Image derailed toy trains.

Unblock: Solving Procrastination

Productivity is, in many ways, less about discipline, and more about fun. Procrastination is a rut, and finding ways to have fun with your work is the solution to getting out of it. The real challenge lies in keeping this energy flowing – it needs to be unblocked.

In his book, Feel Good Productivity, Dr. Ali Abdaal outlines three ‘blocks’ that get in the way of productivity.

The first is Clarity:
Procrastination, or a simple lack of work, often doesn’t come from sheer laziness. One common cause for procrastination is a lack of clarity.

What are the conditions for success? What is the expected outcome? What will the final product look or feel like? What is the final product meant to do?

When we tell someone “Do X”, we assume that they understand exactly what our expectations are. People don’t know what they don’t know – without clarity, a person cannot work towards any given goal.

The second block is Fear:
Fear is commonly associated with significant threat. However, even the slightest concerns lingering in the depths of our minds can evoke similar sensations.

For example: a former colleague was once afraid of creating reports for their manager, because no matter how well they formatted their reports, no matter how detailed they were, their manager always found something to change – there was always something in their reports that the manager didn’t like.

Fear is often less like a sudden threat, and more like water flowing across a landscape, slowly eroding the ground until it creates a canyon.

The problem is that fear is a feedback loop. Like in the earlier example; my former colleague began to overanalyse their work, which led to them making more mistakes, meaning their manager needed to make more corrections to their work, which fed right back into the fear that their work was not good enough.

The third block is Perfectionism:
Many will procrastinate because they don’t want to fail or perform poorly. They prepare as much as they possibly can before they start the work itself, and then they scrutinise and overanalyse every little detail of their work. This process gives the procrastinator more and more work to do, and ultimately slows them down, which can lead to missed deadlines.

Perfectionism can also be caused by fear – the fear of failure or punishment. Some people will avoid doing even the smallest chores simply because they failed to do them correctly in the past.

Another factor is the sheer scale of a task. The task itself doesn’t have to be significant, it can be a simple chore, but even a small chore can have many steps, which can make it seem like a far larger task that requires more effort than is actually required. The bigger and more complicated a task seems, the more likely a person is to put it off.

Perfectionism can overwhelm a person before they have even set out.

One potential solution to these blocks is the ‘Five-Minute Technique’.
Sit down and work on a task for five minutes, even if you don’t finish it. Dr. Abdaal mentions in his book that he strictly limits himself to five minutes only, even cutting himself off when he gains momentum.

I also make use of the Five-Minute Technique, but once I am ‘stuck in’ on a given task, I simply ignore the timer – because I am happily engaging with the work. The core intent of the technique is to make tasks seem smaller and simpler and to break them down into bite-sized chunks that you can easily work on whenever you have the time.

Procrastination catches us off guard at the start of a given task. A lack of clarity prevents us from moving forward, our fears cause us to make mistakes, and perfectionism slows us down, making even the smallest tasks overwhelming.