Among the impressive 67 tips for procrastinators (via Toolblog), there seems to be at least some working advice for every single one. However, the long list quickly shrinked to a few central ideas, and I have my doubts about them.
A. First, I skipped some tips that appear to me as
- fruitless appeals that won’t target the procrastinators I know (5, 17, 22, 35, 64, e. g. “Stay organized”),
- or that try to tell them how to deal with time (2, 6, 7, 20, 21, e. g. “Plan your time”),
- or that tell them just to do the decampment (32, 36, 40, e. g. “Do it now”),
- that try to solve the problem by increasing the feeling of bondage (25) and the pressure to self (28, 29, 60, 67, e. g. “Keep it last minute”),
- or tips that recommend the contrary, i. e. forbearance (16, 38, 63, “Stop being so hard on yourself”) and rewarding oneself (10, 48, 53, 66).
Next, there are tips that obviously point into right direction but won’t suffice to help the procrastinators getting started:
- identify the biggest cases (37, 57),
- stop excuses (27, 55),
- and apply rationality (“consider”, “realize”, “think about”: 26, 30, 45, 46, 50, 59).
Then there are tips for behavior that would surely favor the changed habits and mitigate their pain but will not help to start the change:
- create a favorable environment with minimal distractions (9, 12, 13, 18, 19, 24, 51, 52),
- involve colleagues (11, 49),
- how to cope with the unpleasant (4, 43, e. g. “alternate [it] with the pleasant”),
- and when to do things (8, 61, e. g. “get started early”).
Some popular GTD tips are also included that sound very plausible but still require the subject to be willing to follow them:
- determine the next step (47, 58),
- decide what to tackle immediately (34. 56, 62).
Finally there is a cluster of tips that probably hit the heart of the procrastinator’s and messie’s problems but seem incredibly difficult to act on:
- replace the “must”, “have to”, or “should” by “choose to”, “want”, or “will” (number 3),
- related thoughts about fun and leisure (15, 33, 44), and
- and related thoughts about over-doing (23, 42, 54) and perfectionism (14, 31, 39).
B. So, what remains? The idea of breaking a project “into smaller, more manageable parts” (not incidentally the number 1 item, plus related 41 and 65).
At this point, however, it is not the weaknesses of the typical procrastinator that resist the advice, but their unique strengths: Often they have an extraordninary talent to see the connections and to keep sight of the whole.
Therefore, it is not as easy for them to switch to the “normal” habits of other people who are used to compartmentalize their thoughts in a top-down manner into hierarchical, sliced and diced, cubicle mentality. In contrast, they understand that complexity is a web. This is why I am often torn between being patient or impatient with them.
Telling them to “simply” break the whole into parts is probably against their nature. So perhaps the only promising approach is still the difficult shift from “must” to “will” above.