but the assertion that big cities suck your motivation is ridiculous. Many of my hobbies are only possible because I live in a big city. Vilifying where most people live isn't going to help the procrastination issue at all.
posted by agregoli at 9:40 AM on October 2 [5 favorites]


...But the best thing that Pychyl recommends is to recognize that you don’t have to be in the mood to do a certain task — just ignore how you feel and get started.

For a few seconds, I thought this was some kind of Python anti-procrastination AI module and I got excited.

$ pip install pychyl
posted by Kwine at 10:39 AM on October 2 [6 favorites]


There was an ask.me question about getting out of bed that recommended actually practicing the act of getting out of bed. It should apply to other things I procrastinate about, but I can't be arsed, as they say. I do not know how to practice being arsed.
posted by theora55 at 10:40 AM on October 2 [2 favorites]


I am procrastinating on my workload for the day by reading up on why I tend to want to sleep whenever I get stressed out at work.

The yawning and the grumpiness have arrived.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:52 AM on October 2 [2 favorites]


My personal struggle with "don't think about how you feel; just do it" is that "just do it" gives rise to really bad feelings in me. A long while back, I managed to land under a professor I'd looked up to for years. It turned into a bad experience - I put myself under pressure and I was unproductive - bottoming out with the teacher yelling at me in front of other students, "JUST DO SOMETHING, SHOW ME SOMETHING, ANYTHING, GODDAMIT". Soon I got very depressed and eventually I dropped out. It's been years, and still I have trouble: after all this time, whenever I think to myself "I should just do it", I see the teacher standing next to me, both hands raised and face crunched up in exasperation, yelling. And more often than not, no, I can't do it.

I don't know how generalizable this is, but to me, when people discuss "just do it", the tone is just assumed to be neutral or encouraging, and I think there's a good tone and a terrible tone. I guess I'm saying "be kind to yourself" even when you "just do it".
posted by shortfuse at 11:52 AM on October 2 [8 favorites]


I do better with a hard deadline. Often my hard deadline is "before I go to bed." I'm pretty sleep deprived but I do actually get a good amount done between 10 pm and 2 am or so.
posted by miyabo at 12:14 PM on October 2 [3 favorites]


I am procrastinating on my workload for the day by reading up on why I tend to want to sleep whenever I get stressed out at work.

It took me *years* to figure out the fatigue was caused by stress. I tend to fall asleep immediately when there is a big (virtual) stack of papers in front of me. In my chair.
posted by mecran01 at 12:58 PM on October 2 [2 favorites]


I am procrastinating on my workload for the day by reading up on why I tend to want to sleep whenever I get stressed out at work.

It took me *years* to figure out the fatigue was caused by stress. I tend to fall asleep immediately when there is a big (virtual) stack of papers in front of me. In my chair.


Yeah, I have the exact same problem, plus the ADHD issues people mentioned above. I don't think I've paid enough attention to attention problems. I was diagnosed with an executive functioning disorder as a kid, and even now I have to read and reread and reread just to absorb what something says. Sometimes it feels like I have to completely burn out all my nervous energy just to be able to pay attention -- but not too much or I'll be too tired to focus. Ugh! What a nightmare.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:04 PM on October 2 [2 favorites]


I have ADHD and a brain injury and I work from home and my deadlines are often vague, which means I'll be lucky if I make it to the end of this sentence without glancing at my phone or staring out the window or wandering to the kitchen to make a snack or
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:46 PM on October 2 [7 favorites]


The most useful thing I found to approach procrastination was Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey's Immunity to Change work (The Real Reason People Won't Change - Harvard Business Review, and Immunity to Change, YouTube clip). The point about 'competing commitments' really resonated with me, that we don't do something that is clearly important because of a hidden/subconcious priority that clashes with it. Like, if I try to work on this story, it's going to reveal that I'm not a naturally good writer so why risk that? If I go to bed early, I give up on my inner perception of being a cool night owl type - better stay up reading the internet!
posted by Gin and Broadband at 2:30 PM on October 2 [6 favorites]


I'm an extreme procrastinator but I definitely don't have ADHD. I'm the opposite of ADHD. But, wow, am I a procrastinator.

