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How to deal with procrastination

One of the biggest problems for students is procrastination! It takes different forms for everyone but ultimately it stops us all at some point. Since there are several reasons for procrastinating, I’ve put together the five main types and a few ideas on how to deal with it. 

You’ve got poor work/productivity habits. You leave things until the last minute since you “work better under pressure”. You probably think you’ll do something after you’ve finished something else, and then never do. You get distracted whenever you’re trying to study and will sit waiting to feel motivated but it never comes. For this I’d suggest:

  • create a productivity inspiring workspace - find somewhere that you can set up a study space, whether it is an actual office or just a desk. Organise everything that you will need. I have a selection of pens and my few notebooks on the top so I can easily access them. Remove anything that might cause you to be distracted and doesn’t need to be in your immediate reach. If you’re got space, put up some motivational pictures. This could be my motivational printables, some quotes or your own pictures. Plants are also proven to boost productivity, so might be worth putting a small one nearby!
  • create an action list rather than to-dos - write down a few manageable tasks that you need to do and be specific on the steps you should take. Writing the actions they require will help you see what you should be doing to complete something, instead of just the overall task. If you’re able to break it down, you can take actionable steps rather than mentally having to think of each point.
  • focus on 20-30 minute periods - generally, we lose focus after a while so taking regular breaks can help give you chance to relax and refocus. Apps like Forest allow you to set a timer and will give you off your phone at the same time. Obviously, if you’re being productive, don’t suddenly cut that off because it is “time for a break”. Here are some other free alternatives.
  • remove distractions as best you can - I’m always distracted by social media so I will use Forest on my phone or time-lapse myself so I can’t use my phone. With my MacBook, I have two accounts. One for university and one for everything else. I am not logged into any social media on my uni account so I can’t just check it for a minute then end up wasting 20 minutes :’-)
  • find an accountability partner - pick someone who you can rely on to check on you regularly and see how your tasks are coming along. You can send them your to-do list and then every few hours you can update them with your progress. You won’t want to let them down. Alternatively, you can study with a friend! Tumblr/Instagram is basically my partner!
  • use the two-minute rule - if something takes less than two minutes, do it. Don’t make an excuse, just do it. Tasks that are longer you can either delegate or defer. Here is a simple visualisation of what I mean.
  • record your progress - doing a simple “don’t break the chain” in your planner is a great way to see how productive you’re being and therefore get you more motivated to keep it up! The ‘100 days of productivity’ challenge might be worth doing!

You’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Everything seems to be mounting up and nothing seems doable. You don’t know where or how to start. For this I’d suggest:

  • ask for help - if you’re feeling like this, it is likely you need some help in some form or another. See if a family member, friend, classmate or teacher (or Google) can help or give you a starting point. Emailing your teacher is a great option if you’re a little nervous about speaking to them in person. Plus you won’t forget what they told you because you’ll have a response.
  • remind yourself that getting started is the first step - you don’t need to finish a task in a matter of minutes. Start doing something small. Maybe organise what you need, highlight the important bits of your assessment, or draft an essay plan. The secret to getting ahead is getting started!
  • divide and conquer - figure out what is the overall task that you need to do and split it into manageable parts. For instance, with an essay, the aim is to write it! Divide it into planning out what you want to write, any references you need, summarising a final draft and then writing each paragraph. By dividing bigger tasks into actionable parts you can reduce the obstacles and get through each part in a more timely manner.
  • reward yourself - create a system to celebrate completing a selection of tasks. By rewarding your progress you’ll build an incentive to work and reinforce productivity (great for your self-discipline!).
  • learn to forgive yourself - if you have an off day, that is okay! When the stress of your education is getting too much, it is necessary to have time out.  Remember to come back to it later and try again.
  • don’t over schedule - if you’re feeling pressure from the amount of work and then the added pressure of trying to stick to a time limit, you’re just going to go crazy. Set yourself flexible times to get something done instead of being heavily structured. Give yourself time for a break and the ability to change tasks.
  • stick with one task - it can be so tempting to multitask but try not to. Try to keep the focus on the what you’re doing until it is done. If you struggle with that, you could write down anything useful that you randomly think about for another task, use a break-time to think about that other task or alternate between subjects/tasks every few hours.

