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Stop Procrastinating and Just Start: The Incrementalist, Episode 6

When you think of the word “procrastination,” what comes to mind? Is it putting things off? Waiting until tomorrow?

Choosing priorities, exercising patience, and planning involve delay. These are smart skills to have.

What’s so bad about procrastinating? Well, it’s not just any delay. It’s really an irrational behavior. It’s when you postpone an important task even though you know you’ll be worse off for doing so.

So how do you stop procrastinating and just start?

It’s a common belief that perfectionism is one of the main causes of procrastination. Does having high standards make it harder to start?  Many of my colleagues in the legal profession, for example, have perfectionist tendencies. Procrastination can get lawyers into trouble. It creates high stress and anxiety, and often leads to subpar work and serious errors.

Rule 1.3 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct states, “A lawyer shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client.” Comment 3 adds, “Perhaps no professional shortcoming is more widely resented than procrastination.”

But as it turns out, there’s no strong link between perfectionism and procrastination, says Dr. Piers Steel. He’s a professor and leading researcher on the science of motivation and procrastination. He’s the author of the book, The Procrastination Equation.

Dr. Steel has a mathematical formula that accounts for motivation and procrastination. It is [Expectancy (E) x Value (V)] divided by [Impulsiveness (I) x Delay (D)] = Motivation

The formula is based on 30 years of research and hundreds of studies. To have more motivation, and less procrastination, you want the numerators (E and V) to be high and the denominators (I & D) to be low. 

In episode 6 of The Incrementalist podcast, I describe 4 ways to stop procrastinating and just start: (1) create success spirals; (2) practice mental contrasting; (3) get super-focused; and (4) set clear goals. Success spirals increase expectancy, mental contrasting raises value, super-focus reduces impulsiveness, and clear goals minimize delay. 

I review Dr. Gabriele Oettingen’s WOOP method for incorporating If-Then statements into your plan for overcoming obstacles. WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, Plan. 

I also explain Dr. Tim Pychyl’s theory that procrastination is an emotion management problem, not a time management issue. We procrastinate because we’re thinking about all the things that might happen rather than just starting what we have to do. Procrastination is a coping strategy to deal with negative emotions like frustration and anxiety. It is based on assumptions that the task won’t feel good. 

When we procrastinate, we have less time to complete the project.  We sometimes tell ourselves we work better under pressure. But we just make more errors when we wait until the deadline is tomorrow. 

Whatever you have to do, just start now. 

Resources Cited: 

  • Pierce Steel, The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done
  • Gabriele Oettingen, Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation 
  • Timothy A Pychyl, Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change


Dyan Williams

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Dyan Williams is a solo lawyer who practices U.S. immigration law and legal ethics at Dyan Williams Law PLLC. She is also a productivity coach who helps working parents, lawyers, small business owners and other busy people turn their ideas into action, reduce overwhelm, and focus on what truly matters. She is the author of The Incrementalist: A Simple Productivity System to Create Big Results in Small Steps