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Procrastinators Anonymous - A 12-Step Program For People Who Don't Do S#!t


I strongly believe that all people are addicts.

No matter who you are, you’re addicted to something. It may be booze. It may be drugs. It may be doing fuck-all with your life.

I have a lot of friends that are in AA, and at least one that is going into rehab this week. So with respect, here is my 12 step program for procrastinators.

This works. I am not kidding.

Procrastinators such as myself have done the following things.

1. We admitted we were powerless over procrastination – that our lives had become unmanageable.

You know this already. You are doing nothing with your life and it disgusts you. You have good taste, you have big dreams, but you do nothing. You will never be good at this. Admit it. Accept it.

2. Came to believe that a system greater than ourselves could put us back to work.

I have been talking about this for years. You have to let go and let the system do its work. A good system tells you what to do and makes you into a better version of yourself. Find such a system, it exists for everyone.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our work over to the system

Give up on the myth of “making decisions.” Only ask the system (which you chose) what it wants you to do, and do it! Since you built it, you will be doing what you want to do at any given time.

Again: this works.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

You have accepted your errors and are not trying to avoid them. Personally, I used to be late and cancel appointments all the time. I accepted that I was being an asshole and moved on from it. Accept and admit your flaws and move on.

5. Admitted the exact nature of our wrongs.

Ditto what’s above.

6. Were entirely ready to have the system remove the defects of our work.

You know, as I write this, it’s fascinating to me how much this really applies to all facets of life. Lift (and its dead predecessor Leap) work very much on this system. One day at a time. Let the system do its job. Get support from those who care.

7. Humbly ask the system to take care of our problems.

Since you have designed this system (or chosen one that works), there is no fear of problems with productivity or letting a system make you into something you’re not. You chose it, you filled it with work. Now you just have to have faith in it.

8. Made a list of all persons we have promised work to, and became willing to make amends to them.

Your own flaws must become totally apparent to you. Consider yourself 100% weak because it’s the truth. You’re a human being, not a machine, and you will never be able to behave like a machine. So just do your best each day, accept your errors and admit to them.

9. Made direct amends to such people whenever possible.

Repeat after me: “You know I promised you that I would do work for you last month, and I was late/never delivered? I’m sorry about that.

10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we procrastinated, promptly admitted it.

Keep yourself honest at all times. Don’t lie to yourself or the whole thing will begin to break down. The human mind is a very self-deceiving thing if you let it. If you fail, that’s ok, just start over tomorrow.

11. Sought through practice to improve our contact with the system.

Always look back to it. Have it on your phone. Remind yourself to use it. Make it the only thing on your home screen. Whatever works. Just keep it in contact at all times.

12. Having had an awakening as a result of these steps, carry this message forward to those in need.

I have believed for at least a year now that absolutely everyone can benefit from using the 12 steps on their productivity problems. I’ve subconsciously been using them for a long time, and only recently did I realize it.

So that is why I’m sharing this.

There, I’ve done it. If you think it can help, please share it too.

* Filed by Julien at 9:55 am under clear thinking

Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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37 Responses to “Procrastinators Anonymous - A 12-Step Program For People Who Don't Do S#!t”

  1. James Says:

    This is great advice! I’m stuck on my “system.” Any suggestions for finding one that works for me?

  2. Todd Schnick Says:

    i’ve become a fan of lift. what a great tool. i am recommending it every chance i can…

  3. Jeff Yablon Says:

    Julien, I’m so conflicted reading that I don’t know what to say.

    (unsurprisingly, I’ll scrape words together despite the platitude . . . )

    You are, as usual, 100% correct. You know that I’ve used answerguy.com to praise your work and placed you head and shoulders above others who are “like you” on several occasions, and your knack for saying true stuff is the largest reason for that.

    You’ve said true stuff. You’ve said it in the voice I’ve come to respect, admire, and look forward to hear coming out of Julien Smith.

    And yet, somehow, you’ve simultaneously said very close to nothing (past point #1—we ARE all addicts).

    Now, let me try to clarify that: you’ve said plenty. But at the same time, in attempting to employ the 12-step schtick (I can’t wait for the people who howl at me for deigning to apply that word to 12 step programs), you’ve pointed out a problem: “12 steps” are only good for people who are SO beat down by their addiction that they’re willing (compelled?) to give their lives over the the service of the program. Anyone still lucid enough to be reading your words and attempting to apply them in their own still-ongoing lives can’t just give themselves over in that way.

