By Cassie Kuhn
Procrastinating is easy, but doing a week’s worth of work in one night is hard. Here are five tips to stop procrastinating that go beyond buying a floral print planner from Target and solemnly telling yourself that “this semester will be different.”
Real Tip #1: Create mini-deadlines
An essay, project or presentation can be daunting when you look at it as a single task to complete. It’s easy to shut down entirely when faced with a project that feels like too much work to accomplish in a reasonable timeframe. Try breaking up a major assignment into several smaller pieces. If you have to write a hefty research paper, you can make it easier by ‘assigning’ yourself mini-deadlines. Give yourself two days to brainstorm and do some background research. Maybe three days to write an outline and another three to complete a rough draft. Then spend four days on editing, getting your work checked out at your school’s writing center and finishing your final draft. The key is to take a formidable project and to break it into manageable mini-projects before you give yourself the chance to stress out and push away work.
University of Alabama graduate student Katie Noriega says she uses her calendar to create deadlines that are “earlier than what the actual deadline is” so that she has extra time in case she needs it. Noriega also sets reminders on her devices to hold herself accountable for her work.
Real Tip #2: Waste your time well
If you’re going to do something besides whatever it is you’re procrastinating, you may as well do something you actually enjoy. Instead of refreshing Twitter for the ninth time or looking at your Google Photos from 2016, do whatever it is you’d be doing if you didn’t have any work to procrastinate. Take a nap, go to the gym, cook a homemade meal or go out with your friends for a few hours. If you can find a way to have fun or blow off some steam, you’re more likely to come back refreshed and ready to work than if you sit around guiltily scrolling through Instagram. I’m not saying to respond to the smallest feeling of dread or stress by going to the bars, but if you know you’re not going to spend the next couple of hours focused, you may as well enjoy them. If you’re going to ‘waste’ your time, waste it well.
Real Tip #3: Google Calendar is your friend
I don’t want to admit how much money I’ve spent on cute planners from Target in the last five years. As I’ve become better at managing my time, I still like using a physical planner to map out my weeks and days. But, I’ve found that digital tools are much better at getting me where I need to be, and reminding me which tasks I need to focus on. So before you head to Target to handle your time-management crisis by spending three hours’ worth of pay on some glorified notebook paper, consider just setting up Google calendar, or if you have a Macbook, the Apple calendar that comes with your laptop.
If you can program your calendar so that you get a push notification reminding you of assignment deadlines and class start times, you’re less likely to procrastinate the important stuff. It’s easy to shove to-do lists to the bottom of your backpack and pretend they don’t exist. It’s less easy to ignore continued reminders to do your work on the devices you use day in and day out.
Real Tip #4: Set realistic expectations
If you have a hard time getting your work done on time, don’t be overzealous when it comes to goal setting. It’s okay not to plan to do all of your work for the weekend on Friday before going out. It’s okay to have no immediate plans to start waking up at 7 a.m. every day to set your daily intentions and prioritize your most important assignments.
Instead, make realistic goals and use basic techniques to work on procrastination. Test out the Pomodoro technique when working on an assignment. The Pomodoro method involves working in increments of 25 minutes followed by short breaks. After four 25-minute increments, you take a longer break. There are apps you can use for this, or you can just search Pomodoro Timer and you will find timers using the Pomodoro technique.
Rachel Webster, a junior at The University of Alabama studying math and finance, uses the Pomodoro method to boost productivity and reduce stress when studying for an upcoming exam.
“I started using it last semester because I was taking graduate level courses and was expected to do significantly more work than before, and often felt overwhelmed when trying to study for an exam. The Pomodoro method makes my study sessions more productive and removes much of the pressure in studying for a big test,” Webster said.
If you can make your schoolwork and other tasks a little less painful, they’ll be easier to complete on time and you’ll find yourself in the situation of cramming the night before a test or deadline less often.
Real Tip #5: Do things you actually enjoy
If that statement sounds like wishful thinking, feel free to amend it to “Do things that you enjoy more often”.
It’s incredibly easy to go through the motions in your daily life, never pausing to question what you’re doing and why. If you don’t like what you’re studying or dread the club meetings that you only attend for a resume boost, it may be worth considering a change.
Assess your extracurricular involvements and other commitments the same way Marie Kondo encourages her clients to assess if they really need a particular article of clothing; ask yourself: “does this spark joy?” If not, do what you can to gracefully let that thing go.
The unpleasant tasks and busy work will always be there, but if we can at least gear our efforts toward a goal or purpose that we find meaningful or enjoyable, the everyday, menial aspects can become less painful.