The "not ruled by emotion" thing strongly resonated with me because I experienced an epiphany about this with regard to a different set of emotions years ago, and it was life-altering. So that change can happen.

However, what I've discovered is that it's been very difficult to understand the same thing about other emotions.

I had a big problem with anger and losing my temper all my life, and not coincidentally had an abusive parent as a model. Finally, when I was about 28, I was in a big argument with my spouse, was doing that rage-filled irrational thing and then, somehow, for the first time in my life, not only did I become self-aware of it, but I suddenly stopped thinking of my anger as an objective function of reality, but instead thought something like "this rage is happening to me" and suddenly it was something I could somewhat separate from me and my ability to choose how I behaved. Suddenly, a choice was possible that I genuinely didn't realize I'd had before. It wasn't that I was no longer angry, but that the anger was just one thing among many, and not (as it always had been before) the only thing that determines everything else.

This genuinely was life-changing -- I've never once behaved that way again. I'm still an angry person, but it doesn't rule me. I hadn't even realized it had been, before.

I also suffer from chronic major depression. And for a long time I've been aware that much of the same is true about those feelings. Nevertheless, I've never been able distinguish between feeling depressed (that cluster of feelings), myself, and what is true about reality. I can see how this would work given my experience with anger . . . but I've not yet managed it.

So, anyway, reading this I find I very strongly recognize that component of being ruled by one's emotions -- that, as they say, I weirdly just expect that I'll want to do whatever I am doing. Which is crazy! But I clearly act this way.

Maybe it's possible to achieve that distance, or distinction, or clarity and see that, oh, just because I don't feel like doing the thing doesn't mean that I can't do the thing.

You can't just tell other people to do it, and you can't just tell yourself to do it. You can't have this sort of epiphany on demand. But it seems likely to me that it's possible to be more receptive to discovering this. So it seems to me that there value in just digesting the possibility of this.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:34 PM on October 2 [7 favorites]


Yeah, fulfillment in your work has not much to do with whether you procrastinate or not. No fulfillment probably makes it worse, but even much fulfillment won't completely eradicate it, at least for me.

I've got this hobby which I partake of by playing multiple roles in a volunteer organization. It's incredibly fulfilling. I mean, if I don't watch myself, I can turn into the equivalent of one of those people who will tell you the entire life history and full description of the equipment and skills of their level 12 Elven Rogue during social encounters. I have had multiple occasions to say that the different things I do for the organization have been among the most rewarding things I've done with my life, including the most rewarding of all—and that's a hell of a thing for someone with a PhD to say about something that's got nothing to do with their PhD. I could, no kidding, get doctor's notes about how much being involved in that organization contributes to my inner peace.

And yet, occasionally, on an organization-related task, I will procrastinate.

Inasmuch as I've been able to notice a pattern at all, these factors seem to make procrastination more likely:

1. If I know $THING is going to be a slow, cumulative process, where you spend a lot of time for little progress, but you have a deadline
2. If I know that once I've done $THING, it's going to get other people involved and maybe unhappy (by making work for them, even though they are also volunteering)
3. If I've already done many things that day/week/period and I'm tired, especially if they've been widely-scattered things.

Decision fatigue is definitely a thing. Maybe we procrastinate because we're just plain tired more times than we realize.
posted by seyirci at 2:39 PM on October 2 [1 favorite]


Just start drawing the rest of the damn owl, people.
posted by kandinski at 2:45 PM on October 2 [2 favorites]


From Gin and Broadband above:
Like, if I try to work on this story, it's going to reveal that I'm not a naturally good writer so why risk that?
God, that resonates with me so much. And I've talked and talked with my therapist about this and why I procrastinate on or avoid so much of my coursework even though I am truly sick and tired of feeling like I'm running in place in my life.

It helped that he lead me to the insight that by not working on the things I was able to avoid the possibility of failure and the consequence of "knowing" myself to be a shitty human being (another belief I'm working on). But having this insight...hasn't helped as much as I wish it did? Like yeah I now have something that I can rationally refute with a counter-thought, but I STILL end up waiting until past the last minute to do something.
posted by coolname at 3:02 PM on October 2 [6 favorites]


I read that as 'uploading the dishwasher' and had to re-read the sentence twice to get it.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:28 PM on October 2 [2 favorites]


For those who struggle with concentration, it's worth noting that the theory behind Buddhist concentration meditation (at least in the Thai Forest tradition) models concentration as a skill which can be developed. I've personally gotten a lot of mileage from this perspective.

