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  • Why Do We Procrastinate on The Big Projects?

    Having been a long time GTD (w/ OmniFocus) ((7 years now)) user I see that i've not only become very well at getting things done, but i've always throughout this time have learned how to procrastinate abhorrently at the behest of my most important projects. I, like you as sure, have had projects that have gone untouched for week, months and yes, even a year at a time.

    I'm sure fear of failure plays into this, but also more subtly perhaps fear of success. I'm not too sure and rather than immediately delving my own personal opinions on the matter I would love to hear your personal input regarding this matter.

    For those interested, i've gone ahead and posted the same thread over at the OmniFocus forum to hear relating responses; all in good, proactive and productive nature. Thanks!

  • #2
    Lack of clarity in any part of the natural planning model can kill progress on a specific project, and areas of focus can suffer in a similar way.

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    • #3
      the power of the next action

      When I think about it I work backwards to look at how I try and overcome procrastination.

      When I strike procrastination on my larger projects, I get very very granular in my next action. For example one of my current projects is drafting a policy discussion/consultation document on an area of my work. Having had "draft options section" on my next actions list for a couple of weeks and just never getting to it, I changed the next action to - draft paragraph on the criteria [Japan] uses when [dealing with similar issues]". I did this action within 24 hours of renaming it (and so was able to check that next action off as "done")

      So I think the reason I procrastinate on big projects is that working on them doesn't give me the satisfaction of getting something "done".
      Last edited by sonyavdg; 09-04-2013, 02:36 PM. Reason: read OP better so amended post to better address the question

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      • #4
        Could it all be due to problems at the 30,000ft+ level? If you're not sure about what you want to acheive in your life, or what your life purpose is then any big acheivement is likely to leave you "trapped by success". If you end up making $millions with a great business plan but what you actually wanted to do was live simply and enjoy nature, how difficult would it be to give up the $millions (or even have the time to stop to realise it's not what you really want)? Add to this all the external messages (media, family, society, government, peers) which relentlessly tell us what we should think we want. It's no surprise, to me anyway, that so many people feel so demotivated and can't understand why.

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        • #5
          Originally posted by treelike View Post
          Could it all be due to problems at the 30,000ft+ level? If you're not sure about what you want to acheive in your life, or what your life purpose is then any big acheivement is likely to leave you "trapped by success". If you end up making $millions with a great business plan but what you actually wanted to do was live simply and enjoy nature, how difficult would it be to give up the $millions (or even have the time to stop to realise it's not what you really want)? Add to this all the external messages (media, family, society, government, peers) which relentlessly tell us what we should think we want. It's no surprise, to me anyway, that so many people feel so demotivated and can't understand why.
          I love this answer. Admittedly, considering I just graduated from University I'm trying to figure out my 30K and 40K levels. When I do my Monthly reviews, those 2 are the last to be completed. I'm at the point of preparing to apply for jobs anywhere and everywhere and its a drag considering I need to begin to make monthly payment, not to mention the upcoming college loan payments set to begin in 5 months.

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          • #6
            Execution blockings

            Originally posted by HappyDude View Post
            I'm sure fear of failure plays into this, but also more subtly perhaps fear of success.
            Great topic, thks for that.

            Our motivational mechanism can be seen as having 3 layers of "alignment": next action solves the first one -> as sonyavdg mentioned, if we get really granular, the visualization is stronger and we are more prone to start it. We most react to the appeal of doing when we can see it being done.

            Then you have "value/belief" alignment. If you don't believe a certain task is aligned with what is important, it won't appeal to you (be it your doing something you are afraid of failing or you are afraid of success, or it will put you into an uncertainty situation which tends to be labled as bad). The brain will have powerful heuristics / judgements about he things is good or bad, and is making calculations about allowing you or not to move foward. Playing with "values investigation" may be key to unblock in many situations.

            A third level of blocking would be at the identity level. If you don't identify your image to some "self" that will result from making a big project come true, then things inside are not congruent. If you don't identify yourself with an "author-person", it's more difficult to write that book you are struggling with. If you don't identify with that kind of people who get the PhD Thesis quickly, it will take ages, and if you don't identify with PhD at lot, it may never be completed, and so on...

            Super interesting topic. Much more to be said. Hope to have contributed my bit.

            Gonçalo Gil Mata
            www.WHATsTheTRICK.com

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            • #7
              Originally posted by HappyDude View Post
              Having been a long time GTD (w/ OmniFocus) ((7 years now)) user I see that i've not only become very well at getting things done, but i've always throughout this time have learned how to procrastinate abhorrently at the behest of my most important projects. I, like you as sure, have had projects that have gone untouched for week, months and yes, even a year at a time.
              I'm going to sound like a David fangirl here, but hey this is Davidco, right?

