procrastination is a different problem...

Discussion in 'PUBLIC: Discuss the GTD Methodology' started by pro, Dec 8, 2005.

  1. pro

    pro Guest

    I'm just posting this FYI, in case it's useful to someone...

    Many times procrastinators are offered time management tips, but procrastination isn't a time management problem, it's a task avoidance problem. They both result in not getting stuff done, but the cause is not the same. There are some very organized procrastinators in this world.

    In case anyone here is a procrastinator and needs help with that different (but related) problem, there's a new Web site with some innovative ideas and suggestions for a solution.
  2. pageta

    pageta Guest

    I think David Allen summed it up nicely when he said that procrastination means you haven't defined the next step clearly enough OR you are not excited enough about the outcome.
  3. pro

    pro Guest

    there's procrastination and PROCRASTINATION

    I'm a big David Allen fan. I have his "Getting Things Done" book in both print and audio form, plus I bought the "adapting Outlook" booklet on his Web site and found that very useful. I tried the GTD plug-in that the other guy sells (forget his name) but didn't like it - overcomplicated. I wrote my own Outlook plug-in to add project management to the Outlook Tasks module (I'm a programmer) and used that for a while, but for my particular situation, there are better tools. I found an outline utility (with an Outlook integration option) to supplement the Tasks component and I use that instead - works better for me. All of which is to say...

    Following David Allen's suggestions was very useful in improving how I organize my life, but it did nothing to help my chronic procrastination problem.

    There are procrastinators and then there are PROCRASTINATORS. I'm a PROCRASTINATOR, and I'm not alone. For some people, procrastination is due to a practical problem relating to temporary situations or skill deficits. But for others, it's a very serious addictive disorder with no rational basis. No amount of "figuring out why" can get an alcoholic to stop drinking. Similarly, no amount of "figuring out why" can get a chronic procrastinator of the serious type to stop procrastinating.

    Some people occasionally drink too much when something crappy happens in their lives, and when they solve the problem they stop. Some people drink too much because they are alcoholics - they have addictive personalities, and alcohol is their drug of choice. It's the same with procrastination. Some people procrastinate now and then because they need to clarify their tasks better or whatever. And some people procrastinate because they have an addictive personality and compulsive task avoidance is their "drug of choice" - that's what they do to escape unpleasant reality.

    It sounds like you are not a chronic compulsive procrastinator - you are fortunate. I am, and I'm not the only one. Lawyers have been disbarred due to procrastination. Small business owners have gone bankrupt because they procrastinated on sending out invoices. This is not a "task clarification" problem. For some people, something much more serious is going on.

    I'm an extremely well-organized person. I'm a programmer, my thinking is orderly, and everything in my life is orderly. My home is neat and orderly, my files are orderly, my time management systems are efficient and orderly. And yet I still struggle to get myself to do what I need to do because I have an extremely addictive personality, and compulsive task avoidance is my (current) "drug of choice".

    For people like you, time management tips and tricks will be enough to cure passing procrastination. But for people like me, they are not. I posted my message for others like me who are desperately seeking answers, and keep getting told it's a time management problem. For chronic procrastinators, this is not a time management problem, it's a compulsive task avoidance problem - an addictive disorder.

    This is not a "one size fits all" world. The information on will be uniquely helpful to people who struggle with chronic compulsive procrastination. That isn't you, but I'm sure this describes many people visiting this forum. We're out there and desperate, let me tell you. Until now, no one has had good answers for this problem, and it's an extremely serious, life-destroying problem. What I learned, I learned the hard way. The insights and solutions I posted on are original - you will not find this viewpoint or these recommendations anywhere else.

    Note that I'm not selling anything - the model for recovery is based on the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which has no dues or fees.
  4. Day Owl

    Day Owl Registered

    Feb 12, 2005
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    Thanks, pro. I agree with you that DA's definition of procrastination, while well intended and undoubtedly true for many, does not reach deeply enough. One can be excited about the outcome -- indeed, fired up -- but still have intense resistance to taking the next action, however well defined it may be.

