How to Get Out of the Procrastination Spiral

There’s not much else more demoralising than falling into a spiral of procrastination, especially after having made some really good progress towards your goals and ruthlessly crossing things off your to-do list. Suddenly, a day doesn’t go as planned and you lose all your momentum! And getting back on track seems so much harder than it reasonably should. As more time passes, the harder it gets to get back on track. Before you know it, days, weeks or even months have passed and you haven’t achieved anything of real value. This post is a concise guide on how to get back to where you need to be.

Identify Your Distractions

As we have discussed in previous posts, the environment around us is designed to distract us. These distractions slow down our momentum and fill up our days with activities that could be better spent on doing what you have been putting off. Make a list of the things you find yourself doing just to “fill time”. For most people, these are:

  • Your phone
  • Social Media & Youtube Videos
  • Aimless browsing on the internet
  • Video games

Once you’ve identified what’s distracting you, make a conscious effort to make these things a little less accessible to you. Most things are fine in moderation but the easier things are to do, the more time you will spend doing them. This leads nicely into our next tip:

Know Your Goals and Make Them Easy

The easier your goals are for the day, the more likely you are to achieve them and the more momentum you will build up. And by easy, I mean really easy. Think more “make my bed”, and less “write a 4000-word essay”. Be realistic, and kind to yourself. Practise humility. If you brush these goals off because you feel like you are “too good” for these small and seemingly insignificant tasks, that’s your ego talking. The ego has no place in self improvement. Quiet your ego and stay humble.

Plan Your Week in Extreme Detail

If you don’t plan what your days or weeks are going to look like, you will not feel the obligation to do the things that you know you should be doing. Don’t just write down your commitments to others, write down your commitments to yourself! If you don’t, It is easy to think you have free time and forget about what actually needs to be done. Making plans eliminates this from happening. Plan for your meals, your relaxation time, your chores, everything you can think of. If something needs doing then add it to the calendar.

The 10 Minute Rule

I’m not sure who came up with this rule, but it can quite literally change the way you view procrastination forever. Set yourself a timer of ten minutes. In that time, do the thing you have been putting off for so long. But you must stop after those ten minutes are complete.

Sound bizarre? The goal of this is not to try and do the task in those ten minutes, the goal is just to get started. Once those ten minutes have gone by, you may find that it is actually easier to continue than it would be to stop.

Create Self Imposed Deadlines

Parkinson’s law suggests that your time spent working expands to fill the time available for its completion. As such, if you don’t have any deadline for those tasks you have been putting off then realistically they will never get done. And for those tasks that do actually have deadlines, consider implementing a deadline sooner than what has already been set. Chances are you don’t need as much time as you have been given.

The most obvious problem with this is that if you are the one setting the deadline, then it is easy to ignore as nothing will actually happen by ignoring it. A common solution to this (as suggested in the book Atomic Habits by James Clear), is to use a commitment device in order to make it more likely you will complete the task. For example, you could tell a friend about your deadline and ask them to hold you accountable for it. Make a deal with them stating that if you do not complete the task in the time you have now allocated for yourself, you owe them something (money, coffee, whatever they want). Something you really can’t afford to be giving. The pain of not completing the task should be greater than the pain of doing the task.

Know How Important Your Mornings Are

This has proven true for me on so many occasions. The quality of my morning strongly dictates the rest of my day. If I get up at 5:30 am and head to the gym at 6 am (rare), that small win early on often sets the tone for the rest of the day. Knowing that I have already done something good encourages me to keep going. However, if I oversleep and get up in the middle of the day, part of me feels like the day is already ruined so there isn’t much point in getting started now. You don’t have to go overboard and do something drastic at the start of the day. As I said, keep it simple. Make your bed, do a few a push-ups and plan out your day. A small success is still a success.