Many of us need to learn how to kill procrastination because the habit of abandoning things in the middle has us by the throat. There is an ongoing discussion in our brain. We tell ourselves things like “I have big dreams. I have solid beliefs that one-day things will change. I’m certain I’m meant for more. I have a purpose.”
But only if I had the time to pursue it. I wish my parents approved of this. I’ll do it once circumstances change. Only if someone could guarantee this will work. I’m not sure if this is a good idea. Nothing but a bunch of excuses we give ourselves to waste yet another day. Truth is:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did
— Mart Twain
We love imagining a world where our ideas have turned into reality. But we are scared to take the leap and step out of our comfort zones. I’ve experienced firsthand how damaging and painful it can be to want something desperately yet not being able to hold it in the palm of your hand.
We jump from one shiny thing to another. And, at the moment, it feels like we are utilizing our time to the best of our abilities. It feels like we are doing justice to every resource at our disposal. It feels like we are laying the foundation of a new life. But all we end up with is yet another broken promise.
Over time, it starts feeling like we are dragging a burden behind us. It starts to feel like our brain is trying to talk us out of everything with potential. Anything worth pursuing and everything worth trying.
Over time, starting out becomes even more cumbersome because our mind is already weaving a story of our eventual abandonment of the project. That pulls you down. That’s discouraging and problematic in every sense of the word.
That’s the problem we’ll try to understand and learn how to overcome today. First, we’ll try to peek under the hood and better understand what causes this toxic repetitive cycle. Then, we’ll explore 9 ways to prevent ourselves from going down this rabbit hole for the millionth time.
By the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with enough knowledge and principles to begin taking control of your habits and know how to kill procrastination.
Why we prcrastinate
Each time we start planning a new project and imagining all the possibilities, we get a dopamine hit. Dopamine is a chemical released in our brain that is responsible for making us feel good. That hit of dopamine gets us excited and pumped up and we become ready to jump straight in.
However, after a few hours or days, the effects of dopamine start to fade away and our brain starts craving it again.
It becomes harder and harder to continue pursuing the same activity and we don’t feel the rush of excitement and joy that we did in the beginning. Hence, we start procrastinating the project/task, put it on the hold by giving ourselves some hollow reasons and eventually completely throw it into a dusty basket of dead ideas never to be looked at again.
We also fall into the trap of procrastinating because we expect perfection. We expect ourselves to sail through the process smoothly and come out on the other side as a winner. The truth is, that never happens. Hence, if our determination isn’t strong enough and we are only in it for the shiny fun parts, we start questioning everything the minute we are punched in the chin.
Our brain constantly wants more dopamine. And we want the good feeling of being on the chase and so we bail out and start chasing the next shiny frog.
We often build ourselves an invisible bar to climb. We keep pursuing perfection which keeps killing our chances of finishing a product worth using or getting feedback on and hence, preventing us from getting better at our craft. We keep comparing our initial creations with the people who have dedicated their entire lives to the craft. We keep questioning our skills and ability to fulfill our dreams and keep living in the bubble of pursuit while life is actually flying by.
This is heartbreaking and painful to experience as I’ve seen in the past few years. It kills our creativity and our self-confidence diminishes and we stop trusting ourselves. However, what rejoices me is that human beings have the potential to reverse the cycles, the ability to change and transform anything they put their mind to.
How to kill procrastination
1. Kill it with music
One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain
— Bob Marley
Music has the power to do incredible things and help push us beyond what we think is possible. when we don’t want to do something, it seems like it has no end. Hence, we don’t even start. But giving ourselves a clear timeline and a definitive end makes it a lot easier to swallow dirt and just grind through the process.
I mostly listen to instrumental music which has the ability to increase your focus but every now and then listening to someone pour their heart out in their singing can also give you a surprising amount of motivation.
I’ve also noticed that if you listen to a certain type of song when working and do it for a decent chunk of time, eventually playing that song alone puts you in the mood to get things done.
Try that and if you still feel lazy when the music stops, don’t force yourself to work. I’m saying it because 9/10 it won’t be the case.
2. Suffocate laziness with flow
Be dedicated in whatever you do – even if it’s kissing your girl goodnight
— William D. Revelli
It sounds simple. The benefits of it can’t be denied. Yet, it is extremely hard to implement being present in the moment. That’s because it is so easy to slip into the future or dig out the rotten graves of the past that we forget being in the moment that is happening.
There are a billion thoughts running through our brain. When is it going to be sunny? When is my T.V show returning? What’s for the dinner today? How many likes did my latest post get? The list is endless.
Hence, we need to find the kill switch. Here is an idea.
Set a time of the day. Whatever works best for you. Set an alarm clock. It can be 30 minutes or a few hours if you’d like. Put your phone on airplane mode. Shut down your laptop unless you need it for work. Let your family or colleagues know you’re not available. Lock the door and get onto it.
Don’t look at the clock. Don’t worry about what’s going outside. Don’t think about anything except what you want to accomplish. Try to create as much raw material as you can. Don’t worry about the quality either.
