- Scott H Young - https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog -

Procrastination – Break It Down (Series)

Procrastination is a common problem that can range from a minor nuisance to a serious handicap on your life. Due to both how prolific this problem is and how damaging it can become, I am writing a short blog series dedicated to the topic. This series will outline the fundamental three steps for overcoming a procrastination problem. The first article discussed the problem of procrastination and understanding what causes it. This article moves to the next step, breaking down the obstacles so they can be overcome.

Procrastination – Series

Introduction (Understanding Procrastination) [1]
Break It Down
Start Now

The first step of defeating a procrastination problem is to understand exactly why you procrastinate. All procrastination stems from the inevitable truth that your mind, at some level, links more pain to not taking action then it does to going forward. As long as you hold the internal paradox of both wanting and not wanting to do something, you will procrastinate. To win that mental struggle, you first must understand exactly why you are procrastinating.

Break It Down

Once you understand why you are procrastinating, whether it is due to fear, stress or fatigue, you can begin to break down the task ahead until you have enough momentum to overcome it. Imagine procrastination as being a giant stone wall. Although you can occasionally bring yourself to jump or scale it, this requires enormous willpower and if you had enough of that you wouldn’t be procrastinating in the first place. Our task is to take this wall and build some stairs.

Building stairs to overcome the wall of procrastination can allow you to scale incredibly high barriers, assuming you have the determination and desire to climb it. Stair creation is what the step “Break It Down” is all about. Although this step can be time consuming in larger cases of procrastination, it tends to work best in most cases.

The problem with overcoming procrastination is simply that there are so many different ways you could procrastinate, your stairs won’t be the same every time. Similarly there are some smaller cases where you don’t have a lot of room to build stairs and you need a completely different strategy. I’ll cover those cases in the next article, but until then I will focus on how you can build stairs in the three main ways you will face procrastination.

Breaking Down in Steps

Some activities flow in a logical sequence of steps such as writing an essay. You might first have to do research, followed by organization and finally your rough and good drafts of the finished essay. If you are procrastinating writing that big essay, breaking it down into very small component steps should be your first aim.

It would be good to take out a note pad or another writing tool and start breaking it down into steps. So you might write at the top of your paper “Write Essay”. Then you could write down all the major steps involved, “Research”, “Organize”, “Rough Draft”, “Final Draft”. These steps themselves might seem fairly lengthy to get started so you might want to break them down even more into “Research Section A”, “Research Section B”, “Research Section C”. Keep breaking them down until you have reached a manageable scale.

You know you are finished breaking down when looking at one of the mentioned steps feels doable and you feel willing to work on it. If you are still procrastinating, you should try to continue breaking the steps down until they are workable. These are your stairs, by breaking them down and focusing on just one you can take a high wall and make it scalable.

Breaking Down in Components

Other activities don’t require a specific order but are sectioned like components. For example you may need to do your spring cleaning but you have been putting it off. Once you decide that you’re tired of procrastinating, you might want to start splitting off the task into it’s respective components.

For our spring cleaning example, the components could be: “Clean the Garage”, “Clean the Attic”, “Clean Kitchen”. Just like the last example you want to keep breaking down the components until they look non-threatening on their own. Component-based activities are easier to break down because you can start with the easiest step rather than specifically the first one. Remember, once you gain momentum it is much easier to continue going.

Breaking Down in Progression

There are some things that you may have been putting off but there really aren’t any steps associated that you can break it down to. This is often true in procrastination from fear as you will be unwilling to do an activity that simply can’t be broken down into simpler components. Asking your boss for a raise or trying to start a conversation with the attractive woman in the sales department often can’t be specifically broken into components or steps. It would be very awkward to go into your boss’s office, and say, “Hi I would like a –” and simply walk out of the room.

In these cases the best way to overcome your procrastination is to work on related activities until you have built up the momentum and courage to defeat your procrastination in that area. This involves creating a list of activities that have similar context but with less intensity. So if you are procrastinating setting up your own business, the lowest item on your list could be attending a trade show of your chosen business. The next item on your progression scale might be talking to other entrepreneurs in similar industries.

Tackling Specific Causes of Procrastination

In the last article [1] I identified the three major causes of procrastination as being fear, stress or lack of energy (fatigue). Although the basic process is the same, there are specific techniques you can do to help break down these obstacles and overcome your tendency towards inaction.

Breaking Down Fear

In most cases when you have to break down with the progression method it will be because you fear the thing you are procrastinating. This may not even work in a rational method and you might at first resist the idea that it was fear at work. I know many of my fears I overcame seem absolutely silly to have even had, but through denial I never would have overcome them.

Generally the progression method works good when breaking down fear, but you often have to break it down far more than you originally think to get results. The walls of fear loom large in the mind and when faced with the prospect of overcoming one, even a baby step can seem like a mountain. Try to break down your obstacles as much as possible, into dozens of steps if necessary, so you won’t put them off. If you put off tackling your fear it means you simply didn’t break it down enough.

The next thing is that it is important to put yourself in a positive state when tackling your fear based procrastination. A negative attitude will sabotage your progress, so practice some deep breathing or visualization to get yourself into the proper state before going ahead. I’ve written more about emotional control, here [2].

Breaking Down Stress

The best way to break down stress is to do the opposite, have fun! Trying to make your boring, or stressful activities fun and enjoyable should always be your first move when breaking down the activity into manageable bites. There are several ways you can do this, but it helps to just ask the question: How could I make this more fun?

If you can’t make the activity itself more fun, then the next best method is to use a reward. Giving yourself a gigantic reward for overcoming a tiny step can give you the momentum you need to go the whole way. Don’t be stingy on the reward part, especially if it won’t interfere with you continuing to work after your baby step is done. Building momentum is your concern not finishing.

Breaking Down Fatigue (Low Energy)

This may seem obvious but the best way to break down procrastination caused by fatigue is simply to recover your energy. Although there are occasions when you must work through an energy deficit, most of the time it is better to simply recover the energy and move forward. If you need a quick burst of energy, exercising for a half-hour is a good method. Moderate to high intensity work outs over a short period always give me a boost.

If you need a longer time to recover, then you may need to get a good nights sleep or a short personal vacation. Your body will tell you when you need energy, so procrastination may be your body telling you that you have to slow down or stop.

These specific techniques for overcoming the main sources of procrastination should always be done with the more general strategy of breaking down the source of the procrastination. Without breaking down it is too hard to gain momentum. Breaking down may be a longer strategy than others would prescribe, but it works most of the time.

Breaking down is the second key step in destroying your pattern of inaction. Once you understand what is causing your procrastination, breaking it down can turn a giant wall into a manageable staircase. Once you understand the procrastination and you have broken it down into chunks, you can work on the next step which is simply to start. In the next article I’ll go over some methods that can allow you to get over the first few steps and build momentum, immediately.

Procrastination – Series


Introduction (Understanding Procrastination) [1]
Break It Down
Start Now