Procrastination and the 20 Ways to Escape It
Procrastination is one of the toughest things for a student to overcome. So much of life is coming at you at a breathless pace, especially as you get older and head off to college. You are running your life—calling all the shots—for the first time in your existence, and that means you have to balance educational and professional responsibilities with a personal/social life that has a tendency to distract at every turn.
Add to that the fact that many college professors aren’t as patient and understanding as high school teachers, and it’s really easy to go rogue and put things off until the last minute. To help you avoid this, we’ve put together a quick list of the 20 things you can start doing today to beat procrastination. Let’s get started!
1. Know what it’s costing you (or could be costing you).
One of the comforting things about procrastination is that it delays any sort of short-term fallout from having not studied or tackled a school-related project. In the long term, however, this is also one of its most severe repercussions.
When you put things off that you’re supposed to be doing—particularly things that follow a hard deadline—you are merely delaying the negatives. By visualizing what the consequences might be ahead of time and reminding yourself of their outcomes every time you get the urge to close the books and crank up Netflix, you greatly reduce your chances of succumbing to the temptation.
2. Ask why more often—as in ‘why does this have to wait?’
Children can be annoying when they start to ask “why” about every little thing, but if you’re prone to procrastination, you could certainly learn a thing or two from the practice. By forcing yourself to look at the situation and answer the question of why whatever you need to be doing has to wait, you’ll find that a lot of the reasons you give for delaying action don’t hold up to scrutiny.
So much of overcoming procrastination depends on your ability to reason and think through the situation. If you’re having an inner dialogue about the “why” of it all, then it becomes harder to come up with good reasons for continuing to delay action.
3. Don’t try to overstuff your day.
The temptation to procrastinate often grows out of over-scheduling. It may seem counterproductive to say that the more we plan to do the less we end up accomplishing, but that’s exactly what happens.
See, psychologically, the act of over-scheduling says to the brain, “This is going to take a while so you might as well get comfortable.” Inadvertently, we end up dragging out tasks and taking too many breaks.
By limiting yourself to one to two major to-do items per day, you trick your brain into getting those things accomplished as quickly as possible. The act of completion is energizing and encourages you to hop on smaller tasks to round out the day. As a result, you get more done in less time.
4. Create an environment for productivity.
Call it “feng shui” or whichever term you prefer, but arranging your environment can have an energizing psychological effect, which leads to getting more done.
The thing to remember about this: what works for one will not necessarily work for another. Some people have lower tolerance for clutter and odd design choices. The key is to match your physical environment to what your brain envisions when it thinks about organization.
Follow principles when arranging your work environment. Most people who feel blocked in are less productive, so do what you have to do to maintain a nice flow of energy throughout the room relative to what works best for you.
5. Understand your own personal brain science.
What type of person are you—orderly and regimented or whimsical and free-thinking? The answer to that question will largely influence the way that you work, the way you arrange your environment, and the act of planning to do work.
Don’t simply accept that you “work better under pressure.” Why? Because your brain often has no clue of how much pressure it is capable of handling. Your idea of a pressurized situation in high school may be laughable at the collegiate level, and if you don’t understand this about yourself, then college will likely seem overwhelming if you try to take on the added responsibilities with the same mindset you had as a junior or senior at the secondary school level.
As wonderful as smartphones are, many people don’t know when or how to turn them off. They treat these devices—which didn’t exist as they do today 20 years ago—into new appendages.
Set it down. Put it in another room. Give yourself space to focus on what you must accomplish. If you do need a device for research purposes, make it harder to access by setting it down across the room where you’re forced to get up and walk over to it should you need its consult. Add three rules to help with your addiction: 1) The phone must stay across the room; 2) You cannot use it while seated; and 3) It may only be used for official business during study sessions.
7. Make it personal—your goals, that is!
Taking things personally does have its place! Think about both the short- and long-term fallout of giving into procrastination. What will it mean if allowed to go unchecked? Poor grades? Dropping out of school? Trouble finding a job? Poverty? Unattractiveness to your gender of choice?
Failure comes with a slew of chain reactions that can poison every part of your life, and while you do not want to be a fear-monger yourself, you should be aware of consequences and how easy they can bleed into one another.
8. Identify the meaning in your work.
Don’t just look at your work as something you were assigned and that you have to get done in order to get a grade. You may not realize this now, but grades are worthless if no actual learning is taking place.