Used to think I had ADHD (was on ritalin for years), but the more I've looked into it, the shakier the basis for ADHD as reflecting a fundamental, neurological deficiency seems to me.
posted by Coventry at 3:36 PM on October 2 [1 favorite]


I cured myself of procrastination recently.

Actually, I did it in 7 sessions with an extremely experienced cognitive therapist familiar with motivational interviewing. Basically you use a lot of the same techniques that you would use for any addictive behavior, plus mindfullness, plus a TON of basic CBT homework (I filled 2 notebooks with notes basically narrating my 9-5 experience every day for 6 weeks.). I found it surpringly hard to find a therapist who specialized in this area so I just went for the best most hardcore CBT therapist around and she was able to help me figure out what to do.

My keys are:

- Schedule my day in 30 min intervals
- Always schedule my day and to-do list first
- Identify procrastination triggers for the day, and plan how to respond to them
- Self-talk to remain aware of what I'm doing as the day goes on and stick to my tasks
- Most importantly: accept that I never WANT to work in that second before gettings started, so that feeling of not wanting to work can just be there and sort of ignored.

I don't have ADHD so YMMV.
posted by yarly at 4:23 PM on October 2 [10 favorites]


Couldn't help but think of Gurney Halleck from Frank Herbert's Dune: “What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises — no matter the mood! Mood's a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It's not for fighting.”

Dune really is just full of weird mantras, yeah? Sometimes this one helps me, sometimes not, but often mr. epersonae and I will poke each other to do stuff by just saying "moods are for cattle and loveplay" (which is how Patrick Stewart says it in the movie IIRC).
posted by epersonae at 5:04 PM on October 2 [7 favorites]


I'm 41 and I've had a problem with procrastination my entire life. I had tried everything. Every kind of schedule, motivational technique, app, todo scheme, etc. I've meditated since college. Nothing ever worked. And then..

I was diagnosed with ADHD a few months ago. Got on meds, and in one morning I did nearly everything on my todo list, including things I had been putting off for months. Next day, I made progress on something I hadn't touched (but had been on my todo list) for well over a year.

And now for the first time I'm on top of things, not behind on things, and it's an amazing feeling. For the first time a list of to dos doesn't drag up a swirl of distracting emotions and negative self-talk. They're just tasks. I just do them. It's like being let out of a mental prison.

And I have zero patience for all that "just do the thing" bs. Failing over and over again to make any advice like that ever work led to decades of ever deepening feelings of worthlessness and disappointment in myself, when in reality I had a treatable impairment.

So far this has been my favorite source of information on the disorder. Full of citations if you're into that sort of thing. For a more convenient source check out the ADDA website, or, and I can't believe I'm recommending reddit, the ADHD subreddit is very well moderated and has a comprehensive resource list, and the posts are full of personal experiences from people with the disorder. It's actually where I first realized it's what I had -- like most folks I had a lot of misconceptions about ADHD and had never even considered I could have it.
posted by antinomia at 7:31 PM on October 2 [3 favorites]


I can roll with "just do the thing" sometimes, but for something I'm really procrastinating on because I don't want to open the I-don't-know-how-long-this-task-will-take-or-how-much-it-will-expand can of worms I find it helps to have a good face to face talk with myself in the mirror first. Usually about about how my feelings about doing the thing don't matter, it's just time to open up these three documents and whatever software I'm using for the day and get started on something shitty. It's kind of silly, and there's also a bit of a serial killer vibe to talking to oneself in the mirror, but something about the eye contact helps clear some mental avoidance issues enough to get started.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:48 PM on October 2 [2 favorites]


Golly, it's the middle of the night and I still can't get off the internet. I meant to start studying for my midterms about, oh, seven hours ago. I have to wonder if people like me just need to treat certain distractions like other people might treat, say, smoking. Some people can cut down to one cigarette a day, but some people need to go cold-turkey.