You’re a perfectionist. You either don’t want to start something out of fear you won’t get it right or you can get stuck on the small details. There is a pressure to achieve the unachievable. For this I’d suggest:

  • focus on getting started, instead of finishing - it is easy to get overwhelmed thinking about what something is supposed to be like finished if you’re a perfectionist. Take things one step at a time. It’s also useful to remember the sooner you start, the more time you’ll have to perfect it at the end!
  • make drafts - if you’re overwhelmed, take half an hour to map out your plan of attack. Drafts can take many forms: summaries, scaffolds/outlines, essay plans, post-it notes, etc. I find it much easier to get on with work if I have a bit of a plan.
  • remember that your perfectionist tendencies aren’t actually improving your work or productivity but hindering you - you’re continually setting yourself unrealistic objects and (like me) probably feel let down by yourself if you don’t reach them. Be realistic and focus on getting it done!
  • accept mistakes - you’ve written something wrong, don’t panic! Cross it out with a single line and move on. Things happen and you have to accept it. You can’t rip up the page every time you do something wrong, even if it is so tempting.
  • put things in perspective - is what you’re beating yourself up about right now going to mean anything in a week, a month, a year? Be honest if it isn’t, is it really worth putting unnecessary pressure on yourself.
  • praise yourself through the process - try not to criticise yourself but recognise your progress.
  • don’t compare yourself - this is very hard not to do but remember we are all different. Just because “you’re not as good” or don’t understand something as easily as others, it doesn’t mean you’re any less! Everyone was a beginner once and we all learn at different paces. Work to your strengths!

You want to do something else. You find whatever you’re doing boring. You want it to be over with but don’t want to get started. The ultimate catch 22, right? For this I’d suggest:

  • remember that putting it off isn’t going to make it go away - if you leave it too long you’ll end up getting more stressed about it. Best to get it over with.
  • make a plan from the get-go - once you know something is coming up (e.g. a test, an assessment, etc) make notes on it! That could be questions, annotations, potential topics, citations, etc. By making the effort to spend time reading through, you’ll save your future self some stress. Especially if it’s a topic you have forgotten. That way your notes act as a reminder so you can get started.
  • set a finish time with a reward - tell yourself that if you finish something by a certain time and then you can do something else. Use your self-discipline to not go back on this. Set a realistic time and try to get it complete before. If you can think that you’re doing something fun once it is completed, you’ll be more motivated to get it done.
  • make a structure - for note-taking, it can be overwhelming looking at a textbook and thinking what you’re going to write out. Make a note-taking layout/colour code that works for you and that subject. Mine is here - it just gives me an idea of how I’d lay everything instead of going in with no action plan.
  • try to make it fun - this could be using YouTube to learn or starting a study group. Use different methods for memorising information such as flashcards, mindmaps or study guides (like question/answer).
  • make the effort to refocus - if you’re finding something boring and you’re unfocused, walk away for 5 minutes, get a drink and come back. If you’re really struggling, change topics for a while. Find a point where you can finish and start doing something else that is productive.
  • listen to some music - generally, music without lyrics are best for focusing. Spotify has a great playlist for studying called ‘focus’. However, I find my regular music good for getting me a little more motivated and awake. I also like writing essays to music because I weirdly sort of type in the same rhythm. Funny study hack I’ve found that works for me haha!
  • write your thoughts down - Another thing I’ve been trying is externalising my thoughts. If I get distracted by something or have a “gosh, I need to remember that” moment, I will write it down. By getting it out my brain and onto a bit of paper, I no longer have to think about it and can continue. 

You have no motivation. Often we feel that motivation is the only thing you need to get on with something, but this isn’t totally true. You need a mix of motivation and discipline. As the saying goes: “motivation may get you started, but discipline keeps you going”. To build your motivation, I’d suggest:

  • have a mass organise - usually when I’m feeling unmotivated, I’ll clear out my desk and sort out my computer. This involves throwing out stationery that doesn’t work or scrap paper. I usually make piles of spare stationery and will re-organise my desk drawers. For my computer, I will pull out all my files to my desktop then start working through them. I’ll delete duplicates, rename files properly, and put them in the right place.
  • find some new stationery - weirdly buying stationery is one of those things that instantly makes you want to be productive. Head to the shops and spend a little something on a new pen, highlighter or notebook!
  • film yourself - studying generally doesn’t give us any instant gratification which can make it feel like a drag. By filming yourself working you can get a little video at the end which shows your progress. I love watching time-lapses of myself because you see all the work you did super quickly. It also means I’m not touching my phone!
  • set yourself some goals - write down a few things you want to achieve, in the short or long term. Put it somewhere that you’ll be reminded about it! By externalising your goals, you’re more likely to make the effort to achieve it.
  • check/make a studygram and studyblr - this is one of most motivating this I’ve done. Having social media dedicated to studying has helped not only improve my work ethic but my whole attitude towards education. Getting involved in the community is a great motivator. Here is a post on how to set up a studyblr.

I hope this post gives you just a few ideas on how to tackle procrastination! If you’ve got any tips you’d like to share, please message me! x

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