Putting things off is the average student’s modus operandi. But you aren’t average! You know that procrastination leads to stress, zits, and sub-par results. Here are seven easy ways to stop procrastination.
- Imagine completion – This is my personal favorite! First I imagine just how stressed I’ll be if I put the task off. I imagine that undone item gnawing away at me damping my enjoyment of life. Then I see myself completing the job and I try to fully feel the sense of relief and satisfaction that I’ll have. Seems almost too easy, but five or ten seconds of careful imagining often gets me off my duff and into the task.
- Slice and dice – How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. When my children were three or four years old, I began teaching them how to clean up their room. If I ushered them into a room that could be declared a national disaster area and said, “clean it up,” I would get whining, crying, and a defeated and downcast child. But if I divided the same job into bite size tasks–“Let’s pick up all the red legos first”–the job was easy. Now I use the same trick on myself. I hate running so I make deals with myself. “Alright self, all you have to do is get your running shoes on and go stand on the street corner for one minute.” By the time I’ve done that, I feel like a might as well run. “Just to the end of the block.” Once I’m there, I’ll make another deal with myself. Bonus: Take-5 Technique – Commit to working on that dreaded task for five minutes. Actually set a timer. You can keep going once the timer goes off if you like, but you can also feel free to stop at that point. Works like a charm for me.
- Commit – It often helps to commit yourself verbally or in writing. For example, I might write a note that says, “I will work on my math homework for at least thirty minutes tonight.” Then I sign it. I post that on my computer monitor. This method is even more powerful when you…
- Get help – Don’t keep that commitment to yourself. Tell your roommate, your mom, your prof, your boa constrictor, your yoga instructor, and anyone else who will listen. Bonus: Schedule a Catch Up Day – If that work is piling up, schedule a catch up day. Complain to everyone, “Saturday morning (for example) is my big catch up day. I’m going to be slaving away on my Renal Calculus all morning.” On Saturday morning go somewhere with no distractions–a coffee shop across town where you don’t know anyone, for example–and turn off your cell phone. You’ll have nothing to do but work, and if you’ve moaned about it enough, everyone will be asking, “so how did your catch up day go?”
- Eliminate distractions – Avoid TV, tunes, texting, phones, friends, Facebook, pets, people-watching, et al. Do whatever it takes to avoid whichever of these cause you problems. I personally have found that working in a restaurant with good lighting, caffeine-on-tap, and a constant murmur of indistinct conversation is enough to keep me on task for hours. For you, it might take a lonely study carrel in the dungeon levels of the local library. Find that place and use it.
- Schedule – We talked about slicing and dicing our onerous tasks into tidy, bite-sized chunks. Now schedule the chunks. For example, instead of writing “do research paper” on the to-do list for Friday, the 13th, of October, write “4:30 to 5P – find three resources in library.” There is something about giving that task a start time AND a stop time that makes it more concrete and less optional.
- Reward yourself – This is the big bad DADDY of procrastination killers! Before you begin any task, decide how much of it you will have to complete before you can reward yourself, and then set a reward that will make it worth your while. I personally used to do it this way. “Awright, self, study your Ocelot Phlebotomy textbook for thirty minutes and I’ll let you have a big bowl of Moo-lenium Crunch Ice Cream. Wouldn’t you like that?” Of course, you have to go careful on the unhealthy rewards, but you get the idea. Bonus: Make a list of rewards, and add to it on an ongoing basis. I’ve even turned it into a game before. I’ll right down a numbered list of thirty or forty rewards–some biggies, like going to see a movie or ordering a pizza; some small ones such as surfing YouTube for five minutes–then I generate a random number to see what I’ve won for completing that vile deed I’ve been avoiding. If I have forty items on my list, I might list 10 or 20 more that say, “better luck next time.” So I don’t overdo the rewards. It’s a daft little game, but it’s been uber-effective for me.
Obviously, the more of these techniques you use, the better you’ll avoid procrastination, but to begin with, just pick one or two and apply it to your next looming task. Add more as you feel like it. Let me know in the comments if I missed any techniques that you find helpful.