I did hear something interesting recently about how sometimes people procrastinate because they're perfectionists who can't convince themselves to accept the quality of their work until they have no choice. That is, they need to have exactly as much time as it takes to Do The Thing as it takes to Do It. I don't know how true that is for other people, but I think it resonated for me. As long as I have time, I'm going to fill it up with tiny little revisions, and I'm going to get more and more frustrated that it's not the perfect thing I could be putting out. It's only at the last second that I stop caring, and in the process I end up doing better work than I would otherwise, because I'm not getting bogged down in endless possibilities.

Or that's just rationalizing something that isn't all that irrational. Maybe it is just cycles of monkey-induced anxiety (did I read the comic right?).

Also, no one has mentioned it, but if you can get your hands on it, it's worth reading (or rereading) the Calvin & Hobbes strip where he goes through time to avoid writing a short paper. I think thread is the right audience for it.

Anyway, this procrastination is getting ridiculous. I'm practicing some radical self-care here and getting off this dang site for a while. Wish me luck on my exams and the rest of my research. If I didn't need it before, I certainly need it now.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:06 AM on October 3 [6 favorites]


When I was in grad school I really struggled to finish papers (never did hand one in on time). My procrastination tended to revolve around perfectionism. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was trying to write for an imagined reader who was not my prof, but all of academia - an imagined reader who had read everything, knew everything, and would immediately spot a misused term or a misunderstood concept, or a relevant theorist that I had not read.

So whenever I hit a wall writing, I would read and read and read - and there's always more to read. I would read five papers just to make sure a single sentence was perfect. I opened new tabs until my browser crashed, and then started the process again.

I was only able to finish a paper when I had reached a point of total despair, sleep-deprived, completely exhausted, and desperate for the whole process to end. Only at that point could I bring myself to submit my incomplete, flawed work, fully expecting that I would be revealed as a fraud who had no business in academia.

As it turns out, my papers were pretty well received.

I still haven't written my thesis. At this point I don't know if I'm procrastinating or if I've given up. Maybe when I give up completely, I'll finally be able to write the damn thing.
posted by thedamnbees at 8:50 AM on October 3 [3 favorites]


As it turns out, my papers were pretty well received.

At least for me, that has certainly been a big part of it. My system of waiting until the last minute worked because that gave me the most time to contemplate the problem and gave me the pressure I needed to do a great job. The only side effect was that it made me completely miserable. Still trying to figure this out.
posted by miyabo at 9:57 AM on October 3


For things I care about, like papers in college, perfectionism-related stuff is definitely involved. Both the "procrastination makes me do it without getting bogged down in an endless quest for perfection" but also in the "it provides an excuse for my work not being the world-class quality I narcissistically imagine I'm able and supposed to manage". That's a lot of incentive.

But I procrastinate about all other kinds of things, too, where those factors are definitely not involved. For me, I think a key component is just that self-indulgent idea that I can, and should, only do things when I want to do them.

My comment above was trying to approach this not from a moralistic perspective, which is probably counter-productive, but just from a limited awareness of what is possible. To some degree, even if I know intellectually it's not true, I think that my mood about a task defines my relationship with it. The desire is the foundation, not one factor among several. You can be moralistic about it -- it does seem self-indulgent and childish -- but, regardless, it may just be something one doesn't understand, but could. Like the fact that I could actually separate being angry from myself and choose how to act. I didn't know that until I knew that.

The common theme in this and many other things is an awareness of one's ability to choose. Not how to feel, because you mostly have no control over that, but how to act in relationship to those feelings. I think everyone struggles with this in various ways -- for some of us, it's deeply involved in procrastination.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:27 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


I went cold turkey on the internet (at home) for about a year in the early 00s. At the time, it wasn't a major part of my job and I didn't have a company laptop or personal computer so I never worked from home. I did do some personal surfing at work.

Honestly, it didn't help all that much. I did ride my bike and read more books, but I didn't write a novel or learn to play the guitar or become a great cook. I really have nothing to show for that period. I watched more TV and spent more time sleeping. I hooked up with guys, which was definitely a net negative.

