What an Unemployed Man Who Went on to Sell His Startup for $1 Billion Can Teach You About Procrastination

Tim Denning

Tom Bilyeu learned this by sleeping in 3-4 hours a day.

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Image Credit: Tom Bilyeau

Procrastination is a silent killer.

Procrastination takes away your most important asset: time. Procrastination is evil like that. I wrote recently about my struggle with procrastination. There’s more to it though.

Research suggests the levels of procrastination have quadrupled over the last 30 years. This means, like me, you probably procrastinate at times. Procrastination is the new normal.

There has to be a better way than throwing your time away.

A Hungry Wife Can Alter Your Life

Tom was described by his parents as being “epically lazy.” His mother discretely assumed he would fail when he arrived at college.

The moment it all changed occurred when he was unemployed. His wife would go to work. Tom would stay at home and make his mother right about his future. At his lowest point, Tom would stay in bed for 3-4 hours per day. The energy and discipline were lacking for him to get out of bed. The pattern repeated.

One day Tom’s wife had a subtle request: “Honey, have my lunch ready when I come home on my lunch break.”

It’s a harmless request. A good husband couldn’t refuse this gentle request. Tom’s love for his wife made him make her lunch. Once Tom committed, his biggest fear became an angry wife arriving home with an empty stomach, and no food on the table to quiet the hungry beast. It got to the point where he only just managed to make her lunch in time, a few minutes before she walked through the door.

It was a simple ask. Yet Tom lived a 3-4 hour per day nightmare similar to the one I recently overcame (that took me three hours of procrastinating to begin blogging during designated writing days). If we tried to imagine where Tom would end up at this point in his life, I’m certain you would predict he’d become not much better than a bum.

But Tom didn’t become a bum. He started one of the biggest nutrition companies in the world that sold for $1 billion in 2015.

He says, “I didn’t get any smarter. I didn’t get any new raw ability. I didn’t get better genetics.”

The only thing Tom upgraded was his mindset.

“I chose to believe I could get better at something, not because I knew it was true because it was empowering.”

This Is How to Put a Sledgehammer Through Procrastination

Tom explained to me my procrastination problem using a different lens. Our brains are desperate for caloric efficiency. So the brain makes you do the easiest thing in every situation.

Once you get used to doing something easy (like sleeping in for 3-4 hours a day) you repeat it. Your brain backs up the repetition with phrases like “You’re never going to achieve it so just sleep in again today. What’s the point?”

These thoughts combined with the activity form together to become a habit. One reinforces the other. Both are needed for procrastination to survive, and later, thrive.

“The more systems we put in place, the less we find ourselves procrastinating,” according to entrepreneur Aytekin Tank, while scaling his startup to 4.2 million users from his bedroom.

The subtle shift according to Tom is to break this cycle. You do that by focusing on what you’re doing well, not on what you’re doing poorly. These thoughts hardwire your brain to get slightly better. Your thinking takes energy. Assuming things go wrong drains you of energy. Assuming things will go right creates energy even if you’re wrong.

“The struggle is guaranteed.” Translated: the right path is guaranteed to be hard. Choose hard decisions over easy decisions. That mindset repeated over and over becomes hardwired into your psyche.

Procrastination can’t survive if your brain has learned to accept and proactively choose hard things.

You Can Hack Your Brain’s Hardware

I love using psychology to defeat problems.

When your brain perceives a task as hard, it is more likely to help you procrastinate. What worked for me was making a hard task seem easy to my brain. How? With the task of writing, I simply lowered the quality of the first story I wrote for the day. I told my brain, “This is going to be one crappy story so get out of my way and let me write it.”

Easy beats resistance. With resistance out of the way, what’s hard becomes easy. Read that again.

Once you’ve started doing hard work, the work takes care of itself. Your brain gets into the zone and does what you ask of it. As long as you don’t spend time judging the quality of the work and interrupt the pattern, the work you produce will more than surpass your expectations.

“Hard” is a mindset you can brainwash yourself into thinking doesn’t exist.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool.”
— Richard Feynman

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