What’s Immediate Action by Thibaut Meurisse about? Do you procrastinate on important tasks? What can you do to improve your focus?
Procrastinators put off tasks that aren’t enjoyable, even when they know there are likely to be negative consequences. Personal development writer Thibaut Meurisse argues in his book Immediate Action that procrastination prevents us from reaching our goals.
Read below for a brief Immediate Action book overview.
Immediate Action by Thibaut Meurisse
Many of us are masters of the art of procrastination. No matter how big or small the task at hand, we’re skilled at finding excuse after excuse to put it off until later, or tomorrow. In Immediate Action book author and coach Thibaut Meurisse argues that procrastination is a bad habit that we all have—but one that serves the specific evolutionary purpose of deterring you from expending energy you could conserve or taking risks you could avoid. By thinking more clearly about what procrastination is and why you keep putting off the most important tasks on your to-do list, you’ll be able to stop postponing the things you need to do and cultivate a healthier relationship with your work.
Meurisse is a personal development writer and the author of more than 20 books including Dopamine Detox (2021), Powerful Focus (2021), and Strategic Mindset (2021). In Immediate Action, Meurisse introduces a step-by-step method, complete with exercises and a workbook, to help you break the habit of procrastination in seven days.
What Is Procrastination?
Meurisse defines procrastination as feeling resistant to working on the things that we know we need to do. Procrastination indicates that you don’t want to work on a specific task. Meurisse writes that when you notice yourself procrastinating, you need to figure out why you’re resisting working on that particular task.
Even though procrastination makes it difficult for us to achieve our goals, we shouldn’t feel ashamed of it, according to Meurisse. In fact, everybody has the tendency to procrastinate, and we can’t stop procrastination altogether. But by learning why you tend to procrastinate and changing the way you approach the tasks on your to-do list, you can build more positive habits. Over time, those habits will make it easier for you to do the things you need to do, even when you don’t feel motivated to do them.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Though we all know what procrastination feels like, few of us have thought about why we’re so easily tempted to put things off. Meurisse contends that procrastination is a holdover from earlier stages of human evolution where it served a purpose: When we lived in dangerous environments, our brains needed to protect us from expending energy and taking risks on tasks that weren’t vital to our survival (or our ability to reproduce).
He writes that when you feel compelled to put off a task, it may be because your brain perceives the task as either an unnecessary use of your limited energy or as a potential risk to your physical well-being. After all, your brain has evolved to maximize your chances of survival: Its goal isn’t necessarily to motivate you to take actions that will help you thrive. Meurisse notes that while procrastination served a purpose earlier in human evolution, it can hold you back from accomplishing your goals if you let it get the better of you.
How Can We Minimize Procrastination?
Now that we know why we procrastinate, we can equip ourselves to address this tendency. In this section, we’ll explore Meurisse’s tips to minimize procrastination.
Recognize Faulty Patterns of Thinking
Meurisse says that the first step is to recognize faulty patterns of thinking, namely: We rely on motivation to act, we accept our feelings as facts, and we think our future selves will act for us. We’ll discuss each one as well as Meurisse’s advice for correcting each pattern.
We Think Motivation Enables Us to Act
The first fundamental error in our thinking is that we assume that the level of motivation we feel determines whether we can apply ourselves to a task. But Meurisse writes that this is a misconception: We don’t need to feel motivated to make meaningful progress toward our goals.
One way to counter this kind of thinking is to stop waiting for motivation. Meurisse writes that you need to cultivate the habit of sitting down and starting work, even if you don’t feel like it. If you take that first step and start to make progress on your task, you’ll start to feel more motivated.
We Accept Our Feelings as Facts
A similar illusion also tricks us into believing that there’s truth in the emotions we feel about ourselves and our work. Meurisse explains that our misconceptions about motivation are an example of “emotional reasoning,” which traps us into thinking that just because we feel something, it must be true. The reality is that our feelings aren’t necessarily the truth. For example, when it comes to procrastination, we think that because we feel scared of a task, it must be outside of our abilities.
You can avoid the trap of emotional reasoning by recognizing that your feelings are just feelings. Meurisse explains that when you feel the impulse to procrastinate and then act on it, you accept that not feeling like doing something is a legitimate reason to put off doing it. The first step in breaking this pattern is to acknowledge that your feelings aren’t necessarily true. You aren’t obligated to believe them or act on them.
We Think Our Future Self Will Handle Our Tasks for Us
A third way in which our thoughts and feelings trap us is by making us believe that our “future self” will solve our problems. Meurisse writes that when we put off tasks, we often think that some future version of ourselves—one who’s better than we are at present—will take care of the task for us.
He recommends sidestepping this faulty logic by realizing that your future self doesn’t exist. Meurisse points out that your future self isn’t real—at least not as an individual who has different capabilities than you do. If you aren’t actively working toward improving yourself today, then the version of yourself that you’ll be tomorrow or next week won’t be any different than the person you are today.