So software that blocks sites doesn't work for me, because I'll just waste time on other sites. My life is functional in that I pay my bills and keep my house to an acceptable level of cleanliness, but I have trouble pushing past that bare minimum due to perfectionism. If I can't be an amazing guitar player, why bother? I've tried writing short stories and they all seem like crap. I've tried cooking things more complex than spaghetti and I've ruined food. This is getting away from the topic of procrastination, but it's a definite link for me. I'm having a hell of a time looking for jobs because of the fear of rejection and the fear that I'll take the "wrong" job. My stupid brain says "wait until the last minute and then take absolutely any job so you don't run out of money." That's a terrible approach but anything else feels like trying to run through molasses.
posted by AFABulous at 12:57 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


I was able to (mostly) disentangle my perfectionism from my self-esteem about twenty years ago. It was a matter of survival: I had my father's relentlessly critical voice in my head, where the standard was always what I failed to do that I conceivably have done better, and that was destroying my self-esteem to the point that I recognized that I was, sooner or later, likely to kill myself. So I just stopped that.

However, I still am a perfectionist in that I just really, really want to do things perfectly (or at least very well) and while I can't speak for other people, a big reason why I haven't been able to let go of this is because when I do accomplish something that lives up to my internal standard, I get a powerful feeling of satisfaction and contentment. It's like I'm addicted to that. So why bother with anything less than that?

But, here again, in my case, it's back to letting my immediate feelings about something dictate my choices.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 2:31 PM on October 3


This thread has convinced me that it mostly comes down to study and practice. I keep seeing stories of people who tried and failed for years to get a handle on procrastinating. That sounds like studying all the ways NOT to do it. Most of us have found something that works for them. Some by stumbling on something that sort of works and then practicing that until we got better. Others found success with professional help. I think it's possible that those of you who treated their ADHD sort of Captain America'ed those techniques. You had practiced a lot of stuff that, once the ADHD was more under control that practice started paying off.

In any case, it's highly individual (and depends on a lot of other factors besides) and will probably take practice besides.

Mostly what works for me is when I'm avoiding doing something and I randomly think to myself, "Man, I really should work on X." I've taught myself to follow that up with, "Yes, I should work on X. I'm going to stop what I'm doing and get that started right now." Sometimes it's making a deal with myself that if I can work thing for some amount of time or get to some stage and then I can take a break and procrastinate some more. Then I try to keep those breaks shorts.

Sometimes it helps me to break the task down and then commit to getting one part done and then sometimes I get on a roll and it feels good to be knocking things the list I made.

Sometimes I still fail spectacularly and just procrastinate.

When it comes specifically to writing starting with an outline and not having to start at the beginning are the two things that helped me the most. I always used to start at the beginning. Maybe come up with a title later, but otherwise start writing at the beginning of the piece and then write it in order right through to the end. Turns out you can start at any point you like or put in placeholders maybe with some notes about the dope prose you'll come back and come up with later or stop in the middle of one paragraph and make sure you write down that idea/sentence for a later paragraph and then coming back to it.

I used to dread having to write a 1,500 word essay back in high school and would procrastinate like hell in writing anything. I got better at writing and enjoy it enough to write pointless screeds like this (hell, I've deleted longer nonsense than this) for everyone here or the 3,000 something word entry I made in the journal I just started keeping as way to practice writing.

Endless hours of study and practice, the secret, boring sauce for getting better at anything and everything. :(
posted by VTX at 5:39 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


ADHD here. If I am unmedicated, which I am, procrastination is a necessary part of getting absolutely anything done. Last-minute work is fueled by a surge of norepinephrine -- the same hormone triggered all day long by most ADHD medications. Sure, a dose of Concerta is ideal, but a dose of OH SHIT works just as well a lot of the time.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:43 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


the slingshot method

is a variety of what works for me, which is structured procrastination.

As long as there always remains a large pile of Things I Really Should Have Done Already, everything else hums along at a reasonable clip. Let that pile of stuff get seriously chipped away at, though - perhaps because somebody else "helpfully" does some of those things for me, instead of waiting for me to get around to them - and my productivity just slumps horribly.
posted by flabdablet at 6:09 AM on October 4


Unfortunately on my list of things I really must have done includes:

a) That large spreadsheet model
b) sending an xcom squad to respond to an alien terror threat
c) A colonization mission to the recently terraformed Bovantir System
d) increasing the fleet strength so I can declare war on the nearby star empire
e) A writing side gig that I'm quite far behind on
f) Finish renovating that room.

B, C or D often take priority...
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 7:32 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


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