    Unless today’s the day we start moving toward the cult of Julien. Has a group ever massed at a compound in Montreal? Do you guys even have Kool-Aid in Quebec? Tres Gauche!

    Rock on, man. But first, I hope you’ll take a step back . . .

    • S. J.H. Says:

      I believe Julien was trying to say “commit yourself to a program of *your* choice/design;” find something that works *for you* and give yourself up to it. There’s a certain merit in those words insofar as self-doubt is a common enemy of self-improvement.

      I don’t think he was trying to exercise some sort of thought control or commit you to following a specific philosophy of his.

      I say this not to demean your reasoning or defend Julien (I have no personal stake in either). But I suspect that reevaluating the content of this post in a less alarmist manner might ultimately give you more of use.

      • Jeff Yablon Says:

        Appreciate that. Let me be clear about something:

        While “alarmist” might actually be an apt way to describe my reaction (initially I thought not, but upon reflection, it’s a fair word), my alarm went off over the idea of someone I think “gets it” way better than most going too abstract.

        Abstract = Bad

        I feel like Julien is one of the brightest self-help guys on the planet, and yes, I called him a self-help guy; THAT’S apt, too; think about it. But this felt way too Tony Robbins to me.

        Actually trying to be of service here . . .

  4. Michele Price (@prosperitygal) Says:

    Imagine a world where everyone does at least #4.

    It’s a tough ride and very liberating as well as satisfying when breaking through.

  5. Thomas Frank Says:

    When my friend shared this, I thought it was going to be just another smart-ass list that had “Man up and do shit” for every entry.

    In actuality, though, this was an awesome post and was just what I needed to get myself out of the slump I’ve been in for the past few months. I need to especially thank you for helping me discover Lift – I’ve just downloaded it and put a bunch of habits I want to form into it. I think it’ll really help me stick to them!

  6. Peter Says:

    What do you mean by ‘system’? Kind of a broad term, what kind of system are you talking about?

  7. Jim Says:

    There is only one step needed to recover from procrastination:

    1. Stop procrastinating.

    That is it. Using a system (or multiple steps) is a crutch—if you lose the crutch, you will fall again.

    Realize that the system isn’t what is stopping the procrastination. It is you.

    Believe in you.

    End of sermon.

    • Melly Says:

      Why are you reading an article on procrastination if this is what you believe? Perhaps you could move along to other blogs and advise people to 1. just stop being addicted to heroin! or 1. just stop being depressed! or 1. just stop having pneumonia already! You can do it!

  8. Coach Comeback Says:

    Still in the process of deciding which system to use – step 2a.

    There are so many that exist. What about people who procrastinate about taking action to not be a procrastinator?

    You may have to bump this up to 24 steps! lol

    Awesome reminder Julien!

  9. Luis Says:

    “A system greater than ourselves.” Is that some sort of shibboleth? What does it mean? A schedule, a to-do list? I’m drawing a blank here.

  10. Mary E. Ulrich Says:

    HI Julien, I admit I have lots of addictions, most unhealthy.

    I’m not sure I understand the “system” you talked about.
    How about another blog post expanding that idea?

    Is the “system” like a list of goals and objectives? From your article, it sounds more important and bigger than that.


    • Julien Says:

      Just to confirm. The ‘system’ is the INFRASTRUCTURE which you place yourself into.

      So you wake up and say “first thing I do is blog.” This is one part of the system.

      The whole system is like a set of gears or a machine. When a machine takes beans and puts them into a can, that’s what the machine does.

      Your machine take you (a flawed human being) and on the other end, every day, pops out a productive individual that just “works well.”

      Each system is based on the flaws of the individual.

      You must build your own system.

      • Luis Says:

        but julien, isn’t this begging the original question?

        i understood the original question to be: how to stop procrastinating.

        the answer seems to be: find a system that works and commit to it.

        now, that’s not very helpful, is it?

        i suspect you have in mind something like meg selig’s changepower (different from willpower, which fails all procrastinators, in that it relies on context and outside factors to help us direct our actions). is this what you mean by a system? i’d be curious to hear about your experience figuring out and using one that works for you.

  11. Mary E. Ulrich Says:

    I’m still thinking about your “system.”

