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Regarding: "What’s blocking you from working on an altruistic project?"

Recently I took an online course about managing time and projects, including motivation and follow-through, and one of the most valuable take-aways I got out of it was this:

There are three basic reasons people procrastinate:

  • Not knowing what to do.
    • That is, which of the many available things to start doing. Analysis paralysis is a huge threat to getting things done. I think the kinds of people who feel drawn to EA may also tend to have a particularly high rate of worrying about choosing the best possible option, even to the point of falling to the common failure mode of not doing anything because anything they choose wouldn't be the best thing; rather than getting started doing something net-positive.
  • Not knowing how to do it.
    • This can often me a question of not knowing where to start, and being intimidated by the sheer size of a task.
    • The solution, generally speaking, is to divide the problem into smaller and smaller steps until you have something like "write an email to this contact" or "search this library index for resources on this subject" or "sketch a design layout on paper for how this webpage should look" - something which there is no ambiguity about how to begin.
    • This may also lead to someone getting bogged down because they don't know what the right approach to take is, inducing analysis paralysis as mentioned above. I think it's vital to remember that choosing a path of attack and then taking it will almost always get you farther than stewing over options. It's also one of the most effective ways to discover that a given approach is not viable, which is valuable information, and allows one to stop, consider the new information they have about what it takes to succeed, and then try something else.
  • Not wanting to do it.
    • This may be a matter of having come upon a kind of work that needs to be done, but that one finds tedious, frustrating or confusing.
    • It may be a matter of losing touch with one's reason for caring about the project, or losing sight of how a given task contributes to the success of the project on a larger scale, so that the work feels pointless.
    • It may be a result of overwork, burnout, a desire to do other things more, or inadequate self-care and personal circumstances. It is, for example, very hard to feel willing to work when one is suffering migraines and exhaustion from chronic insomnia, or when one is catastrophising a romantic breakup.

I have presented this insight into the nature of things that block people from achieving what they want to achieve to lots of friends in my personal life since picking it up from the course, who report finding it helpful in untangling what was preventing them from moving forward.

I am currently inclined to add one more, since I see it reflected in so many of the other comments, and in things I have heard from my more sensitive and idealistic friends.

  • Concerns that you're not the right person to do it.
    • Bystander apathy and low confidence very frequently cow considerate people into worrying that if they stepped up, they would be making the problem worse rather than better, by filling a role that would be better filled by someone else, or by making mistakes which may make it harder for another person to succeed.
    • While these aren't invalid concerns...
      • It is generally speaking much more useful to try to collaborate with other people who might try to work on the same project, than to hang back silently in fear of getting in their way. and,
      • It is generally speaking much more useful to endeavor to notice the particular ways in which one's efforts to help could make a problem worse, and then act to mitigate them, than to fail to act out of fear that things will go wrong.
      • Maintaining forward momentum while minimizing negative consequences is a delicate and often difficult balance, but it can result in good things actually getting done.
      • Asking trusted people for help with both sides of that balance can help a great deal.