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The procrastination panacea problem

Procrastination features in almost every time management and personal productivity book. For a while I was frustrated at what seemed to be contradictory information about dealing with the problem, but I’m starting to see a way to reconcile it all.

I’ve stopped believing in a single solution to my procrastination issues. I now believe that there are at least three broad problems that can cause procrastination: lack of clarity, anxiety, and poor motivation. Not all people are susceptible to the same problems and some people have internalised the techniques for dealing with them, which explains why different productivity systems seem to help different people. For example, GTD focuses largely on clarity of thinking (knowing where to start, organising), whereas The Now Habit focuses chiefly on dealing with anxiety.

I created a decision tree to draw all this knowledge together in a way that would allow myself and others to find appropriate techniques for our circumstances without trawling through dozens of books and articles. I believe that if a task is stuck on your to-do list it needs to be replaced or at least rephrased. If you can’t/won’t take action on it, it’s the wrong next-action. Accordingly, I’ve tried to provide a way to generate specific next-actions.

This is only a first draft but I hope it will grow to become more comprehensive and helpful, so I’m open to ideas of how to improve it. Before you take a look at it there are a few things to note:

This contains techniques that relate to dealing with a single problematic task, but many full systems exist that may be more helpful if procrastination is a frequent problem.

Productivity books tend to break anxiety issues down into sections like fear of success, fear of failure and perfectionism, but I think that these are symptoms rather than the core problems. Rather than take this route I’ve broken anxiety down into the types mentioned in Your Brain at Work by David Rock. These are Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness (feelings of belonging), and Fairness.

I use a couple of GTD terms:

  • Next-Action – the very next physical action that will move the task forward
  • Project – any task that cannot be completed in a single sitting


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