    Just finished reading Jon Morrow’s post of getting traffic. He lays out specific strageties and steps for making that happen. http://boostblogtraffic.com/endless-traffic/

    Would you consider this, “his system”?

    So as a blogger who procrastinates and is discouraged because no one reads her blog, I read Jon’s post, choose the strategies I think might work for me, then define my own “system” and that becomes my measuring stick or #2?????

  12. William Brukner Says:

    All the comments on this Website are all Perfectly Correct, & I agree with all herein.

  13. Abderrafie Says:

    Just a little bit about the system.
    Everywhere, there is a system and the results , and a simple truth is that the results fit perfectly with the system in place.
    So, for me, there is a life system wich produces perfectly procrastination as a result…and any procrastinator should look closely for this system and not procrastinates about that ! : that’s the first step.
    the second step is finding another system ( greater, smarter,…call it what you like) wich may produce action.

  14. GW Says:

    I didn’t do it exactly this way, but came to a similar solution for addressing my own issues with putting things off.

    It works. The key was to create something systematic that works *for me* so that instead of dithering over priorities (that, at least, was the source of the problem for me) I can look at my list and know what to work on next.

    Not only am I more productive now, but I’m being productive on things that actually matter and are important to me, not just things I’m doing for the sake of looking productive.

  15. Chris A Says:

    Julien, a heart-felt thanks is in order. This will sound dumb, but it’s true. I feel as though I needed someone to tell me it’s okay to apologize for being a human with an ineffective system.

    I also just took notes from the book ‘Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success’. The book agrees with your idea surrounding the myth of “making decisions”. Willpower isn’t the way to change – you just don’t have enough of it and the REAL powers at work are stronger than your ability to conquer them. Change really is about creating a system that makes success more likely (association, inputs, thought disrupters, habits, your immediate work environment)… quite frankly people get in their own way when they believe the propaganda that they should just conjure up the willpower to get sh*t done.

    One example from my own life of this: I usually go home from my job with a list of to-dos for my side business. When I get home though, I’m welcomed by a TV, a refrigerator, a comfy sofa and a young kid. ZAPPED! That system welcomes procrastination worse than anything I know. How did I change it? I didn’t just say it’s up to me to cut the BS and just get to work. I changed the environment. I stapled a TO DO list on the door between the garage and the house. As soon as I get home I hop out of the car and see the things I need to get done. I respect the list, all of those items gets a glance over and I see myself getting sh*t done, it gets to the forefront of my mind. Then I walk into my house. But the sofa and the fridge aren’t friends anymore, not the ones I need anyway.


  16. Jean Says:

    I can’t really explain in so short a space just how my quest for such systems, and the obsession with productivity they are tied to, have contributed to systematically undermine my self-esteem.

    I have developed, not a momentum-gathering habit and system which is leading me towards glorious success and accomplishment but, an addiction to obessing about work, about ‘being busy’ and doing things…. and ultimately going nowhere.

    In fact, I feel as though I am never NOT working. Every day, 24 hours a day. And as I ‘work,’ and fail to reap ‘rewards’ (besides meeting my addition for feeling busy and productive), I feel more and more inadequate and disempowered to take meaningful action to change this.

    This is the dark side of such a system: failure becomes magnified.

    When you believe you have done everything right, used the right reminders, decided on the right things, etc. but then procrastinated just the same, your inability to follow through despite the ‘optimal circumstances for success’ eventually come to convince you that you cannot succeed, and that you cannot change. After all, when the deck is stacked in your favour and you ‘fail,’ what hope do you have?

    The significant problem is NOT the system: it is the inability to adhere to one’s system.

  17. RJ Says:

    Thanks for this post Julien.

    If I understand correctly, a schedule is part of a system but not all of it.
    A system is an algorithm for making choices.

    What should I be doing now?
    What/when should I eat?
    Should I buy this product?
    How much should I rest?
    Should I stay in this relationship?

    Your system should decide these questions for you.

    My irrational fear is of following and committing to a flawed system. I’m thinking of creating a system, commit to it for a week or a month, and refine and improve it over time.

  18. Zub Says:

    Well done. Let’s do this, hehe…
    Google search terms exhibit great intelligence and simplicity. We can develop a conversational style that’s spot on and clear and breezy, and precise…
    I am the impact equation really! there are a few others that are at the root of things. peace homie, you’re learning.

  19. Zub Says:

    Google trends – the language of top search terms.

