I could not decide on the best approach to use for this habit. I have started writing and stopped midway only for me to delete everything and start again. How to stop procrastination is for me one of the tricky habits to identify and stop.
What is Procrastination?
According to Doctor Paul C Holinger and Doctor Timothy A. Psychl of Psychology Today
, procrastination is the habit of putting off something you know you ought to do now for later. I may not be a chronic procrastinator but I have had my moments.
I wake up feeling like I don’t want to do that particular task, and most of the time I will find an excuse as to why I should do something different. For example, instead of writing a post, I took a few days trying to decide if I should use blogger or WordPress.
Or if I should write about this topic or the other. I even decided that I should probably give this journey a break and see how things go before I write another post. That ladies and gentlemen, was me procrastinating.
That is not the only place I procrastinate. When my social media addiction got out of hand a while back, I soon realized that online MLM was nothing but a scam, at least the ones I had joined were.
I wasted so much of my valuable time (basically my whole twenties) and I decided it was time I did something worthwhile. So I went job hunting, for a real job.
In my home country, 70% of the youth population is unemployed. The likelihood of applying for a job and getting a response is thus minimized by the odds of a lot of graduates, even with master’s degrees, willing to work for less just to make ends meet. The law of demand and supply.
When I sent out numerous applications and got no response, I stopped applying. I would wake up, look at my computer, open the jobs board and then close the window and log in to social media instead. I might have had a lousy resume but jobs don’t drop from heaven and knock at your door, neither does a good resume.
Signs of Procrastination
The truth is most people who procrastinate do not even have a clue they are procrastinating. If anything, they probably just think they have enough time to do the chore or say that they work well under pressure.
I would say that I am raising my girls first, that is why I could not look for a job. The truth is, I was uncomfortable with the idea of waking up early, after getting used to staying at home for so long. I was uncomfortable with the idea of having a boss when I was used to dictating my own time, do and don’ts, when’s and where’s.
I was even uncomfortable spending so much time at work when my husband has all the free time since he usually gets off work at 3 pm and reports at 9am. And, the best of all the excuses, I was young. There was still time to get a career once the girls joined a school.
All these were signs of procrastination that I did not recognize. But to make it clear, here is a list of the most common signs of procrastination.
No Vision of the Future
I am one of those people who took forever to determine what I want to be when I grow up. As a child, I wanted to be a lawyer. When I missed the university window for law, I opted to travel to a neighboring country and started a business degree.
In my second year, I happen to be selected to join a university in my home country so I packed up everything and moved back home. I was not happy with the course the government had selected for me. I took a semester to decide what I should study and almost a year to change courses.
Once I finished college, I started applying for scriptwriting jobs. I then joined numerous MLMs online when the script writing jobs did not come in as quickly as I wanted.
After this, I was into internet marketing and I finally got a job as a marketer, twice. I quit both jobs in less than a year. I even taught at a college for a year and farmed for 6 months? You get the drift, right?
The fact that I had no clear vision about my career or life made it easy for me not to move. Why should I start something if I cannot see the benefit? Why should I commit?
Why should I persist and be patient in something that I do not feel like doing? Why should I start something if I will get bored and quit as I have done before? Procrastination, procrastination.
I Have No Time
Back when I used to be in multiple MLM programs, I would lie to myself that I had no time to get a real job. Don’t get me wrong, not all MLM programs are scams and some people make it really big with MLM. I was not one of them, but I convinced myself that spending time online looking for recruits would make me enough money to live the life I wanted. I, therefore, stopped applying for jobs and improving my skills.
I was busy all the time. But I was neither efficient nor making money. If anything I was broke, flat broke and in debt. I still am. Haha.
Everyone can be at least 10% more efficient and deliver quality. If only you put your mind to it and actually do what you ought to do. Putting it off does not make it go away. It only puts you under unnecessary pressure, wastes time and makes you rebuke yourself.
If you will not handle a task, simply say no. If you agree to do it, prioritize your work such that you get everything done on time and deliver nothing but pure gold.
I Am Tired
Have you ever woken up tired such that you did not want to do anything? Or got off work, got home, looked around and decided not to do anything about the mess in the house? I know I have, numerous times. In fact, I have used this excuse so much that it became second nature.
