The hardest problem to try to solve is one that doesn’t actually exist.
Sometimes when I’ve been procrastinating, I’ve assumed that there’s some huge problem that’s preventing me from working. Shortly after, I find myself focused on finding this problem:
- Am I too tired?
- Are my motivation and/or willpower low?
- Am I lost on my project and thus avoiding it?
- Am I giving in too easily to distractions? Am I addicted to them?
When I assume that there is a problem preventing me from working right now, I’ll try to solve it. This actually brings me one step further away from action, because I can’t just start anymore, I have to solve a problem in order to get started. Ironically, this can increase my sense of overwhelm. I have all this work to do, and on top of that, I have a procrastination problem!
- If I decide the problem is that I’m tired, I now have to find a way to gain energy before I can work.
- If I decide the problem is low motivation, I have to think of how to motivate myself and do that first.
- If I decide the problem is distraction, I have to come up with a strategy to stop succumbing to distractions before working.
It’s comical the amount of problem-solving muscle I’ve put toward my bouts of procrastination. The reason it’s comical is because there isn’t a problem that needs solving; procrastination is over the moment I begin working. Some might say that’s a cheap platitude—to say “just start working”—but we’re going deeper to show why it isn’t.
Simplicity = Better Focus = Great Results
Procrastination means delaying work. That’s it. Forget about its complex causes for a moment and just think about how it only means you’re not working right now. Now consider this: I have had the most success beating procrastination when I simplify my thoughts and energy to begin the first tiny, easy step. In other words, starting work is the best solution when I’m delaying work. That’s painfully obvious to read, but trickier in real life application.
Once you begin, there can’t possibly be a procrastination problem because you’re moving forward.
It’s a simple solution. But is it oversimplified to a fault? I don’t think so.
If you’re like me, you analyze everything, even when things don’t need analyzing. If you read a lot of personal development advice and insights, it can worsen this effect. There are thousands of models, programs, theories, and systems designed to increase your productivity and defeat procrastination. Trying to understand them all, and combine their core elements into a single cohesive perspective isn’t even possible because they recommend different things. It’s so much information that you could spend a lifetime absorbing it.
When you recognize you’re procrastinating, your mind may flood with dozens of solutions to try based on why you think you’re procrastinating. This isn’t good. Personal development is fascinating and important—that’s why I write about it—but it’s possible to overthink things. The time to stop overthinking is when you know you’ve found a foundational answer.
Foundational Solutions Vs. Sometimes Solutions
When you have an always-effective solution, it’s almost the same as not having a problem.
Think about dirty dishes. If you never washed your dishes, they’d gather harmful bacteria and be unusable. Dirty dishes are technically a problem, but we don’t perceive them as a big “problem” to solve because we can wash dishes by hand or machine; we have ready-made solutions that work every time.
The key factor here is reliability of success.
Most techniques you read about cannot give you 100% success—they’re sometimes solutions. Sometimes solutions include: getting motivated, berating yourself until you start working, and other needlessly complex theories to get you unstuck. That’s why people see procrastination as a bigger problem than dirty dishes and continue to read content about it. If plan A doesn’t work, they’ll try a few other ideas they’ve read about.
My interest has been to find the best “plan As” that exists. The Mini Habits concept is a plan A that works 100% of the time to kill procrastination for quite a few people (myself included). If your results with mini habits have been consistent, in that every time you take that small first step, good things happen, then pay close attention—you have a foundational solution.
Foundational solutions are freeing because of how reliable they are. I no longer have to try to figure out and solve my procrastination problem—it’s already solved. I still procrastinate, however, just as dishes still get dirty, but when I want to take action or know I should, I have a solution that works for me every time. That’s key to understand:
When you have a solution, it doesn’t mean you won’t ever have the problem again, it means that you’re free from that problem’s control over you because your solution works every time.
One point of this article is to get you thinking about your foundational solutions. Whether it’s mini habits or something else, is there a strategy that works every time for you to defeat procrastination?
When You Find A Foundational Solution, Here’s What To Do
Whenever you’re procrastinating, don’t start into “what’s wrong with me this time?” mode. That will lead you in the wrong direction of focusing on the problem instead of applying your effective solution. Resist overanalyzing why you’re procrastinating, because that reinforces the idea that you have an active problem that needs solving. Remember, your problem is solved—you need only to apply the solution.
For me and most others, that solution is to simply take the first step. If you do this consistently, then you’ll develop a mini habit habit. That’s not a typo—it means you’d have a habit of applying the mini habits strategy to procrastination and resistance (or perceived resistance) to do what you want/need to do. The more habitual your response of applying a foundational solution to procrastination, the better you’ll fare in your journey to live the way you want to live.
The subscriber-only message on 10/28/14 expands upon this post! To read more on how procrastination itself is a habitual response, join Deep Existence below!
photo by Kristian20