  20. Zub Says:

    These words sum up blogs people, etc: rich intellect, culture and writing.

  21. Susan Cooper Says:

    I believe that this post was intended to make people think and it certainly has. There is a way to handle any addiction or affliction the key s finding what works for you. :-)

  22. Alan Edmunds Says:

    I doubly agree that all people are addicts. Our bodies eventually get used to a cycle and we become addicted to the cycle that we’ve put ourselves i, so true young man.

  23. Wendy McQuarrie Says:

    I saw it in my inbox and thought it looked interesting – but it took me 36 hours and scrolling past it multiple times before I opened it. I am a giant procrastinator and not afraid to admit it. In fact, putting the plan into work is one step away from this that requires a lot of thinking as I have a lot of other things listed to think about first. For me, anything in the world can become addictive if we are exposed to it long enough because it becomes what we consider to be “normal”. Thus our mind accepts that normality and wants to stay with it. Even thinking can become addictive. People can happily live in their minds and thus escape “real” life, but who is to say what real life is. The main point is that we must in some way produce in order to live, or rely on someone else to do it for us. We say we are not expecting it so thus have no moral responsibility to repay. The ability to justify one’s actions or inaction is just as addictive but never acknowledged.

  24. Raché (Aqua/Tauri) Says:

    This is awesome! I always say that too, EVERYONE is an addict, the NATURE of life is compulsion and addiction. Addictive behavior is searching for coherency in things out of your control, so implementing a system makes sense because of automatic consistency and a place to refer back to.

    But life wouldn’t be fun or beautiful if it weren’t cyclic, remainders of modular arithmetic are the unifications, and who doesn’t wanna surrender to the chaos from time to time? ^_^

    I recently went to an AA meeting with a friend despite not being a drinker because I have my own battles with mental health. I loved it, there’s something so beautiful and honorable about people coming together to be humble and ask and provide help.

  25. Kenny Says:

    I just listened to Tim Ferriss’ new interview on Mixergy for his new book. He came up with DISS (Decontruct, Selection, Sequence and Stakes) to help people learn new skills.

    Deconstruct the task into manageable parts
    Select the minimal effective dose (80/20 rule)
    Sequence your system in the right order
    Stakes – Use something like Stickk.com to put stakes down.

    He advocates creating systems with as little friction as possible. This reduces decision fatigue and increases adherence.

    From most important to least important factors with your systems.
    1. Adherence
    2. Effective
    3. Efficient

    When I heard this interview I immediately was reminded of your post “Give in to the Machine.” He states the same thing in the interview. Constrictions and structure frees you.

    How do you handle and implement your systems Julien? Calendars? Lift? etc. Are you a Tim Ferriss fan?

    Here’s a link to the interview for anyone interested.


  26. Alina Says:

    Are there any other programs besides apps that you could give as an example? I, for instance, don’t have a smartphone. Thanks

  27. William Brukner Says:

    The reason I think people become Procrastinators is because You can be addicted to not wanting to do somethings in Life you don’t want to do because it’s too painful or you just hate doing it because it’s Extremely Laborious 4 them to do.
    There’re a lot of things I just hate about this Life, Mostly so than I ever like about this Life, “WHY” because in my way of thinking Life sometimes Really SUCKS & is Cruel to the point of people of taking there LIVES by SUICIDE, & YES SOMETIMES TO ESCAPE THIS HORRIBLE REALLY WE CALL LIFE PEOPLE HAVE THE RIGHT TO SUICIDE WHEN THEY CAN’T ESCAPE FROM THERE MIND & THE REAL BODY THAT GIVES THEM MORE PAIN, PHY, OR MENTAL ETC…

  28. Korou Says:

    I went to http://lift.do/ but it wouldn’t open.

    Can anyone point me to a weblink explaining it?

    Could someone please post a “system” they recommend?

  29. Patrick Says:

    This is cool. We all have a system. IF you procrastinate, your system either sucks or it is not important to you. Mine is little of both, and I was not conscious of that before Procrastinators Anonymous.

  30. Jim "Da Coach" Rohrbach Says:

    I’m gonna wait to comment on this.

    I do have a recovery group for “Negaholics” called “AA — Affirmations Anonymous.

  31. WanHuz Says:

    After reading a lot of book you’ve suggested, now I understand what this is all about. Well, thanks :)

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