zenhabits : breathe

Procrastination is a Mindfulness Problem

By Leo Babauta

We all procrastinate, and by and large, we all know the solutions to our procrastination.

I put off writing this article (ironically, I know, and yes I know you’ll put off reading this article) by doing a bunch of smaller tasks, for example. They were less important and I knew it, but they were quick tasks and so easier than writing an article on a tough topic.

Honestly, I know the solutions: clarify what task is most important, clear away everything but this more important task, clarify my motivations for this task, break it down into something smaller and easier if I feel difficulty.

These aren’t hard solutions.

But they don’t work unless you’re aware of what you’re doing.

You can’t step back to clarify what your Most Important Tasks are unless you realize you’re procrastinating in the first place. You can’t break a task into small steps unless you realize you’re dreading the task. You can’t clear away distractions unless you realize you’ve been following the urge to go to these distractions.

Awareness is everything with procrastination. The problem isn’t finding solutions to procrastination — it’s being aware of what’s going on in the first place.

Once we know what’s happening, the fixes are (fairly) easy.

The problem isn’t just being aware of what’s going on — it’s remembering to be aware. This remembering is what mindfulness is about. Too often we forget to be aware.

So let’s talk about the awareness of what’s going on when we procrastinate, and then how to remember

Awareness of What’s Going On

So what’s going on when we procrastinate? Try these:

These are some of the more common examples of what’s going on when we procrastinate. But how do we become aware? How do we remember to be aware?

How to Remember

The problem with remembering to be aware is that we get caught up in our moment-to-moment actions. Once we open a computer, for example, a series of habitual responses kicks in and we’re suddenly in the deep end. It could be hours before we come up for air and realize we’ve been procrastinating.

So what we need are a set of tools for remembering.

Here are the ones that tend to work for me:

  1. Recognition of harm. The first thing you need to admit is that the procrastinating is actually doing bad things to you — if we think it’s not a big problem, we won’t take any of the other steps listed below. So what harm is the procrastination causing? Well, it might be stopping you from achieving your dreams or big goals, from pushing your boundaries and learning new things. It might be causing you anxiety, and making your work suffer.
  2. Commitment. Making a commitment to being aware is a great tool for remembering. What kind of commitment? You can write it on a piece of paper and look at it every morning. Or tell someone else about it. Post it on your blog or Twitter. Have someone check on you weekly. Whatever you do, commit as seriously as you can.
  3. Setting intentions. As you start an activity, like opening your email or starting to write something, or even opening your computer or starting your day, pause to think about what your intention is with that activity. Make an intention to be mindful and notice your procrastination. Setting intentions doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll actually achieve what you set out to do, but it helps. And it helps you to learn to get better at that with practice.
  4. Reminders. Every hour or two, have a reminder that helps you to check in to see if your actions match your intention, to remember to be aware of what’s been going on with your procrastination.
  5. Recognize signals. There are signs that you’re procrastinating — anxiety about your tasks, compulsively checking things, a rising urge to go do something other than the present task. These signs might be physical (tightness in your chest, for example) or they might be certain actions (checking email) — but you can learn to recognize them with time. They are flags, waving and telling you that something is going on. Notice the flags, and check in to see what’s going on.

These aren’t things you can master in one day. They take practice, and they take commitment. But if you can solve the mindfulness problem, procrastination becomes a much more manageable beast.



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