How to Survive a Procrastination Panic Attack


The weekend before school started I suffered a mild panic attack, paralyzed by the overwhelming amount of work I seemed to face. I’ve continued to have minor episodes since, but here has been my recipe for overcoming them.

Breathe and pray

Take deep breaths. Oxygen and meditation. Ask for divine providence.

Put on some music

Nothing too distracting. Classical music is good unless it’s somber — you want something to make you hopeful. I like to tune to XPN or put on a long DJ mix from my iPod.

Clip your nails

Or some other activity that you can finish in 2 minutes. I like to start clipping my nails because its always something that nags at me when I’d rather procrastinate than work. Getting it out of my way has become my little ritual to prepare my mind.

Clear your workspace

This is not spring cleaning. This is making some psychological room for you to work. Take all those random piles of paper that have been accumulating and re-shuffle them into an inbox queue to tackle.

Start a to-do list

There’s a lot of GTD (Getting Things Done) applications out there, and I always yearn for the next one (currently OmniFocus), but in reality I really need to make to-do lists from scratch over and over again. Having a map laid out of all the tasks I need to do helps me put the work ahead of me in perspective and calms me down a bit.

One of the things that I did pick up from the David Allen system is organizing my to-do lists by location. In other words, I’ll make headings such as “MAC,” “INTERNET,” “SCHOOL,” or “CHORES.” I used to order my lists by importance of tasks, but it turns out that I just like to know what I can knock off at each station that I find myself situated at.

If this is a very inchoate, quickly evolving list, I might jot it in a text file, but I usually like to do it on paper so that I can have a visual overview of what lays ahead of me.

Start a notes/blog text file

I have one file that I use all the time in Textmate and that is my “blog drafts” file that I write in Markdown. Markdown is a lot quicker and more intuitive to type in than pure HTML, and it’s quickly becoming second nature for me to write all my ideas in that format. (If you don’t have Textmate, you can always convert your Markdown scribblings into HTML using Daring Fireball’s Markdown Dingus application).

Whenever I work, I tend to be plagued by a million new ideas of things to do or blog about. My “blog drafts” file is one of several mind dumps I have — once I make a quick note of an idea in there, I can usually let it go and get back to the task at hand.

Start a mental not-to-do list

I usually make a few discipline resolutions for myself before I engage. This usually involves abstaining from such time sinks as e-mail and incoming rss feeds until major tasks get done. Setting up an impromptu rewards system helps keep up my concentration and motivation.

Do the first thing and then the next

By now I’m usually cogent enough to start… If not, I’ll start boiling a pot of coffee.

Those who truly know me know that I’m the slave of sloth and procrastination. These little mind tricks (I will refrain using the term “hacks”) help me to keep moving along the maze. What do you do?


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