    I've visited your site and registered there (under another screen name). Good site. I hope it flourishes.
  5. pro

    pro Guest

    "takes one to know one"

    Hi Day Owl,

    I think the problem is that someone without an addictive personality simply cannot understand the experience of addiction. I've been clean and sober in AA for nearly a decade now, and it's notoriously hopeless to try to explain the compulsion to self-destruct with drugs and alcohol to someone who doesn't have an addictive personality. People who don't have this tendency simply do not have the capacity to understand this. They can't relate - there's nothing inside them that resonates with the problem. They say stuff like, "If it's causing you such serious consequences, then why don't you just do it" (or "not do it", as the case may be). They can't understand what it feels like to have no choice (which is the essence of addiction and compulsion). Trying to describe this experience to a "normal" is like trying to describe sight to someone who has been blind from birth (except that knowledge of addiction is something that people are blessed NOT to have).

    Most researchers in the area of procrastination are not, themselves, procrastinators, and this is a major reason why the research in this area is so weak. I was corresponding with a researcher last night, and he said that he (like everyone else I know) researched it but didn't do it. I know a lot of people in this field because I have graduate degrees in psychology. I didn't finish my doctorate because my procrastination problem kept me from writing the dissertation (I left ABD), but now I want to go back and do it because I think, truly, that it "takes one to know one", and having dealt with addiction first-hand as I have, I can offer a uniquely useful perspective.

    I very much hope the site takes off. It's been up less than a day, but already there seems to be a fair amount of interest, which encourages me. There is a long 12-step tradition in helping yourself by helping others, and that's what I hope to do with this Web site. I have many more articles I want to post, but I have other things to do and I don't want to use the Web site to procrastinate. ;)
  6. andersons

    andersons Registered

    Jan 10, 2005
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    I have procrastinated on many a well-defined Next Action that I perfectly well knew how to do.

    And "not being excited enough about the outcome" is in many a cases just another description of the problem -- not a solution. I'm never gonna be excited about the outcome of getting my taxes filed. And there are plenty of other actions and projects that are almost as non-exciting.
  7. pro

    pro Guest

    Oh GAWD... Filing tax returns is the bane of my life!!!! I once got five years behind because I didn't keep up with my accounting (I have my own business), and didn't have the information to give to my accountant. I "time binged" (as defined on the PA Web site) to get it done. It was hell.

    And after going through that hell, do you think I think kept up with entering receipts and statements in Quicken so I didn't have to go through this hell again? Noooooo.... As I sit here today typing this message on December 8, 2005, I have not yet filed my 2004 tax returns. I kept up with my accounting for about five months, then fell behind, and now here I am with nearly two years of receipts and statements to enter into Quicken. Again facing hell.

    I posted several polls on the PA Web site - one of them about what area(s) of life people procrastinate in. Also how serious a problem it is in people's lives, and some other polls. It's interesting to watch the patterns of answers as people vote.
  8. warren_t

    warren_t Registered

    Jan 9, 2004
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    IT Consultant (Self Employed)
    Sydney, Australia
    Home Page:
    Hi Pro,

    Thanks for this posting. The site you've set up is great and when I read your "characteristics of procrastinators" article, I found myself nodding and saying out loud, "Yes..Uh-huh..that's me...." (Good thing no one in the office noticed!).

    The "addictive personality" you talked about strikes a chord with me also. While I haven't abused alchohol or drugs, I used to be addicted to coca-cola!! Sounds totally lame I know, but I was drinking 1-2 litres of this stuff a day and would get edgy when we'd run out at home. The wake up call came when I found out that I had a "fatty liver" and poor blood test results. I've been free of this stuff for 291 days now, have lost 6 kilos and have started to be more active to get my liver back in shape.

    I came to the realisation that it had a lot to do with how I saw myself. I was choosing to see myself as someone who wasn't as good as the other guy, or who needed to avoid tasks I dread or as someone who's world would end if others found out I wasn't perfect. Alot of this was about getting confidence in myself back. Too many times I've held my worth as a person to be based on what others think of me, rather than what I thought of me.

