Procrastinators Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from chronic procrastination.

Getting unstuck

Last week I was stuck on a problem and unsure what the next step was. It can be hardest for me to get started on a task when I don't even know what the next step is. I spent about a day goofing off instead of working on the task (or anything else). Actually, not bad for me :P

What ended up getting me unstuck was writing down several questions about the task and pretending it was a school assignment. I then proceeded to find out the answers to the questions and write them down as if it were an assignment. The questions didn't get the task done but they did get me to a point where I've been able to determine the steps I need to follow to get the real assignment done. It seemed pretty silly to me, but it worked.

Pretending you are in school may not work for everyone... especially if you really are in school ;) I often think that in some ways school was easier for me because there was more structure. I did what the teacher told me to and I automatically learned what I needed to in order to move on. If I had a question, I always knew who to ask (the teacher).

Maybe part of getting myself going now, is just to provide myself the structure I seem to need when I'm unsure what to do next...

Getting the Kick-Off to Happen

The only way that really works for me to get a project started is to have someone else involved. Ideally someone who enjoys brainstorming and thinking laterally and likes talking about what they want to do.

If I have a project I know I want to do well, wherever I have the option of hiring someone in to talk it through with me for a whole day, I will take that option. It just makes it so much easier to start and be unintimidated (and helps start on the right track because that other person can give sensible feedback).

There are similar situations that help enforce deadlines or keep me motivated. I like projects where I have to give a presentation or training or teach some people at the end. I know I have to protect myself against looking an idiot in front of a roomfull of people who will get to evaluate my performance! So that's good motivation.

Conversely, I loathe projects where I can't get any feedback (i.e. writing content for the web when I can't be sure anyone will ever read it, or, worse, reports or papers that I know for a fact nobody will ever read.)

Once that main structural planning is done (personally I like to put it all on paper in some sort of diagram or map form, so I have the overview of the whole project) then it becomes much easier to transcribe the ideas and see how the tasks are broken down. It's also a good way of taking ownership. I am so motivated on projects that I own, that I'm definitively in charge of (i.e. in a circumstance where I can have a lot of strategic input). I am very unmotivated when all I am is responsible (i.e. I have a brief to deliver something that someone else thought of). Occasionally I can trick myself into imagining that I personally believe in this idea that someone else thought of. Sometimes I even do believe in it. Most of the rest of the time, I get avoidant!

help in getting started

> The only way that really works for me to get a project started is to have someone else involved. Ideally someone who enjoys brainstorming and thinking laterally and likes talking about what they want to do.

This is a great idea! But where do you find people who can help you like this? This would work very well for me, too - in fact, has in the past when I've accidentally encountered people who I can interact with in this way. But I don't know people I can go to for this reliably.

Where to find them...

Well, I guess it depends what line of work you're in. I work in planning projects for kids and teachers. They're in various different subjects, so I usually need someone who knows the subject well. There's about three or four freelancers I know who specialise in realising these sorts of projects. Really good ones with the right mix of brainstorm/playfulness and "OK. Let's get to it"-ness aren't that easy to find, admittedly, but you generally only need a couple around and that can really help.

A lot of freelancers really can't wait to get away from the briefing meeting to work alone, and those are the ones I deal a lot less well with. :)

great trick, thanks

Thanks for sharing this. That's a good strategy. I'm sure it would work for me, too. Often when I talk to someone about a project I have where I don't knew where to start, just explaining it to someone else can get me unstruck, This sounds like a similar idea - a way of helping yourself think out the task so you can start.

Silly Games

I often find that making something into a game breaks the procrastination spell, and I also need variety, because if the game gets overused it becomes less effective.

I made a good one up when DSO was stuck on doing an assignment for College, and doing a pretty good imitation of me when I'm full-on procrastinating. There were a number of questions and he just drew a blank whenever he looked at them. So I interviewed him like a reporter. The questions I asked were the same questions(!), but for some reason saying it out loud in a natural, inquisitive tone of voice seemed to do the trick. He answered in his normal speaking voice, and I wrote down his responses, then all he had to do was turn it into assignment standard English. Pity he doesn't do stuff like that for me when ~I~ get stuck! ;)

In this case the structure was already there - it was a different format that did the trick.

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Since I'm in school and procrastinate mostly on school work, I too have to think of creative ways. The best for me is to pretend like I'm teaching someone the material.

But I have learned something: doing assignments on the computer seems to get me going more than using paper. I would love a paperless life. I learned MathCAD just so I could get schoolwork done. Do you notice anything like this w/schoolwork?

And, do you ever have the ability to help someone else w/an assignment while avoiding your own? I do/did this. Similar to cleaning someone else’s fridge vs my own. Why is that?

I know this doesn’t necessarily pertain to the original question of this post – but your insight would be appreciated :)

Me too!

Usually a computer will get me going where handwritten won't, although it's not always the case. ToDos usually work better for me when I put them on a forum, particularly ones where I get feedback. Occasionally I try other tricks too, like once when the computer thing didn't work I used post-its - anything to get me over the hump! (What's MathCAD BTW?).

Pretending to explain something to someone else (or even some~thing~ else!) ~really~ works well for me. My DDog knows a ~lot~ of stuff most dogs don't, LOL! The fact that I teach helps because it spurs me on to learn - I hate to let people down.

As for the helping someone else thing - I used to have that a lot worse than I have now, and I agree with a previous poster that some of it is to do with appreciation. When I started appreciating doing things for myself or for my own benefit I procrastinated less on doing them. I recognised that I had this pattern of helping other people, and tried to turn it around into something mutually beneficial, which is where the idea of homework-shares and work-shares came into my life. Tricky bit is trying to find someone to work-share with. We don't even have to work on the same thing - sometimes just both being in the room together and working independently helps. I think it's something about being in the same boat together (i.e. both working). It works better IRL than virtual, but virtual's better than nothing and is more readily available to me.

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Avoidance of own tasks

My husband always marvels that I go to great lengths to leave a hotel room in pristine condition. He reckons that if I don't do it at home why on earth would I do it for someone who is paid to clean it anyway?

I think part of it is that you don't have the ultimate responsibility so find it less of a chore. Sort of like the 'have to/don't have to' rebellion thing, but a little different.

Hmm...I'm struggling to express my thoughts clearly - I can't get the point across. I have a thought..but don't know how to put it into words.

Maybe I'll sleep on it. Seeya!

other people's assigment

I'm kind of a mix on computers vs paper. I grew up doing everything on paper and sometimes it's easier for me to think things through if I read/write them on paper. Then again, I can type faster than I can write by hand.

Yes, it's definitely often easier to help someone else with their stuff. If I'm at someone elses for dinner house I will usually help them to wash dishes and even enjoy it, but at my own house it is one of my most avoided tasks. Maybe because when I help someone else, they usually thank me. There's less sense of appreciation when I do my own work. It's just expected.

rebellious procrastination?

Teri, that sounds like rebellious procrastination - not wanting to do something simply because you "have to". I wrote something about that somewhere - in one of the articles, I think.


All those comments hit home and are helpful.
I can literally feel the rebellion now when I rebel againts "have to" and feel it go away when I say "choose to". I'm going to put up a note on my wall "I Choose To!"

We'll see if it penetrates:)