Achieve your most ambitious goals by dumping your procrastination habit

Fareeha Arshad
Photo by Gaspar Uhas on Unsplash

According to the English Cambridge Dictionary, procrastination means

“To keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or dull.”

Ah! I have lost count of how many times I have been guilty of this act.

I should be crowned as the ‘Queen of Procrastination'. To add a gem to my crown, I quickly get distracted. Sometimes, I type a paragraph and zone out. I can’t concentrate on any work for more than ten continuous minutes.

A part of me always knew that I could do much better if I don’t rush through the task because of my procrastination.

This has caused me a lot of trouble for a long time — rushing to meet a deadline, submitting forms on the last day, replying to an email after 3–4 days.

Don’t get me wrong.

I completed the tasks on time. But at moments like those, I was unable to give in my best. A part of me always knew that I could do much better if I don't rush through the task because of my procrastination.

I knew I was not lazy because I still sat down three hours before the deadline and completed the assignments each time. I also knew that I had to push myself harder to get started with the task early.

How to Achieve Your Most Ambitious Goals

Three months into graduate school, I stumbled across a video on YouTube, a Ted Talk by Stephen Duneier. He said something that touched a chord in me.

“What stands between us and our most ambitious dreams is not a magical skill or talent. But how we approach problems and make decisions to solve them.
Marginal improvements are the key to be better.
Stop becoming a spectator and become an active participant in your actions and decisions.”

For me, at that moment, the most ambitious goal was that I would be able to procrastinate without any guilt.

And I decided that I would procrastinate — but ‘honestly’.

I kept an alarm clock to keep a tab on the time I spent on the task. I didn’t want to give more than ten minutes.

That day I made a pact with myself. I decided I will get started with the task or the assignment the day I am given. Also, I would only dedicate ten minutes a day.

Not more than that. Not less than that.

Additionally, to not run away from this promise to me, I told myself that I would not have to do this forever. Instead, I would use this strategy for three assignments and see if there is any difference in any way.

I did it.

I followed this tactic for ten minutes every single day. I struggled with the first assignment. I kept an alarm clock to keep a tab on the time I spent on the task. I didn’t want to give more than ten minutes.

Just so we are clear, I was not a bad student. I didn’t suck at studies or something. I was a good student who wasn’t giving in her 100%. And I wanted to change that. I knew I was much better, and I could do more. I was simply not pushing myself to work harder.

On completing the first assignment in eleven days, I understood something — I could concentrate better, knowing that I just had to work for ten minutes at a time. That gave me a lot of motivation to get the work done for that day.

I followed the same strategy for the first two assignments. In the last one, I didn’t have to push myself at all. I had already been doing this for three weeks. From 8.30 pm to 8.40 pm, my brain would want to do the assignment and nothing else.

My Results After Two Months

With two months down, and after spending only ten minutes a day on a particular task, I concluded the following results.

  1. I could concentrate better and submit better assignments.
  2. I was motivated to deliver more than expected.
  3. I could scroll through my social media without the guilt of ‘not doing the assignment’ hanging above my head.
  4. I could sleep early the night before and not fear the bags under my eyes.
  5. The best part: I scored As in all my assignments since then.

I have been following this simple strategy in every area of my life for the past three years. I wouldn’t say my life has changed. Instead, for once, I am satisfied knowing that I am giving my best in everything I do. And the results are taking care of themselves.

Now, I feel less guilty, less agitated, and less worried about any task. The best part of it all is that I can complete any job done before the deadline, rather than fretting over it the night before.

Below are the three major lessons that I have learned by religiously following this strategy.

1. Self-Appreciation

Introducing this strategy in every aspect of my life, I have understood my worth and my capability to do so much more than I give myself credits for.

I never thought I would be able to learn the Spanish language. I didn’t even need to. But I had been obsessed with the idea of learning a new language for a long time. It took me exactly three years and eight and a half months of ten minutes a day to understand Spanish and speak the language with fluency.

Spiralling into a state of complete mental shut-down because of procrastination and its consequences is not uncommon.

I have been there.

It isn’t easy to get outside that zone.

But it’s not impossible.

We, as humans, are capable of understanding our worth. If not crediting it, we would know of its existence.

If you think you don’t know. Three years ago, I didn’t know either.

It’s okay.

All you need is ten minutes a day.

Take ten minutes a day to understand yourself until you can think of something. Try understanding what you are good at and what you are worth. Suppose you can’t do ten minutes a day. Break it down. Do it for five minutes or even two minutes if you want.

All you have to do is, keep your mobile phone away from yourself and stare in the blank space for two minutes and try understanding what you want from yourself. Better if you could go for a long walk with nothing but your thoughts in your head.

After a week, when you are sure you have something in mind, go and pursue that by working on it just for ten minutes a day. Be it trekking a mountain, or painting your bedroom walls, or even renovating your house — go and do that.

All you need is ten minutes a day.

2. Clarity of Task

There were so many times that I did a particular task or assignment with no precise aim. Or without understanding what I was doing this, or what am I learning from this?

The primary reason behind this was the lack of time.

I would rush through the task to meet the deadlines without understanding its purpose or how I could benefit from this.

But now, inculcating the habit of pushing myself in starting the tasks from the first day, I can give enough time for introspection.

Not only am I able to get tasks done in time, but I am also able to learn and benefit from every project I do. I have been able to develop a lot of skills in the process. Most importantly, I have been able to deliver more than expected.

That feeling is incredible, you know — of walking out of a room, knowing that you gave your best and regardless of the result, you’d be content with it.

And trust me, you can get there. All you need is a practice of doing it ten minutes a day. Or lesser if you want.

Persistence is the key.

3. Identifying the Competition

I am the best competition for myself.

This practice has introduced the challenger mode in me. I am more open to challenges than before. More importantly, I have been challenging myself towards things that I would not have done before.

But if there is one thing that has made an enormous impact on how I see competition, it is competing with myself. And it’s healthy.

Last month I tried painting. I did it for ten minutes a day, every day. Honestly, I reached nowhere. Still, I wouldn’t say I liked it after doing the same as I did for the first time. I even didn’t learn how to paint the fine strokes. But I tried. And that counts.

Competition can be gruesome and, at times, even ruthless. Sometimes I feel there is nothing like healthy competition.

But if there is one thing that has made an enormous impact on how I see competition, it is competing with myself. And it’s healthy.

Every day I strive to become better than how I was yesterday.

Every semester in college, I would put in just a little more effort than the previous semester to see an improvement in my final results — even if by 1%.

It is satisfying knowing that you are improving. In James Altucher’s words,

“1% better each day, compounded, is 3800% better each year. 1% worse each day, compounded, means you lose 97% of your value each year.”

Parting words

Every task is simple. All your ambitious dreams are achievable.

All you need is a fixed period in which you commit to small achievable goals towards fulfilling your big dream.

Achieving the small goals will help you towards self-appreciation, give clarity of task, and help towards self-improvement.

Start with two minutes if it’s easier for you. Or even one. But commit to the task every day.

And just start!

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I am a scientist by profession and a historian by passion. I write about current affairs, history, science, and lifestyle.

Texas State

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