For a while I’ve been trying to analyse and figure out what causes procrastination and how to get rid of it.
I fell off the wagon last month and I’ve since learned how to make a full recovery from scratch. I learned how to beat procrastination. Similar to finding a good diet, it wasn’t a “trick” that helped, it was developing the correct mindset and maintaining it.
I’ll go over the things that will help you build the mindset that will make you fearless of your work. For those in a hurry, there’s a cheat sheet at the bottom.
The 7 Ps
“Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance”
–US Marine Corps & British Army adage
Are you procrastinating on something you need to do? Do you know what it is?
No, I mean do you know what it is and what exactly is going be done? If not, then you’ve failed to plan properly.
You should plan everything you need to do before you start to tackle it. You should have a clear idea of the tasks you need to get done.
I plan my week every week. I update my day’s tasks each day. I make sure that I constantly know what I need to do and what needs to be done. Because of this, I feel confident and well-prepared for each day of work. I procrastinate less.
We hesitate to jump into the “unknown”. If you know exactly what it is that you need to do, you can begin working on it with less hesitation and anxiety.
One of my first bouts of gamedev procrastination was caused by the way I listed my daily tasks. I used to list my gamedev tasks as just “Gamedev” without any detail. I never specified what I needed to do, so I always felt anxious about what the task was going to be.
Now I’ll write a task like so:
“Implement and test the stats script for the first boss”
Much simpler. I know what I’m going to do. By breaking up momentous tasks into little bite-sized pieces, it becomes clear how easy they actually are.
I use this SimpleProgrammer method to plan my week
The Little Voice
Every time you think about a task you need to do, there are two feelings you might get: “Let’s do it” or “Oh no… I have to do that“. The latter might cause you to feel a pang of anxiety.
There is that emotional voice in your head telling you the task is too hard and you need to be afraid. You might feel tension building, and you may become nervous. You need to do something else, anything else, to relieve your anxiety so that you feel better.
This is a lie
Whatever you’re going to do is only “scary” because you let your subconscious convince you it was. It’s not. It’s actually no big deal. Your inner voice tells you it’s going to be awful, but it’s actually harmless.
How do you beat that little voice?
Talk over it.
The easiest way is to push away the anxiety is to just say what you’re going to do. State what you’re going to do and then do it. Think it or yell it. I don’t care if you have to talk out loud to yourself.
Sometimes I literally say “I’m going to walk to my desk, sit down, close all programs, set my timer, and work” which is what I did when I started writing this post. I didn’t hesitate at all because I knew it would add unneeded difficulty to the task.
In fact, while I was writing this I got interrupted for 15 minutes with some more important work. I switched gears and worked on my other task, but as soon as I finished it I told myself “I’m going to sit down and immediately work on my blog”. It worked out fine.
The act of stating what you’re going to do creates a tunnel vision-like focus on your task ahead. If you have the guts to say it out loud, you’ll probably do it.
This also reveals how easy the task is. You’ll remember that the task just requires doing “1, 2, 3”, instead of thinking of it like an ominous cloud. This is much better than letting your mind stew on your obligations, creating false anxiety. Remember, we fear the unknown. Remind yourself of what the task actually is.
I liken this “talking over your feelings” to being on a successful diet and resisting temptation.
Imagine you’re avoiding sweets and someone offers you your most favorite dessert. If your diet has become habitual, you will automatically respond with a “No”. It’s not even a thought. There wasn’t even a half second to think about it. It was a “no” before you were even asked. It’s almost funny to hear the question because of how set in stone your mind is.
So remember to talk over your thoughts whenever you feel them implying “Hesitate. Go warm up on something else. This is going to be hard. You’re too tired”.
Here’s something else you need to do if you want to swiftly crush your anxiety
Work on the hardest task first
“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”
Think of procrastination like a hill and your productivity is a cyclist. You need to push yourself up and over the hill. You need to sincerely convince yourself that you’re going to do this. Once you’re convinced on a task, you’ve reached the top.
Now you’re dead-set on getting the task done. Your phone can ring, you can get 5 new emails, your facebook chat might light up, and you won’t give them any thought. You’ll automatically begin your task while scoffing at all of the potential distractions.