    I've tried time-management techniques and alot of it has helped me get the things done I needed to, but I've always felt like there still was something that wasn't quite right. I'm reading Neil Fiore's "The Now Habit" and I'm getting a lot out of it I must say. I recommend it to anyone trying to meet the challenge of being a procrastinator.

    Pro, as we say in Australia, Good on ya mate. Well done on a great initiative. I'v registered at your site and look forward to particpating. Time to stop suring the web and get back to the real world!

  9. pageta

    pageta Guest

    Well, for me, it was clearly the former in the above statement. I've found that if I can break the step down small enough, I can get started on something and then it will get done. For me, that was revolutionary. For years, I've gotten all fired up about outcomes and then not taken a single action because I was overwhelmed by what needed to be done. DA's Next Actions have truly been revolutionary for me.

    Am I saying that is the solution to everyone's problem? No. I'm just saying that I understand the problem of procrastination because I've been there, and I also understand the joy in finding something that solves the problem. There may be those who need the information shared on the site the OP originally shared, and there may also be those who read this thread and have a light bulb moment with the solution I quoted. Either way - we all gain victory over procrastination. So let's celebrate!

  10. Arduinna

    Arduinna Registered

    Nov 27, 2004
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    I've procrastinated my entire life. Most of my accomplishments have been things I've done because I was avoiding doing other, more important things. I'm procrastinating right this minute, writing this post to avoid shoveling the drive--which I have to do, to get to a doctor's appointment. Is this an addiction? I don't think so. I was addicted to nicotine, am currently addicted to caffeine. I'm not addicted to procrastination--it's not something I have to have in my life without having a horrendous headache or feeling like I'm going through the roof with anxiety that only a cigarette will fix.

    Nah, procrastination is a behavioral response to my high need for pleasure without pain. I'm sitting here because it's cold outside and I have to switch the sweeper thingie from brush to snow blower mode, which involves retrieving the manual and a tool--and even though I know where both are because I've gotten organized, it's all work toward the grand prize of slogging 700 square feet or so of snow out of my way. Ugh. But in avoiding this necessary but decidedly unpleasant and difficult task (I have a physical disability that makes it that much harder), am I really "seek[ing] excitement and attention through the negative attention generated by passive aggressive behavior" that "comes from not knowing how the person [I will] have 'wronged' will react when see him/her again"? No again. It's not other-directed, it's highly personal, a matter of pleasure economy. Who knows, maybe I have a loopy limbus, and I have to apply more kick-butt to myself to get going than others do. That "fixes" the problem, and I'm going to do that now, but I did want to beg to differ on yet more pathologizing of a trait that is remedied exclusively by behavioral change. It's not a "disease" if it goes away when you get off your duff and get something done, and if it's an "addiction," banishing it would engender more psychic pain and discomfort, not less. In my experience, the opposite is true--procrastination withdrawal leads to immense personal satisfaction, accomplishment, and feelings approaching euphoria, and I don't think the addiction/disease model is legitimate. JMO.

    Off to shovel.
  11. Desultory

    Desultory Registered

    Mar 26, 2005
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    Here's another procrastinator chiming in, even though I don't really have anything to add on the subject. Maybe later I'll come up with something after some more web-surfing. ;)
  12. avrum68

    avrum68 Guest

    What a wonderful description of why I do what I (don't) do. And if you grew up in this type of family i.e. an environment where pleasure was chosen over pain, even to the determent of family, business, and self growth, you can bet the struggle will be compounded.

    I'd like to add to Arduinna's msg that the rush one gets from delaying/avoiding is addictive and pleasurable. both The Now Habit as well as GTD. Neither of which did much to reduce procastination. It seems that unless I:

    1) Have a deadline...
    2) For something I truly enjoy doing...
    3) With a partner(s) who I truly I enjoy doing it with...

