We’ve all been there—the looming deadline, the tasks piling up, and the sinking realization that procrastination has once again taken over. But what if there was a way to break free from this cycle and find your flow?
In a recent Leadership Circle Q&A session with productivity coach Dan Silvestre, we uncovered valuable insights and strategies to overcome procrastination and unlock your productivity potential.
Dan is the creator of popular courses like “Zero to Done”, “Zettelkasten in Roam”, and “Building a Brain OS”. Over 1 million people have read his blog posts, and he’s also a top writer on Medium. His videos on YouTube have been watched more than 100.000 times, and he writes a weekly newsletter.
Let’s dive into the key takeaways from this enlightening session:
Give credit where it’s due
He emphasized that most people don’t have a great understanding of how productive they really are, and it’s important to recognize your strengths and accomplishments before dwelling on your weaknesses and what’s left undone. This will give you a more nuanced understanding of your true productivity level and your real challenges.
Know the big three productivity blockers
Dan highlighted three common productivity blockers:
1. lack of self-awareness
2. concentration and focus issues, and
3. goal misalignment.
These blockers can hinder your progress, so identifying which ones affect you the most is a key step towards improvement.
Pinpoint your procrastination type
Dan points out that most advice about procrastination is too generic, and that it helps to understand which procrastination “archetype” describes you best, so you can find effective solutions. To do this, pay attention to patterns related to task types, timing, and energy levels.
The 6 procrastination types are:
The procrastinator strives for perfection and spends a lot of time planning and preparing for a project but struggles to act. Or they start projects and get them “close to done” but the final polishing takes you 10x longer. If that’s you, it’s important to understand that there’s no such thing as perfection. Accept that not everything you produce needs to be flawless, and focus on getting to what feels like “80%” completion, then get feedback to improve.
The Optimist overestimates their capacity and schedules too much. As a result, nothing feels urgent, and they think: “a quick look at the email or at social media can’t hurt, right? That big important task will only take 15 minutes anyway.” If that’s you, push yourself to realistically assess time needed for tasks and question your gut feeling that it’ll be a piece of cake.
The Busy accepts too many projects at once and they are all urgent, then juggles multiple tasks without focusing on one. They feel overwhelmed and when the feeling sets in that they can’t do it all, they procrastinate.Now he is overwhelmed. And when he feels he cannot do it all, he procrastinates.If that’s you, it’s critical to strengthen your prioritization muscles. Make a habit of prioritizing and focusing on truly essential tasks.
The Guilty feels like procrastination is inevitable and accepts it, primarily because they cannot stand to see themselves lose – so if anything goes wrong in a project, it justifies giving up. This person feels guilty for not meeting the expectations, and accepts mediocre distractions as an escape because, in their mind, they’ve already lost anyway. If that’s you, it helps to acknowledge your accomplishments to try and break your flawed self-image as a person who’s going to fail.
The Distracted struggles mightily to stay focused on any one thing. Temptations control their mind, and they can’t find the right time to start because distractions are always within arm’s reach. If that’s you, work on improving focus by systematically eliminating distractions in your environment to make it easier on yourself.
The Disorganized dislike routines and rejects structure, and typically has difficulty organizing both tasks and workspaces. Their days quickly devolve into chaos and they struggle to maintain a “full picture” of the tasks they need to complete, and accidentally procrastinate simply because they miss things. If that’s you, it’s important to focus creating your own kind of structure instead of following someone else’s rules, so that even if you still seem disorganized to others, you can reliably “find what you need when you need it.”
Build systems to promote action and find flow
Understanding yourself is half the battle – but now you need to build systems and habits in your daily life to address your procrastination. He recommends James Clear’s Atomic Habits framework, which includes making habits:
Applying these principles can help you establish new, productive habits to combat procrastination. Dan even wrote a summary of the book!
However, a trick that Dan recommends is to actually start with step”#3″ – making habits easy! Why?
Motivation flows from action, not the other way around! So ask yourself “How can I set myself up better to start [a task]?”
Small adjustments to your environment that reduce friction to starting can go a long way to increasing your motivation. For example, when Dan found himself procrastinating on creating YouTube videos, he made sure that his camera and light were always set up and ready to go.
Dan also prepares a “first task of the day” in advance, and leaves it on a Sticky note on his desk. This way, he doesn’t have to decide each morning where to start.
Set guardrails against distractions to find flow
While getting started is half the battle, it takes time to settle into a flow state with any task. That’s why it’s important to create an environment that makes it easier to avoid distractions that might pull you out of a task.
For example, Dan uses full-screen mode on his computer so that he is less likely to get distracted by something other than his primary task.
Another example is turning off communications tools – that might mean shutting down Slack or email. You might want to change your notification settings on your phone, or go into “do not disturb” mode.
Don’t overdo it
Dan cautions that not everything needs to be a system. He once tried to systemize everything in his life, but ultimately found it unhelpful.
Your goal is to create the simplest possible system that actually works.
He mentions a book called 4000 weeks. A core idea of the book is that time is finite, no matter how “optimized” our life is, we’ll never be able to do it all.
Acknowledging this can be freeing! Applying these principles can help you establish new, productive habits to combat procrastination.
Align short-term goals & actions with long term goals
Dan mentioned that one of the biggest barriers to productivity is goal misalignment. You don’t have to overthink your goals – they don’t even have to be measurable, but it helps to articulate what you actually want to achieve.
Next, write down everything you did today. What percentage of those items are truly aligned with your long term goal? If you’re not seeing enough overlap, make a point to prioritize tasks based on their importance and alignment with long-term goals. Soemtimes that might even mean strategically procrastinating: intentionally delaying certain tasks to focus on more critical objectives.
A key part of doing this well is managing your stakeholders – for example, your manager at work. Effective communication can help clarify priorities.
Avoid self-sabotage by “fear-setting”
If you have a history of procrastinating, it’s easy to feel anxious about the idea of building new systems or ways of working. Dan recommends a tactic call “fear setting”, made famous by Tim Ferriss.
First, ask yourself what you’re really afraid of. Next, ask yourself: are these fears are grounded in reality (many times they are), or if they are the product of overthinking?
This exercise helps individuals gain clarity about their concerns and assess the actual risks involved, enabling them to move forward with confidence. By systematically breaking down fears and evaluating their validity, you can overcome procrastination and make informed choices.
Procrastination poses a challenge for everyone, but you can conquer it with self-awareness, customized strategies, and an embrace of imperfection.
Ready to unlock your productivity potential? Start by exploring your procrastination type and start building good habits & systems today!