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Getting Things Done

on August 15th, 2011 by Fabrice

ProcrastinationI was listening to a podcast of one of my favorite programs, last week, Forum on KQED Public Radio. The guest was David Allen, author of the best-selling book Getting Things Done. This piqued my interest because procrastination is a deep interest of mine. Beyond the useful but mechanical time management techniques, I paid attention to the inner processes that David Allen identified as causing us to postpone or give up on a task or project.

A caller presented her problem with being unable to attack a complex task. Allen answered:

“You’re freaking yourself out. Don’t worry, my dear, because the people who procrastinate the most are the most sensitive, intelligent, and creative people because, like you, in a 1/4 of a second you can generate incredible phantoms and demons about how incredibly tough this whole thing is going to be, how many decisions you are going to have to make about all that, and just totally blow your own fuses and freak yourself out faster than anybody. So you have to get smart about how to dumb it down, so you dumb it down to ‘Let me just take 30 minutes and go see what happens.’ Give yourself a winnable, achievable task and break it off to something you can bite off like that. And then, of course, as you probably can guess, once you get started, you’ll start to have fun.”

This perspective will certainly appeal to those of us who think we should be smart enough to kick the procrastination habit. It’s not that we are stupid, it is because we are too creative! Looking at this issue a bit more closely, this dynamic is at play for procrastinators of the “decisional” and “avoidant” type. Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D. identified three types of procrastination:

  • decisional — inability to make a decision
  • arousal — waiting until the last minute for the pleasure from “beating the clock”
  • avoidance — desire to prevent performance evaluation and fears

Mindful Inquiry will ask what are you believing when trying to accomplish a large project (or even a supposedly small one)? Are you saying to yourself things like

  • There is too much to do?
  • This is too hard?
  • I will never finish it [on time]?
  • I don’t know how to do it?
  • Other tasks have a higher priority?

While putting into practice all the nifty tricks recommended by David Allen, also investigate those nagging beliefs. Is this really true – I don’t know how to do it? What happens when I dwell on this thought? Do I get to avoid facing a possible failure? Now imagine that you are approaching this task that seemed so daunting at first, and somehow, you cannot even think the thought that you don’t know how to do it; how would you act differently? If you engage in this mind exercise and if, like me, you realize that without the thought you would start on the task and whistle while you work, it will reveal to you that it is not the task that is the problem but what you believe about it. Now to complete the process, examine whether the statement “I know how to do it” is actually truer. Find some examples. Teach your mind to work on your behalf and find proofs that the more functional belief is actually more true than the one that stumped you.

Now go and get things done. And don’t forget to be mindful and inquire.


  1. Getting Things Done, by David Allen. Penguin, 2002.
  2. Getting Things Done on Time: Conquering Procrastination, by Joseph Ferrari, in C.R. Snyder (Ed.) Coping With Stress: Effective Processes and People. (pp 30-46). Oxford University Press, 2001.
  3. Indecision and Avoidant Procrastination: The Role of Morningness-Eveningness and Time Perspective in Chronic Delay Lifestyles, by Juan Francisco Díaz-Morales, Joseph Ferrari & Joseph Cohen. Journal of General Psychology, Vol 135(3), Jul 2008, pp. 228-240.
  4. Loving What Is, by Byron Katie. Harmony Books, 2002.
  5. The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, by Piers Steel. Harper, 2010.

Posted in Blog Posts, Inquiry, Mindfulness, Procrastination

One Response to “Getting Things Done”

  1. Ramiro Rodriguez says:

    That’s really great advice. I hadn’t thought about asking the:

    Mindful Inquiry will ask what are you believing when trying to accomplish a large project (or even a supposedly small one)? Are you saying to yourself things like

    •There is too much to do?
    •This is too hard?
    •I will never finish it [on time]?
    •I don’t know how to do it?
    •Other tasks have a higher priority?

    I’ve been performing mindfulness walking and it is so beneficial. My posture has improved and my awareness is up 200%.

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