    I'll put if off and off and off.
  13. cornell

    cornell Registered

    May 17, 2005
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    re: procrastination

    I agree with the others who said it so well - it's a task avoidance problem, and indicates either something that's not clear enough ("What's the next action?") or not motivating enough ("What's the successful outcome?"). However, I often find there's more to it that those two aspects. One thing that helped me was applying the "STING" method [1]:

    S - Select one task.
    T - Time yourself.
    I - Ignore everything else.
    N - No breaks.
    G - Give yourself a reward.​
    Also, sometimes I find I'm just not ready for action. For example, I need to get some dental work done, and for the longest time (months) I just could not pick up the phone to schedule an appointment. All I could do was to acknowledge the need to wait, and to tickle myself in a month to revisit.


    [1] I detail it in Use the STING method to stop procrastinating.
  14. pro

    pro Guest

    "Time Management from the Inside Out"

    I think it's important to recognize that "procrastination" isn't a single thing with a single solution. I'm reading Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern, and she defines three broad reasons for procrastination:

    1. Skills issues.
    2. External obstacles.
    3. Psychological problems.

    David Allen mainly addresses category 1, but skill in organizing time is not the only factor in procrastination. In category 3 Morganstern lists the usual fear of success, fear of failure, etc. She doesn't mention addictive compulsion (no one does), but it's a big factor for many people. The Procrastinators Anonymous Web site focuses mainly on the addictive aspect since it's literally addressed no where else, but we also talk about other factors that can cause or cure procrastination.

    David Allen's suggestions are excellent as far as they go, but they assume a level of skill in some areas that I do not have - for example, estimating how long a task takes. I like the Morgenstern book because it addresses nuts-and-bolts problems such as these. Her general approach is very similar to David Allen's, but she starts at an earlier point - doesn't assume a pre-existing level of knowledge or skill.

    Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried.
  15. pro

    pro Guest

  16. lifeprint

    lifeprint Guest

    I'm glad someone has brought this topic up. Procrastination has been on my mind as to why I don't just do something. For awhile I was thinking, I just quit a job that is very task oriented with a lot of work to be done, so I owned a lot in my work and had to work quickly but accurately and get more things done, so I thought with anything else that needed to be done, I put it off. I was so tired of being "on" all of the time at work that when I came home I turned "off". The basic house work would get done, buy groceries, read a little, but I felt there was so much more I want to do and read, but I just would not do it.
    Now I quit that job to go to a job in the same industry, but I'm 100% commission. This may be good or bad.... but there are fears I have that keep me from making phone calls and increasing the odds of me getting business. I know that isn't all procrastination, but I think there is a lot to the psychological aspect of fear in regards to procrastination. But I am curious about the addiction to the feeling of not doing the tasks.
    I'll read more and hope more is posted on this subject.
  17. tim99

    tim99 Guest

    I noticed that you said you may have some trouble with avoiding making calls. Google for "12 Types of Call Reluctance". Maybe it would help you to identify your specific call reluctance. But, even though I think I know and understand my types of procrastination and call reluctance, I still do not feel like I am heading toward solving them or finding a good way to live with them.
  18. flexiblefine

    flexiblefine Registered

    Feb 2, 2005
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    Procrastination is a response to fear/anxiety

    To get back to making those calls, I think you'll need to get past those fears. It's easy to say, but a lot harder to do. Even if things don't go well on one call, you always have more calls to make, more sales, to make, and everything will be all right.

    I've been reading Neil Fiore's "The Now Habit" to help me work against my procrastination, and I agree with Fiore that procrastination is not a problem in itself, but a reponse to other things, like fear and anxiety about tasks or performance. Working to relieve those fears and anxieties is an effective way to overcome procrastination.

    I don't want to hijack a thread that started with a pointer to another procrastination resource, but I started a Yahoo Group where we talk about procrastination and ways to overcome it, including the Now Habit strategies. Feel free to join us and see what you think of the group.
  19. ThomasDerwin

    ThomasDerwin Registered

    Nov 10, 2002
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  20. lifeprint

    lifeprint Guest

    I checked out one of the web sites that come up with the Google search of "12 Types of call reluctance". The first site lists the 12 types... I can identify with a few of them. I feel uncertain as to how to remove the big part of my call reluctance. It would be nice to see a class like this one in my area in San Francisco, maybe there are some... it gives me something to look up.
    Thanks for the information.

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