“Many people think they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. It is not always obvious when and where to take action.”

James Clear

In this quote, “action” refers to a well-defined habit or task.

More broadly, I would say that we also procrastinate because we don’t know exactly what we are supposed to do or why we want to do something.

It seems obvious and it is surely nothing new, but I still fell into this trap multiple times. To be honest, I still need to remind myself of this. I had the idea for this post exactly because I was procrastinating – then I realized I didn’t know what specifically I was even supposed to do. No wonder I didn’t want to get into something unclear, it is too uncomfortable!

Questions to get started

If you feel stuck and unmotivated and find yourself postponing something you need to do, ask yourself these questions:

  • What task am I supposed to do? Make it as specific as possible. If you aren’t sure, brain dump any task which can be related/helpful as well. Then figure out which one will help you the most if you do that first.
  • Why is this task important to me? Figure out if you really want or need to do it, by refecting on how you will feel once the task is done and what would happen if you continued procrastinating. Talking to someone you trust can help in this area!
  • What do I need to get started? Do I have all the necessary things ? For example, this might mean notes and slides if the task is work or study related. It will bed documents and receits if you need to file your tax returns.
  • What specifically will I do in the first 5 minutes? What will I work on in the first 25 minutes?
  • How long will this take? If it’s more than an hour, break it down into smaller tasks. If you are not familiar with the Pomodoro technique, you should look into it, it will significantly help with procrastination (I used it consistently during my Master’s and go back to it even now when I need to)
  • How will I measure success? Try to have something measurable and within your control.

Motivation versus clarity in habit-building

Being specific and knowing exactly when and how you are going to do something is especially important if you are trying to form a new habit. James Clear suggests having a set time and place in mind. This means there is no question as to if this is the right moment or not. If you know “Every morning at 8 am I will read 5 pages”, you won’t make any decisions, but simply follow through on your plans.

A month ago I started getting back into running. It’s extremely helpful to know when I am supposed to put on my running shoes and to have a clear plan. I am not giving myself the option of “doing it tomorrow” because I am following a schedule. And I don’t have to bargain with myself on how much I will run, as it has already been decided for me by experts who I trust.


Next time you catch yourself procrastinating and putting something off, remember to get clear on what exactly you have to do, check if you know when and how you will start, and make sure you have everything you need ready – or make that your first task.

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