By Ana D.
The clock reads 9:48, only twelve minutes until mom forces me to go to bed. I stare at the unfinished essay on my computer screen, at the cursor blinking. Black, white, black, white, a constant pattern that seems to say “you failed, you failed”. I still have two paragraphs to write but I know I’m not going to finish in time. What I wonder to myself is how I even got myself in this situation in the first place? I had over a week to finish the assignment and yet, I chose to ignore it until approximately one and a half hours ago. With two paragraphs left to write, there is no way I’m going to finish in time but I still pound away on my keys, hoping beyond hope that I’ll finish this stupid homework before my mom yells at m- “ANA GO TO BED NOW!!!!!”. Whatever, I’ll just finish it tomorrow on the bus.
If you’ve ever found yourself in a similar position then you are likely a procrastinator. Welcome to the club, you’re joining roughly 20% of the Canadian population (at least those who admit to being chronic procrastinators). Procrastination is a serious problem that can affect your grades, relationships, and as a result, your happiness. To avoid procrastinating you must first identify, of course, that you are in fact procrastinating. It seems fairly obvious whether you are procrastinating or not but it’s not always that simple. Next, you must figure out why exactly you are procrastinating and work to rectify that. After that, choose a technique for getting stuff done that works for you, every person and particular circumstance is unique. Lastly, GET TO WORK! If you spend all of your time figuring out how to not procrastinate, you’re still procrastinating.
How to tell if you are procrastinating:
The most obvious signs to look for that mean you are procrastinating are if you are doing something that isn’t productive. Examples of non-productive activities include surfing the internet, watching TV, playing or texting on your phone, and going on social media. Another sign to look for is if you are doing other, less important homework. If you are doing the assignment that’s due in a week rather than the one that is due tomorrow simply because it is more fun, that’s still procrastinating. It may be more useful than debating whether Star Wars or Star Trek is better with your friend, but it still isn’t what you are supposed to be doing. If you find that you are reorganising your desk or doing the chores you were supposed to do a week ago, you are procrastinating. If you constantly go downstairs for snacks or drinks, you are procrastinating. If you go on wikipedia to research for an assignment and 20 minutes later you are reading an article on the formation of the Spice Girls (unless, of course, your project is about the Spice Girls in which case that is an excellent use of your time), you are procrastinating. Do you ever find that as you do your homework your mind wanders and you start thinking about something funny that happened to you that day? Yeah, don’t do that because that’s also procrastinating. There are infinite ways to procrastinate, all leading to the same result: a last minute scramble to get your work done or failure to hand in the assignment. But why are you procrastinating?
Why are you procrastinating?
I don’t know, you tell me. Is it because you find the task unpleasant? Are you disorganized, stressed out, or find the task overwhelming? Are you a perfectionist? These are the biggest reasons why people procrastinate. If you don’t like what you have to do, you’re likely going to put it off until you can’t put it off any longer.
But what makes a task unpleasant? There is no one answer because everyone has different things that they dislike. If a task is boring or repetitive it can become unpleasant. For example I never do my math homework until the last possible moment (or sometimes not at all) because I dislike doing the same type of equation over and over again. If the subject of the assignment is not one that you are personally interested in, it can become a burden to do. Sometimes an assignment is so dull one would rather do chores like folding laundry than the actual task itself. The best way to avoid having to do these tedious tasks is to not get assigned them in the first place. Unless you absolutely have to, if a class is uber boring just don’t take it. If you get to choose the novel for a novel study, choose an interesting one with themes that inspire you to think. If you can choose your writing topic, don’t choose one that you aren’t passionate about. Unfortunately, you don’t always get a choice so sometimes you just have to cry yourself a river, build a bridge, and GET OVER IT. Do it as quickly as possible and be done with it.
Another thing that can make it difficult to get work done is organization (or lack thereof). I don’t mean organizing your sock drawer alphabetically by brand. I mean prioritized to-do lists, schedules, setting goals and breaking things down step by step. Once you have everything organized you can breathe much more easily and see exactly what needs to get done and when. Don’t over schedule yourself, however, otherwise things begin to feel overwhelming and you will say “screw it, I’ll never get it all done”. Leave time for catching up in case it doesn’t all work according to plan. Being stressed out or overwhelmed are likely side-effects of a lack of organization. You will feel less stressed if you see everything you need to do and you have a plan for it. You will also feel a lot less overwhelmed if you break down massive projects into bite-sized chunks.