When my second born daughter was young, I procrastinated checking her utensils, how they were cleaned and if they were actually cleaned. I did not complain when I found the house dirty yet my baby was crawling and eating whatever her little hands could grab. I said nothing when I found her porridge untouched.
Why? I was too tired from work. All I wanted was some peace and quiet. As you can imagine, I was in and out of the hospital and she was on antibiotics every other week. I eventually quit my job to take care of her. The standards raised and we have not been to the hospital ever since.
Had I paused to check why I always felt tired, I would have remedied that and kept my job. Had I pushed myself to workout, eat better, drink more water I would have had more energy, lower stress and, quality sleep.
I Am Afraid
Being put on the spot is not a comfortable place to be, especially the first few times. You are expected to perform, and if you don’t, give reasons and remedies to salvage the situation.
Now, if you are like me, that will terrify you, immensely. I was so afraid of making a mistake at work that I did not give ideas at all. And when I did, I did not want to take the lead lest something went wrong and I was blamed.
When I finally had the courage to give an idea, I would be so timid that even my bosses would doubt me. Then the habit of self-doubt would ring in my mind, “what is the use”. Fear is a crippling disease.
Easily Distracted Especially When Overwhelmed
When a task is too complex, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and push it for later. Later, however, almost never comes because the task has not changed. So it becomes easier to keep pushing the task, especially if you have no deadline. Sooner or later, you find that you never did it, and it is too later. Been there, done that, got a T-shirt.
How to Stop Procrastination
There is no blueprint of how to stop procrastination. If anything, different people have different styles of procrastination and will need different remedies. Having said that, you need to recognize that habits are not formed in a day and it will take some time to stop procrastinating.
When forming a habit you see a cue, follow a routine, and get a reward. This is called the habit loop according to Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit. Why We Do What We Do in Life and In Business”. To change a habit, you need to recognize the cues, the routine that follows the cue and the reward you get from the habit.
For procrastination, first, note the signs that trigger your habit. In this case, the routine that follows the cue is likely to be putting off a task for later or never doing it at all. The reward could be anything from the thrill of working under pressure or being in a comfort zone. Once you have this in mind you can use the cue to replace that routine and get the same reward.
The Habit Loop and the Cure
Cue: write a blog post
Routine: I will do it later. It is too complex
Reward: The thrill of working under pressure
To change the habit, the habit loop would look something like this.
Cue: Write a blog post
Routine: Divide the task into many small parts and spread them out. Now there is so much to do I better get started.
Reward: The thrill of working under pressure.
In my case, procrastination was majorly triggered by fear. Fear that I would fail and not be able to redeem myself. Fear that if it works, a lot more would be expected of me. So I never moved.
Cue: xyz task
Routine: Fear. What if it does not work? What if I cannot salvage the situation? What if it works and I need to keep coming up with better ideas?
Reward: Safety (comfort zone). Better the devil I know than the angel I don’t know.
To overcome this habit I have had to push myself to do tasks I find unpleasant. First, I convinced myself that the task is not so bad. I learned this from one of my friends. She would often say “I have to do it. It’s not so bad, and if I do not do it right now, I will have to do it eventually so why not do it now?”. So I started applying her principal.
Secondly, once I knew I had a task at hand I was not happy to do, I spent some time preparing myself mentally to perform it. My internal dialogue would encourage me to do it.
I tell myself “ I can do it, and I can do it well. I am a sharp person, I can research on this, make a sound decision and perform the duty. I have the capability to deliver pure gold in this. There is nothing stopping me but my own fear. And fear is best killed when I take action”.
Within a day or two, I get to the task. With a little research, I find that my knowledge in the task is validated and I am more comfortable with it.
Cue: xyz task
Routine: Mental preparation, research, action.
Reward: Safety(comfort). Angels are better than devil’s any day. Fear will not stop me.
That is how I have managed to stop procrastination. I do put off tasks for later sometimes, but instead of being comfortable with the idea, I find that not taking action bothers me. For me, this is a good sign. It shows that the new habit is taking root. That is a win for me.