Well, if you look for a smaller hill then you’re just procrastinating anyway. Even though you’re getting your 2nd hardest task done, you’ve just given in to procrastination by doing something easier. You’ve let your anxiety kind of convince you to dial down. By the time you get done with the smaller task, you’ll be more afraid of the large one.
There is no excuse to ignore a hard task. You aren’t “warming up” to something harder, you’re procrastinating on something harder. Just do the hardest thing first, and your day will be a breeze.
Don’t Be Overdramatic
This might sound upsetting or crazy, but relying on excitement to get things done can come back to bite you.
Remember, you’re just working. You aren’t saving the world. It’s just a task, and it’s going to be easy.
Yes, being excited can make you complete your task with more enthusiasm, but what happens if you don’t do it? What happens when you have a bad day and you can’t accomplish your most favorite task?
You’ll feel bad. You might even have your motivation killed off right then and there because of the awful feeling. At the very least, you might have a few chunks taken out of it. If this happens a few times you might quit the task for good and wonder why you can’t get around to doing it again.
This has happened to me before, and it made me realize that motivation is more like infatuation. You can’t rely on motivation to carry you to victory. Motivation dies eventually, you need habits and a rigid mindset to get by in the long run.
The more important and exciting you think your tasks are, the more you could potentially procrastinate, and the harder you’ll fall off the wagon if it happens.
Here’s what you should think when you’re working on your most favorite task: “This is no big deal”
When I’m working my very best and most hardest, I’m not thinking “I can’t believe I’m working so hard! I’m so happy”.
Rather, at my most productive I’m usually thinking “It’s just work. It’s really not a big deal. Let’s just get it done and then do something else”. This is how I feel about this blog right now. Last week I was scared of it, but then I remembered it’s really not a big deal. It’s like paying the bills or doing laundry.
Diet & Exercise
This one is a killer. Good luck developing a productive mindset if your diet and exercise are an out-of-control mess.
With bad diet and exercise, you’re constantly nurturing the exact mindset that makes you procrastinate. You’re giving your subconscious free reign over your life. When you hear that voice say “Don’t go for a walk!” or “eat that!” you’re listening to it.
John Sonmez on his fitness podcast said diet and exercise tend to tie in to everything else in life. If you’re finding success with your diet & exercise, then most likely you’re also becoming more financially successful, happier, and more hard-working.
Once again, these things require the same mindset. They all require planning, shoving away nervous thoughts, and feeling like it’s “no big deal”.
Even though exercise is important, beware of going too crazy. I think Diet and Exercise are essential, but they shouldn’t be overdone. There’s a fine line between “getting healthier to work harder” and “sacrificing work for diet & exercise”.
I was on a diet that was helping me lose weight almost twice as fast as I ever have before (2-3 pounds a week). The problem was this reduced my productivity by at least 80%. I procrastinated on everything because I was always tired and exhausted from feeling hungry. When I pulled back on the diet a bit, that same day I was noticeably more energetic and productive.
With exercise I’ve noticed that my productivity goes down if I stop doing it. I
only exercise first thing in the morning. My procrastination is at its worst as soon as I wake up, so this kicks it to the curb before my day even begins. I have to really screw up to procrastinate after a morning that started with exercise.
I once had to stop running & walking for a week due to a pulled muscle. After a week of no exercise I started to feel depressed and empty, my work took a hit. I immediately felt refreshed when I returned to running.
Just this week I’ve begun to implement 5k walks into every day I don’t run. It’s only been 5 days, but I’ve begun skipping breaks to get my work done earlier. I’m starting to get used to working a good 3 or 4 hours without even a 5 minute break.
Oh, one last detail about your diet. Alcohol & High carb junk foods can make you feel tired (and potentially procrastinate more) compared to high-protein fresh foods, so avoid having those before work is finished. This will give you an edge against procrastination
Procrastination seems to be at least three times worse when I don’t sleep well. This is going to be your top priority above everything else when training your mind to be productive.