But wait, you might be saying: it’s not worthless if it gets me out of the class. There may be some truth in that for subjects that are completely out of your field of major, but as you get older, that will be less and less acceptable, and your ignorance will find you out.
Think about what each goal, each test, each assignment, does for you from a learning perspective. If you can define what you need to learn, then you’ll be more engaged. If more engaged, you’ll be less likely to procrastinate.
9. Ratchet up the stakes.
One way to make sure your tendencies to procrastinate stay in check is to take away privileges for yourself if you don’t get the results/accomplishments you’re hoping for. Of course, since this is self-policing, it requires a great deal of will power and stick-to-itiveness, which may not come easy if you’re given to procrastination.
Some things we suggest if you’re willing, though: force yourself to give up a party night, don’t eat out as much, eliminate a favorite television program or Internet/video game time, etc.
10. Rely on others for accountability and reciprocate!
Having a study group is great because it can teach you to hold each other accountable. There is definitely strength in numbers, but only if you have the right dynamic in place. Limit yours to a small group of trusted colleagues. Notice, we didn’t say friends there. That was intentional because friends can be destructive to your ability to get things done.
It’s great if you and your study group are friendly with one another, but don’t let that friendliness become a liability. It’s work first/friendship second in this particular dynamic.
11. Get plenty of rest.
The body needs a break from time to time. If you’re not filling those breaks with the right kind of rest—light activity after long stretches of studying and at least seven hours of sleep per night, you’re not well-rested enough to be at your best.
The more tired you are, the less likely you are to stay with any type of study plan. By dropping what you’re doing when the work starts to suffer, you can avoid working yourself into corners as well as the burnout that often leads to procrastination.
12. Always shoot for an early start.
While many of you are night owls, study after study has shown that for optimum performance, it’s best to get an early start. Of course your ability to do so depends on the amount of sleep that you’re getting, so it’s not enough to get up early if you’re treating your body like an all-night diner.
We recommend getting up at no later than 6:30 a.m. This gives you time to get out ahead of the workday and accomplish things before the obligations of your day take hold. Use an online sleep calculator to determine when the optimum times for falling asleep are. This ensures that when your alarm goes off, you’re giving your work the best effort possible.
13. Work out.
Keeping your body active is as important as anything else when it comes to defeating procrastination once and for all. By jumping into a workout, you give your brain a chance to relax from the high-stakes pressure of studying, and it can often use that dormancy to work out problems that may have been stumping it.
Furthermore, the act of working out gets you accustomed to productive activity, which easily translates to your studies and helps you avoid what we like to call absentee busy-ness, where your brain is active but active with all the wrong stuff.
14. Stay away from comfort foods.
Comfort foods are often loaded with sugars and carbohydrates, and that can sap your energy and brainpower. The more comfort food that you eat, the quicker your body and mind will be to call it a day.
We recommend staying a little hungry throughout the workday and tackling your heaviest meals when your obligations are done for the day. Also, cut out candy bars altogether.
15. Incorporate meditation into your routine.
Meditation is getting easier and easier to work into your day with a number of free guided meditation podcasts and Internet guides for how to do it effectively. As with anything, different methods offer varying results depending on what kind of person you are.
If you’re the religious type, prayer is a great substitute for getting centered and going on about your day.
16. Strengthen your organizational skills.
Getting organized is sort of like feng shui-ing your workspace. By having a strategy in place, it’s easy to hit your obligations one at a time and stay on course instead of meandering from one thing to the next (the root of all procrastination).
17. Work daily on a schedule.
Schedules aren’t sexy, but they sure help with the organizational skills and the tendency to over-stuff. By working out a schedule, it becomes easier to see the big picture as well as the actionable steps that you need to accomplish to get there.
18. Attack the line of least resistance.
In other words, if there is an easier way to accomplish something, take it!
19. Write your plan on paper.
The act of writing something out on paper gives your brain extra time to communicate what you need to do to your hands, so they can scrawl it all out in a way that makes sense.
While this is a subtle step, it makes a big difference in breaking down and reformulating overarching goals into the actionable steps that you want on your daily schedule (refer back to No. 17).
20. Take baby steps.
If you are having trouble focusing on your work and procrastination in general, embrace the art of baby steps. Don’t try to eat the elephant at once. Just do what you can do and move onto the next thing when you feel you’ve achieved a level of mastery.
Procrastination can trip you up on your journey to good grades, a college degree, and a rewarding job. Make sure that you get it under control while the stakes are still relatively low, and you will be heads above your peers. Good luck!