Just put it out.
Write it out.
Speak it out.
Sing it out.
Draw it out.
Just get it out of your system and don’t worry about anything until you hear the alarm clock. Try it for a couple of weeks and you may surprise yourself with results.
3. The garbage rule
The way to producing quality life goes through the garbage valley because If you put off everything till you’re sure of it, you’ll never get anything done.
There is a concept popularized by Malcolm Gladwell that it generally takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a craft. This is widely accepted and appreciated. There is a video of Ed Sheeran explaining his songwriting routine and how he believes that writing shitty songs is the key to writing good ones.
Tony Robbins said
You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.
It doesn’t matter what your field is. You won’t be any good on the first day. And if you don’t embrace the embarrassment of being a beginner, you won’t make it to the other side.
There is something awesome in pushing yourself through the uncertain phase. There is something deeply satisfying about the grind. There is something fulfilling about going through the initial time even though you’re not satisfied with what you’re producing. This is something that raises your self-esteem and self-confidence.
Also, like a superpower when you can control yourself in a way to do what you put your mind through and not let the distractions and temptations get in the way of your end goal.
Once we reach a point where we are more concerned about getting it done than the never ending desire of perfection, everything starts flourishing. We start creating more, experimenting more and improving faster because we’re not being crippled by comparisons. And we’re not being dragged down by the sadness of never giving it a shot.
When we transform ourselves into serial finishers, we’re not worried about the opinions of strangers anymore. We’re just happy to finish what we started. We are just happy that we are progressing.
And When we keep traveling down that road for long enough, our inner talents unveil and quality follows. We start producing songs, videos, and articles that we are proud of. We start adding value to other people’s lives.
And we finally start doing what gives us the deepest satisfaction. But it all happens only if we go through the tough phase of embracing our embarrassment of being a beginner and repeatedly making it to the finish line despite temptations lurking in every inch of our lives.
4. The 5 Second Rule
Mel Robbins wrote the book The 5 second rule which popularized a sleek method for getting you in the mood to kill your procrastination. She suggests that the hardest part of getting something done is the first five seconds.
J. R. R. Tolkien said It’s the job that’s never started takes the longest to finish.
We keep waiting for this hurdle to go away and that problem to be fixed and that moment of perfection when everything falls into place but that never happens.
A wise man once said:
Waiting is a trap. There will always be reasons to wait. The truth is, there are only two things in life, reasons and results, and reasons simply don’t count.”
Hence, as soon as you feel like you are procrastinating, get up and get moving in the first five seconds.
If that is creating a video, start setting up your studio.
If you are shying away from being somewhere you promised you will be, start putting your shoes on.
If you are being haunted by the homework, open your book and simply start turning the pages.
If you want to publish an article but are scared of looking at the blank paper just start typing gibberish.
The product of these earlier moments doesn’t have to mean anything. The only purpose of this is to get your brain going and staring in the eyes of the dragon that is scaring you away.
Once you got up from your comfy chair and did anything that you dreaded, you’ll realize how easier the task is compared to spitting on your self-discipline and wasting your mental energy in self-loathing.
5. Divide and Conquer
The task expands according to the time allocated to it
— Parkinson’s law
I was blown away when I first heard of it. That’s a whole different way of looking at life. That’s one of the best ways to kill procrastination.
When we have extra time on hand, we often find a way to waste it doing the exact same thing that could’ve been accomplished in half the amount.
That’s taking place around us in all aspects of life. Do we have a week to build something? We’ll find ways to add new features or find reasons to spend more time doing the small things. We have a month to finish a book? Ah! There is no rush. Let’s keep procrastinating until the end.
And that’s how we keep getting suckered into believing we don’t have enough time. The problem is, we don’t manage it good enough and we don’t plan well enough.
Once you decide to do something, it is time to split it into measurable chunks. These don’t need to be massive. There is no certain formula for them. Just divide the project, book, or anything that you are working on into chunks that you can easily digest and then stick to those goals religiously because:
A dream without goals is just a wish
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Let’s say you want to finish writing a book in a month. First, decide how long your book is going to be. On average, a book is about 80K – 100K words long. Let’s say you want to go for 90K. That’s close to 200 pages. That’s a lot and sounds pretty scary. The goal seems gigantic. But when we do the math, that’s about 3K words a day. It will still require discipline. But not so gigantic now is it?
Let’s say you want to lose 50 pounds in a year. Don’t look at it as a goal to lose 50 pounds. Look at it as a habit to drop 1 pound every week for next 50 weeks. That won’t scare you away and that’s easily measurable as well.
Chunks are much easier to tackle and help us keep going when we don’t want to.
6. The Power of “NO”
We can’t count how many times we get pulled into things that we regret later on.
Or even instantly.
We say “yes” to requests for various reasons because that appears easier than saying “no” and possibly offending someone. We say yes in the moment and then regret it later but the ironic thing is, we do it to ourselves all the time without even realizing. We make promises to ourselves and start projects, tasks, or routines without fully realizing what they’ll require out of us.
