How to Overcome Procrastination by Lowering Your Energy of Activation

I’ve been obsessed lately with the concept of energy of activation (Ea) – the energy you put into a system to get it to change.

Without Ea, the chemicals just sit there.

With it, they spurt and fizz and combine and do all kinds of other jazzy things.
Remember catalysts, the chemicals that speed reactions? What they actually do is lower Ea so reactions can proceed more easily.

Energy of activation graph.

Energy of Activation graph (from Wikipedia)

If there’s a task you procrastinate on, try reducing its “Ea” by, (1) optimizing your environment, and (2) getting some of the preconditions out of the way earlier.

If it’s writing, make sure that the sound level and decor of your room are optimized. Also, that your equipment is well running. Writing is hard enough without having to simultaneously struggle with too much noise (or quiet), disorganization, a flaky PC, etc. Also, reorganize your schedule so that writing gets your best time and attention, and you’re not battling fatigue or distraction.

If it’s exercise, try putting on your exercise gear first thing in the morning so that that’s one less hurdle when it actually comes time to exercise. Or, if driving to the gym is a hassle, buy some exercise tapes ( has hundreds, for all tastes and needs) and try exercising at home.

If it’s a phone call or appointment or some paperwork you’re dreading, get someone to help you with it – or even to just sit with you, or call you before and while you’re doing it. Because feelings of panic and abandonment often underlie procrastination, simply just having someone else involved is often enough to lower Ea.

Lowering the Ea is often like magic: you do it and suddenly the insurmountable barrier becomes surmountable. And then, afterwards, you’re left wondering what the heck the problem was in the first place!

Perfectionists, of course, disdain this approach, preferring, instead, to beat themselves into submission. “I should be able to write when I’m sick / the kids are noisy / the computer’s flaky, dammit! And I’m going to sit here until I do!”

Ugh. Such a coercive attitude inevitably leads to procrastination, which is a rebellion against the coercion and the trap of unreasonable expectations.

Nonperfectionists would never bother with such an unproductive tactic. If they’re sick, they *promptly* go back to bed. If the kids are noisy, they *quickly* shush them and/or make plans for babysitting or an outside writing space. If the computer’s busted they *immediately* get it fixed or a new one. If it’s a tedious or tricky project, they’re *instantly* on the phone asking for help. In other words, their reflex, when faced with a difficult task or even any task at all, is to do stuff that lowers Ea.

Perfectionism, by the way, is the opposite of a catalyst: it’s a “blocker” or “inhibitor” that raises Ea. It does that not just by increasing your fears, but by inventing prolific rationalizations and justifications for non-work.

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