I had a scattered sleep schedule for a period and couldn’t adhere to a rigid one. To avoid waking up drowsy I started setting my alarm a bit differently each day to make up for variations in sleep schedule.
I use Sleepyti.me to figure out when I should wake up. Sleepytime helps people wake up inbetween their sleep schedules so they wake up feeling refreshed instead of drowsy.
If I’m sleeping any less than 5 sleep cycles, I’m at sub-optimal energy and mental willpower. So my goal is to be asleep for 7.5 hours each day. The only time I go over 7.5 hrs is if I’m sleep deprived and need to catch up a bit.
On days where I mess up and only have time for 6 hours or less to sleep, I include a nap in the early-middle of the day. I invested in a car pillow & blindfold so I can use my lunch break at work to sleep. This massively improved my day-to-day productivity and is one of the best things I’ve done.
If you feel impending sleep, consider stopping and getting the nap out of the way. Don’t procrastinate on your sleep. It’s important to push away the urge to try to finish all of your work. I’ve shot myself in the foot several times by trying to get through my work on 6 hours of sleep, only to pass out early without getting everything done.
The moment I feel drowsy I don’t even think about it, I immediately stop what I’m doing and nap.
Also, here’s something important to remember. You don’t need to fall asleep to become refreshed from a power nap.
You can sit down quietly for 20 minutes and let your mind wander, then get back to work. You don’t need REM to get your second wind. This might take some experimenting on your part to find your time, but once you figure it out you can use it as a weapon against sleepy procrastination.
Probably the worst thing you can procrastinate on is your actual sleep at the end of your day. I’ve done this before and it’s best described as a downward spiral.
You need to nip this in the bud before it becomes a problem. I could write an entire guide on how to fix your broken sleep, but I’ll keep it short. Limit caffeine and try to skip naps during this period. You might have to skip your work for a day or two to fix this. It’s worth it in the long term.
Listen to & read self-help books daily
I listen to self-help audio books & podcasts & read books on how to become successful. These help me constantly push myself harder and blow past procrastination like it’s nothing.
I’m not sure why this is, but I think it has something to do with being competitive. I’m a very competitive person, I compete with myself all the time. My biggest enjoyment in life is getting better at things. I enjoy seeing other people succeed, I respect hard work. Seeing people do incredible things makes me think It’s not so hard for me to accomplish my goals.
Even if I’m not doing 100% of what these books say to do, performing a fraction of what’s being taught will help a lot. Also, repetition has proven to eventually get me to try more and more of their success tricks.
I went through a period where during my drives to work & errands, I listened to my favorite music instead of my favorite self-help content. My productivity slowly dwindled and I stopped trying new things.
Music can be good for making you comfortable, but it’s not goal-achieving. It just makes you lazier in the long run. I now only listen to music when I’m exercising or all of my day’s work is done.
A few recommendations:
Eat That Frog is my favorite book for beating procrastination, I urge you to buy it and read/listen to it ASAP.
Get Up and Code is a great fitness podcast for software developers. Even though I didn’t exercise, I started listening to this during my commute. I heard so many inspiring success stories that I started exercising. They frequently talk about beating procrastination (when exercising)
Soft Skills has a couple great chapters on beating procrastination. Also just reading this book has made me feel much more eager to jump into future-oriented tasks and ignore time-wasting activities. It reminded me of how precious my time is.
- Plan your day’s tasks in detail before you begin
- State out loud what task you need to do, and how you’re going to do it, then go do it.
- Begin your work quickly before you even have a chance to give in to procrastination
- Always work on the hardest task first
- Don’t be overdramatic: Think of your work as “No big deal”
- Ignore all distractions unless they are urgent
- If interrupted, state out loud that you are going to return to your previous task immediately
- Build/sustain a basic diet and exercise schedule
- Avoid crash diets
- Avoid (low protein) junk food & alcohol before work is finished
- Don’t deprive yourself of sleep
- If procrastinating due to sleepiness, take a nap
- Do NOT procrastinate on sleep/naps
- Consume self-improvement & success media frequently
If you liked this, please share it and/or let me know if it helped you out!