We promise ourselves to lose that weight but can’t say no when we see that delicious cake. We don’t realize how much exercising and suffering this will take.
We decide to finish writing that book but can’t say no to one more cat video and skipping it for another day. We don’t realize how much patience is needed and how much work it takes.
So, The next time you think about starting something, pause. Take a moment to think about what you are about to commit to and carefully evaluate how badly you want it and express to yourself why this matters. Take as much time as you need to evaluate if this idea, book, or project is worth your time.
When you’ve come to a conclusion, put your head down and get it done. There is beauty in suffering to keep your promises. There is self respect in grinding for yourself.
What I’ve learned is that saying “no” to yourself is even more important than saying no to everyone else. You’ve got to learn to say “no” to yourself as often as you need to learn to say “yes” to opportunities around you and the gifts that you’ve been given.
You’ve got to stop letting yourself down. We are all bombarded with options to improve ourselves and tricks to unlock our hidden potential.
But we don’t look at the simplest options staring us right in the face. If you are going to take away one piece from this whole episode, take this.
The next time you feel the temptation to check your phone one more time before finishing that article, say no.
The next time you are struggling with your college books and feel overwhelmed and the sudden need to escape, say no.
The next time your brain begs you to repeat that addictive habit by suggesting that you should do it “The one last time”, say no.
Try it for a day to get a taste of it. Try for a week or three weeks until it becomes a habit and then see your self-discipline and self-confidence rising while killing procrastination and finishing the things that matter to you.
7. Get over the elbow work part
A man is not finished when he is defeated. He is finished when he quits
— Richard M Nixon
Look, let’s be honest here. Even if you pick the most amazing project in the world, not every part is going to excite you. No matter what kind of field you’re working into, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s just the truth of Life.
Some pieces of the puzzles are going to suck. You can’t fix that. You can’t avoid that and you shouldn’t be trying to. The key here is to learn how to overcome that.
The key here to understand is that without the elbow work part, there is no finish. There is no end product. There is nothing to be proud of.
We experience this on regular basis. In every project at work. In pretty much every aspect of life. And when we get to that part, we start thinking “This sucks. I didn’t start my side project to be a pain in the ass. I didn’t start this to make me miserable. I started it because I wanted to have fun. I started it because I wanted to have something stimulating to spend my free time on. “
That’s where we quit the most. One thing that can get you going is self-talk. Sit down and talk to yourself like “Look man! I know you don’t wanna do this. I know there is tons of dopamine hits waiting for you out there. I know you desperately want to get out, dump this idea and never look back, but this is going to elevate you.
If you do this, your future self will thank you”. Sometimes it works. Other times, you’ll have to try finding other ways to convince yourself to get it done like giving tiny rewards to yourself along the way.
8. No questions phase
I have experienced this numerous times that as soon as I take my first step, my mind is already sowing the seeds of doubt. What if this goes wrong? What if that doesn’t work? Oh you can’t do it. Oh you don’t have the skills. You’re not supposed to be here. You don’t belong around here.
What I often remind myself of is this quote filled with unfiltered truth.
The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story. You keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.
Think about it for a second.
How many times we talk ourselves out of things that can completely flip our lives in a positive way?
How many times do we critique ourselves so harshly that we kill the tiniest bit of flame of our dreams?
So I came across this idea. What if we had a time where we didn’t allow our brain to produce any doubting thoughts?
Let’s say you said month.
So for the first 30 days, you cannot let your brain process the question: Is it worth it? You cannot let your brain talk you out of uncomfortable parts. You cannot let your brain give you excuses.
You cannot let your brain tell you why you shouldn’t be doing it. For the first 30 days or whatever timeline you decide for yourself, You just go through it day in and day out.
Every time you have this temptation of sitting back and analyzing everything that’s happening, Just tell yourself NOT RIGHT NOW. I’ll do it, once I’m done with the first 30 days.
And I can say for myself that this has been immensely helpful in finishing some dreadful tasks and experiments. This point might just be what you need to kill procrastination. This isn’t easy by any means. But in the end it’s worth it.
It’s worth sticking to your promise. It’s worth swimming through the freezing lake of distractions and doubts and coming out on the other side a champion.
9. Watch the Little Things
Little things often add up to form incredible results. But we ignore them in hopes of finding the big one that changes the whole landscape. It doesn’t work like that. You gotta start small and work your way from there. Here is what I want you to do.
Promise yourself to complete whatever you’re doing in the best way possible before walking away. It can be folding your clothes. It can be making your bed. It can be sorting your bookshelf. It can be anything. You don’t leave it in the middle. You don’t view a notification. You don’t take a call. You finish the current task before anything else.
Someone once said:
You don’t wake up and have a castle built for you. You don’t build a mighty house in a day. You say I’m going to lay this brick in the best way that a brick can be laid. You repeat this process enough and finally, you have a structure.
The same thing applies to forming habits and learning how to finish. You don’t ignore the little things.
Get things done….
Slay the beast called procrastination….
Be your own champion…..
I hope you liked this extensive take on how to kill procrastination and getting control of your habits.