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Quitting as a Productivity Habit

Winners learn to quit with intention

Thomas Oppong
Oct 2 · 6 min read

Quitting is underrated.

There’s a downside in hanging on to goals, and ideas for too long — but most people don’t see it. Abandoning one path for another may bring greater rewards. Far from failure, pivoting or strategic quitting can lead to long-term success.

“Numerous studies have found that people who let go of something they haven’t been able to achieve benefit from better health and well-being. But those who keep battling towards a goal that remains stubbornly out of reach experience more distress and depression,” writes Amanda Ruggeri of The BBC.

When you quit with intention, you free up more time, money and energy for the things that really matter to your long-term goals.

Winners quit — or proactively adjust — a lot more often than people who aren’t winning. They stay flexible and open to new ideas or opportunities or ways of getting things done.

Some of the most successful inventors built their success on strategic quitting. But many of us are obsessed with making things work even when our ideas have run their course. If you quit the stuff you know isn’t working for you, you free up time for things that might.”

“Instead of continually trying to force yourself to do things you don’t want to do, let them go. Without the emotional weight and mental clutter of keeping things on your agenda that don’t absolutely need to be there, you’re much freer to rapidly move forward on what you really do want and need to get done,” says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, the founder of Real Life E Time Coaching & Training and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment: How to Achieve More Success With Less Stress and How to Invest Your Time Like Money.

Don’t get me, wrong — never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress at the moment. It’s human nature to quit when it hurts, but you don’t want to quit because the process is painful.

Learning to quit is a skill

Using quitting as a productivity habit helps you leverage your time, energy and money prudently, whilst you are still focused on the big picture.

Seth Godin, in his book, “The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick),” maintains that winners quit fast, quit often, and quit without guilt, especially when they realize their current path and decisions cannot get them any farther toward their goal.

“It’s better to just start the things that you know you have the resources to finish. You don’t want to be surprised by the hard parts, you want to expect the hard parts,” Godin said. “The challenge we have is how we’re going to find the effort and the resources to breakthrough.”

I don’t finish everything I start. In almost all projects I have abandoned in the past, I decided on purpose to use my time and energy on other ideas that will help me get closer to my goals.

An important question for smart quitters is this — under what circumstances are you willing to quit? To make the decision based on logic, write it down. Write down under what circumstances you’re willing to quit. And when. And then stick with it.

Here’s a quote from ultramarathoner Dick Collins to help you decide when to quit, “Decide before the race the conditions that will cause you to stop and drop out. You don’t want to be out there saying, “Well gee, my leg hurts, I’m a little dehydrated, I’m sleepy, I’m tired, and it’s cold and windy.” And talk yourself into quitting. If you are making a decision based on how you feel at that moment, you will probably make the wrong decision.”

You need clear, measurable metrics to know when to give up on an idea, a habit, or a process. Don’t quit when the going gets rough. Quit because it’s the right, objective and logical thing to do after weighing your options. Quit because you have a better option and don’t want to waste your time and misdirect your energy. Quit because you want to optimise your success.

Sometimes you don’t need more discipline to get things done — what you need is honesty about what brings you joy and what is aligned with your priorities.

Instead of making your to-do list a chore, get rid of a few things that won’t contribute to the overall goal and free up mental energy for the important (but not urgent) stuff you need to do, the stuff that really matters, and the stuff that moves your career forward.

Don’t fall for sunk costs

“Sunk cost is about the past — it’s the time or money or sweat equity you’ve put into a job or relationship or a project, and which makes quitting hard. Opportunity cost is about the future. It means that for every hour or dollar you spend on one thing, you’re giving up the opportunity to spend that hour or dollar on something else — something that might make your life better. If only you weren’t so worried about the sunk cost. If only you could …. quit.”

Nobody likes to quit, especially when you’ve sunk a great deal of time and money into something. But when it’s time to cut your losses and free yourself to pursue something that’s a better fit, do it and move on to something better.

Letting go is freedom

“If you don’t like journaling, stop it. Doodle instead or do whatever else helps you clear your mind. If sitting meditating isn’t your thing, try to go on a walk instead. Yes, you need habits. Yes, you need to get things done and have self-care, but no, everything shouldn’t be a constant struggle,” argues Saunders.

If you want to embrace better habits at different times of the day that works out better for you, go for it. The result is the same: you get to exercise, work on your passion project, journal, or meditate, but the guilt is far less.

Some people avoid quitting because they don’t want to disappoint their parents, spouses, bosses or friends. But everything unfulfilling, toxic, and stressful will only make you miserable.

Dr Kristian Henderson explains, “Here’s the danger in being fearful of quitting. You can get stuck. Instead of focusing on what is important to you, what makes you feel happy, healthy, and free, you just focus on not quitting. You stop being strategic. You stop thinking about whether your decisions will lead you to the life you want to live.”

This post is a call to consider critically and analyze your ideas, tasks, and habits and ask yourself: Do they make me happy? Do I need to keep doing them? What can I do differently to get the same results?

If you consistently resent the time you spend somewhere or pursuing something, it may be time to call it quits.

And always remember what Seth Godin said, “The next time you catch yourself being average when you feel like quitting, realize that you have only two good choices: Quit or be exceptional. Average is for losers.”

Give yourself permission to say, “No, it isn’t worth it.”

The important thing is to keep moving forward.

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

Thomas Oppong

Written by

Founder at AllTopStartups | Author | Creator of Thinking in Models and Kaizen Habits | Featured at Inc. Magazine, Business Insider, Forbes, Entrepreneur, etc.

Personal Growth

Sharing our ideas and experiences.

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