Address the Feeling of Being Overwhelmed
In addition to being tricked by faulty patterns of thinking, a second reason that we procrastinate is that we have too many unfinished tasks on our to-do lists. Meurisse contends that these tasks take up considerable mental space and make us feel overwhelmed or stuck. This impedes our ability to get work done.
The solution he recommends is simple: Dedicate some time to taking stock of the things that you’ve left undone and starting to complete them. When you complete a task that you’ve left unfinished, you’ll start to chip away at your to-do list, clear up cognitive capacity, and increase your motivation to address your most important work.
Cultivate Your Ability to Focus
A third reason that we procrastinate is that we have trouble focusing on what we need to be doing. Sometimes we’re overstimulated, distracted, or otherwise unable to pay complete attention to the task at hand. Meurisse contends that being in the wrong mental space can keep us from immersing ourselves in our work and focusing on the work we need to get done. He explains that two different mental experiences interfere with our ability to work productively.
First, overstimulation—the experience that your brain or senses are overwhelmed by all of the things demanding your attention—is common when we can access addictive social networks or an endless loop of YouTube videos at all times. Meurisse writes that even worse, the need to divert ourselves with these activities feels more compelling the more we indulge it. Second, distraction comes in the form of tasks that feel productive but prevent you from making progress on more important tasks. (For example, your email inbox might feel urgent but can distract you from tasks that are much more critical to your goals.)
There’s a simple solution that can help with overstimulation, distraction, and other issues with focus, according to Meurisse: building an effective routine. He writes that procrastination has become a habit for many of us. But by building a daily routine, you can intentionally cultivate habits that help you to get your work done on a timely basis.
Ideally, you should build a pre-work routine that you can complete at the same place and time each day. The routine will signal to your mind that it’s time to focus on your work. For example, you might get a glass of ice water and open the windows in your home office to get your mind into “work” mode. Meurisse also recommends that you begin work right away after completing your routine (preferably on the most important task that you need to complete that day so you don’t get sidetracked by less critical projects). The sense of accomplishment you feel after you finish that task will motivate you through the rest of your day.
Make Sure You Fully Understand the Task at Hand
Fourth, we tend to procrastinate when we don’t fully understand the task we need to complete. Meurisse writes that this confusion comes in a variety of forms. When we’re undecided as to how we should approach a task, unsure of what the final outcome should be, or unclear about the ultimate purpose of the task, we find it difficult to make progress. Even a lack of urgency about the project can undermine our ability to get to work.
One solution to having an inadequate understanding of an item on your to-do list is to take the time to examine the specifics of the task. Meurisse writes that when you don’t fully understand what you need to do, why the task is important, or how you can best approach it, it’s worthwhile to sit down and figure out the answers to those questions. You might make your goal more specific and measurable, ask yourself why it’s important to complete the task, or even ask someone else how they would tackle the task.
Alternatively, says Meurisse, if you fully understand what you need to do, then you might need to heighten the urgency of the task. Reflecting on how you can make the task feel more important and more urgent can help you get started on it. For example, you might think about the colleagues who need your report before they can move forward with a project, or envision all of the people who will read a blog post that you’re supposed to be writing.
Confront Your Fear of Not Being Up to the Task
A fifth reason we procrastinate arises from our sense of inadequacy: Meurisse writes that when we fear we aren’t good enough to reach our goals, we keep putting off tasks we need to complete. But this fear often doesn’t reflect our actual ability: It’s just about how we perceive ourselves.
Meurisse proposes a solution that doesn’t require you to change how you feel about yourself or about a particularly challenging task: Let your fears fuel your efforts. He points out that even the most successful people feel inadequate; they’ve just learned to use those feelings to motivate them to keep making an effort. If you use your sense that you aren’t good enough as an excuse to keep putting off the things you really want to do, your sense of inadequacy will only grow worse with time.
It might help to reframe your sense that you aren’t good enough. Instead of resigning yourself to being a person who doesn’t have the ability to reach your goals, you can think of yourself as a person who’s able and willing to continually grow, learn, and improve as you pursue your goals.
Meurisse also suggests learning to accept your feelings of inadequacy as a signal of the high expectations you have for yourself and for the impact you could have on the world. Then, you can cultivate a sense of compassion for yourself and any mistakes you might make. That can help you stay motivated to challenge yourself and take on difficult tasks that will push you closer to what you want to achieve.
Stop Blowing Tasks Out of Proportion
Finally, Meurisse notes that many of us procrastinate when we distort tasks into something much bigger and more important than they really are. Your mind might have a habit of telling you that the items on your to-do list are far too difficult or monumental, as a way of deterring you from expending the energy on trying to achieve those tasks.
You can get around this cause of procrastination by recognizing your tasks for what they are. The goal is to see beyond the illusion that your tasks are too big and too important for you to successfully tackle, and put the items on your to-do list back into perspective. Meurisse recommends looking to other people as an example and adopting the attitude that you can do most of the things that others can do.
Additionally, if something feels impossible to you, that might be a good reason to try to accomplish it: Imagine the boost of self-confidence that you’ll experience after you achieve something that felt unattainable, whether it’s stepping up to give a big presentation at work or striking up a friendship with a classmate you’ve always admired.