How to Avoid Procrastination with 3 Journal Prompts

Brian Burns / May 08,2021

These 3 prompts helped me learn how to avoid procrastination, instead of avoiding all the things I had to do.

Procrastination is a paralyzing force that effects many people’s daily lives. Tasks pile up, and allow for stress to compound. An unfortunate side effect of this compounding stress is avoidance. It becomes easier to convince yourself you are productive elsewhere, allowing the procrastination to continue.

The ‘hyper-productivity’ focus that has emerged in the last few years is not helpful in this case. Building regimented systems to brute force your way through tasks may help in the short term. However, it is not a sustainable answer to how to avoid procrastination long-term.

The effectively avoid procrastination long term, you have to begin with understanding your procrastination and what created it. Once you have a solid understanding of your procrastination habit, you can ask yourself 3 very simple questions.

  • What Are You Procrastinating?
  • On a Scale of 0-10, how excited are you to do the task/project?
  • Why is it not 0?

Those questions may seem simple and abstract, but they will be responsible for creating new pathways for your brain to think about tasks. Though you have to begin with a foundational understanding of your procrastination.

The Pillars of Understanding

In order to develop a better understanding of your procrastination, you have to begin with two essential pillars: Compassion and Curiosity.

By using compassion and curiosity as pillars for understanding, you will develop protection from the self-deprecation that typically accompanies these types of questionings.

The questions you are going to propose to yourself on the journal page are not inherently difficult. Yet, without having compassion for ourselves on the topic, procrastination can defeat you by intimidation alone..

By developing an angle of curiosity, our view of procrastination can shift quite dramatically. Learning how to avoid procrastination becomes a lot easier when you dig to the bottom of what causes it for you.

With strong pillars erected, the 3 prompts have a much more useful application and a prominent platform in your focus.

#1. What Are You Procrastinating?

It may seem like a simple question at first, but learning how to avoid procrastination has to begin with identifying what you are procrastinating.

It can be surprisingly difficult to actually pinpoint the target of our active avoidance. If you can easily pick out one thing you are avoiding, then it is easily manageable. If you struggle to find the one thing, you may be stepping into a mode of exhaustion, or lethargy towards your tasks. These modes are, at times, signs that it is time to step back and take a break.

In the generic use case of this exercise – that is to say there is resistance on “a” task instead of resistance to do anything – you will find the target fairly easily. At times, you may even find multiple targets. Some typical examples include:

  • The laundry that isn’t folded
  • The taxes that aren’t filed
  • The article that isn’t finished yet (This one may or may not be about this exact article…)
  • The appointment you haven’t made yet

The list is unfortunately easy to populate. Though this exercise words the best when you single out one item from your procrastination declaration. That allows for the other prompts to be much more deliberate in their extraction of truth.

#2. On a Scale of 1-10, How Excited Are You To Do It?

Ask yourself to place your ambition on a scale. Rating how eager or excited you are to actually do the task.

A 1 on this scale is essentially admitting that it just won’t happen. A 10, and well you probably wouldn’t be procrastinating it. More often than not, if you are actively procrastinating the task, you will place yourself between 2 and 5.

Your brain may select this value so quickly that it seems arbitrary to you. However, the next question will bring you to an explorative mindset designed to re-frame how you think about tasks.

#3. Why Didn’t You Choose a Lower Number?

The fascinating part of placing your procrastination on a scale, is that you will very rarely choose 1.

Something within you hovers that number higher than your active ambition treats it. Inside, you know when a task is important or imperative – even if our ambition didn’t match it before.

Asking yourself why you didn’t go lower will immediately force your brain to rationalize the task in a way you haven’t yet. Beginning to pick up on the benefits that compound from small actions. Some examples of this:

  • Get the laundry finished, getting dressed in the morning becomes easier.
  • If you file the taxes, you can really start financial planning for the year.
  • If you finish writing the post, you can start planning the next one you have a great idea for.
  • Booking that overdue appointment will allow you to plan your calendar and move on from the problem.

These reactionary responses are our brain’s own motivations for the task. Separated from our active ambition. These disguised – often blocked – motivations are imperative to understand. By discovering them and writing them out, you can see in clear vision what you have been denying yourself. Unveiling the friction between you, the task, and even future tasks.

By inspecting a single moment of friction, you could be preventing many future moments of friction.

“How to Avoid Procrastination” is the Wrong Question

If you find yourself repeatedly asking how to avoid procrastination, try asking these questions instead. They truly can redesign your relationship with procrastination.

More importantly, the questions posed above are designed to change how you talk to yourself about procrastination. The brute force “just get this done” attitude is not sustainable. A compassionate inquiry gives your emotions a safety railing.

The questions above are an extension on the Motivational Interviewing technique often used in addiction treatment and other forms of compassionate counseling. I was introduced to it first by Daniel Pink on an episode of the Tim Ferriss Show from 2018.Daniel Pink explores the topic even further in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” (Affiliate Link)

When to Use These Questions

These questions, and many of the approaches of motivational interviewing, are fantastic “back pocket” journal pages. Meaning they are perfect for the moments you feel stuck or unsure of what to do next. The next step is often the one you are avoiding.

Thank you for reading.

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