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How to Fix the Problem of Running Away from Your Problems

The first step is getting yourself started.


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Nabil Alouani

3 years ago | 4 min read

Five years after I’d moved to France to study, my good old procrastination almost cost me everything.

After earning my degree, I decided to make Paris my new home. I found a job and life was looking good. All I had left to do was submit my application to immigration services: fill some forms, attach the required documents, and mail it in. Sure, it seems simple now, but at the time it was a lot of work and energy for me.

I felt overwhelmed, so I convinced myself that I would “do it later.” Eventually, later became too late. I missed the deadline, and my application was rejected.

As a result, I lost my job, my house, and several other opportunities. It took me an awful lot of time and energy to get them back — but that’s another struggle for another story.

Procrastination is the act of putting off work. Some people say that we do it for no reason, I disagree. I think that we have plenty of valid reasons that push us into procrastinating. In my experience, the main one is fear — fear of suffering, rejection, failure, novelty, success, challenges, being overwhelmed, looking stupid, you name it.

As a result, we found ourselves in front of the I’ll-do-it-later tunnel. We think that running away will get us to skip it only to find out that we’re running in circles.

We forget an undeniable truth that I first learned from productivity expert and author of Getting Things Done David Allen:

“The way out is through.”

Allen explains that avoiding what we ought to be doing builds up inner tension. The task at hand becomes more and more urgent. Every time it shows up in our thoughts, we feel increasingly worse about skipping it. We feel less self-reliant and more overwhelmed.

The tunnel gets darker, and we feel more afraid to go inside. So we keep ourselves “busy” to delay entering the tunnel, and again it becomes even darken. It’s a cycle that only gets worse.

The “Getting Things Done,” methodology is mainly about breaking this loop built out of procrastination.

The idea is to take your problems off your mind — and to place them into a system. Your system doesn’t have to be fancy or sophisticated. It could be a notebook, a whiteboard, or a phone app.

Using a system helps you clear your mental space and diffuses the inner tension. Knowing that you captured the things that you have to do in your system frees your attention from distractions and stressful mental reminders. Now that you’re less overwhelmed by what you’re desperately trying to skip, you’re more inclined to act on it.

Whether it’s a project to carry out, a presentation to do, a report to write, or a personal issue to solve, the same paradoxical pattern applies. If you take it off your mind, you’re more likely to deal with it.

But hey, your system isn’t enough. Writing down your problems won’t magically solve them.

In order to make things actually happen, you’ll still need to be productive, and there’s no magic pill for that either. Nevertheless, several techniques have proven to be effective — some of which are easy to include in a personal system. I’ve been using the following four as a part of my system.

Identify next actions

A “next action” is the next visible physical activity required to move forward in dealing with a problem.

Right after capturing the situation, browse your thoughts for specific activities deriving from it. Write them down, record them, or draw a mindmap. Use verbs to make sure that’s something you can do and not just “stuff.” Instead of writing down “taxes,” aim for “Do my taxes.” Then, add every next action you come up with: “fill forms, read new regulations, print receipts.”

Chunk it down

Break down your subsequent actions into easily-manageable micro-actions that last from 5 to 45 minutes. Short sprints are more comfortable to do and less scary for your brain. Keeping the example of the taxes, split each tax that you have to process into blocks per source of income. Under your “Fill tax forms” action you could add:

  1. Fill Freelancing tax form
  2. Fill tax form for the first semester’s part-time job
  3. Fill tax for online sales

If necessary, divide each source into fragments. For example, you can process each activity in periods of 3 or 6 months and then do the math to get your annual results.

Use a schedule

You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.

A schedule can be seen as a time-making machine. Set a reminder with the details needed to get your micro-actions done.

Next to “fill the freelance tax form” in your calendar, add the corresponding location of your online or physical folder. The idea is to reduce the ‘thinking’ and maximize the ‘doing’ during your working time-slot.

A reminder in your calendar could look like this.
“Fill the freelance tax form — Folder: Paperwork/2020/Taxes/Freelance.”

Ask for help

Even though it’s your problem, you don’t have to deal with it alone. Reaching out for friends or family doesn’t necessarily make for professional advice — although it may — but it can give you the boost you need to power through your procrastination, stress, and fears.

What we truly need to do is often what we most feel like avoiding. Dealing with a problem feels overwhelming because we imagine ourselves dealing with the whole process at once. In reality, we tackle everything in steps. The most important one is the first. Mark Twain said it best:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

Using a system is all about getting you started. So when a problem shows up, be the first to make a move. You’re probably thinking of something while reading this story. Go ahead, open your digital or physical notebook, capture your thoughts, and define your next actions. Do it now — not later.

This article was originally published by Nabil ALOUANI on medium.

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Nabil Alouani

Business | Psychology | Marketing — What's your favorite quote? Mine is "True masters are eternal students."


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