              I asked a similar question in 2010 and got some really fantastic answers: http://www.davidco.com/forum/showthr...now-how-to-fix

              I often listen to Productive Talk with Merlin Mann, and in it, David quotes Steven Pressfield's THE WAR OF ART (yes, that's the right order of words). The idea being, the closer something is to tapping into the part of you that most wants to be expressed, and the part that has the most on the line, the part that would win big or be forever changed...that's what you're going to avoid. Similarly, Neil Fiore in THE NOW HABIT talks about procrastination as being the result of feeling like you don't have a safety net--that failure will result in total destruction. However, it's usually us that decides that the stakes are that high.

              So that's what I tend to find is at the root of whatever it is I'm putting off. Some tactical ways I've learned to combat them are to work in tiny, tiny chunks. For instance, I'll often resist coding speech tokens. Although coding one token takes maybe a minute or even less, there are tens of thousands of them in my data, it is a HUGE project that will take many weeks worth of 50+ hour work, but I need to do that work so I can write my dissertation, and the dissertation needs to be good so that I can get a job, which I need in order to be successful as an academic--see how this is all getting blown out of proportion here? So suddenly I've turned this little task of taking 45 seconds to mark how my subject pronounced "that" and turned it into something that will make or break my career.

              Who wants to step up to THAT plate? Not me.

              I fixed that by agreeing with myself, repeatedly, to only do five. ONLY five. Not five so that I would trick myself into getting into a groove, but actually only five. My rational brain agreed with my irrational, fight-or-flight brain that I would only face the terrifying thing for 5 x 45 seconds and then I could zone out on Facebook. Once I taught my animal brain that I meant it, I was going to make the terrifying thing go away quickly, I found it easier to get going. I did five at a time. Then I did 10. Then 20.

              I worked through a few things in exactly this manner. I've found the Pomodoro Technique to be really helpful in this regard, because it allows me to promise my dumb animal brain that we'll do something it enjoys after 25 minutes, and helps me keep that promise. So it's a lot easier to convince animal brain that we should get started, because it is satisfied it will get the break.

              And sometimes, I promise myself rewards. I've been putting off cold-calling some interview subjects since early July. Cold-calling is scary, and anything to do with my dissertation (job future! agh!) is scary, so...terror. I finally just today a) told someone else I was going to do it and b) made the calls from a coffee shop on campus, and the second I got off the phone from the last one, got up and bought myself an expensive sugary drink I wouldn't normally splurge on.

              Sometimes, as you say, the system doesn't combat procrastination in and of itself. In fact, it could be precisely because something is resonating really strongly with your 50,000-foot goal ("Have fulfilling career as professor wherein I get to shape future minds and meld my field") that it becomes too powerful to get started on.

              That's when you install tricks.

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              • #8
                great answer

                Originally posted by jesig View Post
                I fixed that by agreeing with myself, repeatedly, to only do five. ONLY five. Not five so that I would trick myself into getting into a groove, but actually only five. My rational brain agreed with my irrational, fight-or-flight brain that I would only face the terrifying thing for 5 x 45 seconds and then I could zone out on Facebook. Once I taught my animal brain that I meant it, I was going to make the terrifying thing go away quickly, I found it easier to get going. I did five at a time. Then I did 10. Then 20.

                I worked through a few things in exactly this manner. I've found the Pomodoro Technique to be really helpful in this regard, because it allows me to promise my dumb animal brain that we'll do something it enjoys after 25 minutes, and helps me keep that promise. So it's a lot easier to convince animal brain that we should get started, because it is satisfied it will get the break.
                This is expressed in such a good way, it seems so logic, that I feel stupid for not thinking of it earlier...
                ... then again, when I look at the moments when I do get succesfull in overcoming procrastination, in fact it looks a lot like what you describe. Thanks for expressing it!

                greetings,
                Myriam
                Last edited by Myriam; 09-07-2013, 05:52 AM.

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                • #9
                  chunks + big picture (push vs flow)

                  Yes, I agree micro chunking is a great trick.
                  Who has a cat knows they won't try to jump something they don't believe they can. Our brain doesn't also.
                  So a BIG THESIS might not get you to jump, but half a page might. Each big travel starts with a first step, and one step at a time can get you far.

                  On the other side, you will want some FLOW on the work. You will not want to make a big thing out of each single step all the way. Somewhere along the way, you want some sort of FLOW to happen. Then, putting a foot after the other stops being the focus point (even if that was need in the beginning), and now you are just walking towards your destination almost effortlessly, and enjoying the view and the ride itself, as much as you are thrilled about the idea of arriving to your destination.

                  I believe that flow is easier to get, if you can see yourself after the Big Thing is done. David says "You won't be able to do it until you see yourself doing it", and I would add the question: "Can you picture you life after you have accomplished that? Can you really visualize it, even in the small things? How is it? What is your routine? How does it feel?" - and if you dive into that picture over and over again, until it's part of your thinking, and becomes so normal, that's when you find space for the flow, and each step starts to feel just the normal think to happen, and not a battle against inner resistance. That's when real magic happens...



                  Gonçalo Gil Mata
                  WHATsTheTRICK.com

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