Speaking from experience, perfectionists often procrastinate because they are too afraid to tackle the project and get it wrong. A perfectionist would rather hand in a perfect project late or not hand in a project at all than hand something in that doesn’t meet their overly high standards on time. But don’t be afraid and put it off because you don’t think that you can do it. Just start writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect and you can go back and fix it later because you’ll actually have time. If you don’t feel comfortable with not handing in something perfect, then start early or talk to your teacher about it. You can probably ask your teacher to let you hand in your project early and have them edit it or give you advice on how to fix it. This goes for any procrastinator: you can ask your teacher for extensions or for help to plan your project. Teachers are not sent from another planet for the sole purpose of making your life as miserable as possible. Quite the opposite, teachers are there to help you learn so use that to your advantage.
Identifying reasons for procrastination isn’t enough. You need an arsenal of tools to help combat procrastination
Beating the dreaded monster
Every person and every assignment needs a different tool or combination of tools to beat procrastination. Listed are some of the most common and best ways to do it:
There are many ways to time yourself but one of the most effective ways is the Pomodoro Technique. For every project you have a solid work block of 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break, every four “pomodoros” (25 minutes of work time) you take a 15-20 minute break. You mark down an X for every completed pomodoro, giving you a well-earned sense of accomplishment. Best of all, this technique is free! You can simply use your kitchen, phone, laptop, google, watch, etc. timer to time yourself. If you don’t like working for 25 minutes, there is no law saying that you can’t work for longer or shorter periods of time. I often use this technique when I don’t feel like working and get my work done much faster.
Reward yourself and take breaks
Every time you complete an assignment or a solid chunk of work time, reward yourself! Rewards can range from the tangible, such as chocolate or gummy bears, to the intangible, such as writing a big, fat, checkmark next to the completed task or some social media time. There is no feeling like checking an item off your list, especially if it was a hard one to complete. Take breaks sometimes, you’re not a machine! If you feel your focus slipping then just take a quick 5 minute break to do some exercise. Whenever I don’t feel like working, I chase my dog around the house a bit, go for a walk, or play basketball with my neighbour. This works if you are too hyper because it gets the unwanted energy out of your system but it also works if you’re bored. Often when a task is dull, a bit of vigorous exercise will get your heart pumping and oxygen going to your brain. Taking a break seems counterintuitive but afterwards you work much faster. Just be sure that you don’t take breaks too often and that you don’t get distracted during your break and start doing something passive, like watching TV.
Tell your dog, cat, turtle, brother, sister, mother, father, second cousin three times removed, etc. to GET OUT OF YOUR WORKSPACE. Unless they are actively helping you with your work, they are a distraction. If you can’t remove annoyances then simply block them out with a handy pair of headphones. Listen to music on something that will play without you having to constantly pick a song (if you don’t have itunes then just create a youtube playlist by adding songs you like to “watch later”. Alternatively, use 8tracks, a website that has playlists already created.). Make sure that your choice of music won’t distract you. Choose songs that you don’t know all of the lyrics to (don’t accidentally type the lyrics instead of what you should be typing) or better yet, songs that don’t have any lyrics. Classical music can be a great stimulus provided that you choose songs with faster tempos as opposed to a lullaby (which may make you fall asleep while you work). Listening to pop or metal music in other languages is also a good idea because the tempo is often rapid, increasing your typing speed and you don’t focus on the words (plus you get to try something new, I recommend listening to Rammstein). Having gotten rid of pesky family members, get rid of your friends too. Put your phone close to your workspace, so that you can hear if someone important calls, but away from your reach so that you aren’t tempted to play with it. There are various applications that can disable the internet or certain websites so that you can work without the distraction of the whole digital world at your fingertips. Lastly, clean up your workspace at least a little bit. Studies show that a cluttered up workspace can distract you from your work.
Make a to-do list or a schedule
Both to-do lists and schedules can be tremendously useful in figuring out what needs to get done and when. Prioritise your to-do list so that you can easily see what needs to get done first. I recommend colour coding your list, with the most important items a bright, angry colour like red. Make sure that you also write down the key for what the colours mean so you don’t get confused. If you have a calendar, you can write down your tasks for the day as well as due dates so you can chunk projects up and get them done on time. Include checkboxes so that you know when a task is done (and feel good about it too!).
Set false due dates
Some people (me!) work much better under time constraints. Setting false due dates and creating a false sense of panic is an excellent technique. Set yourself a due date for a day or two before the assignment is actually due so that you can A) get it done early and B) have enough time to sit with it for a while and fix anything that seems wrong. This method is not for everyone however, because it can make some feel stressed for no reason. If you are a person that works really well under pressure then give this technique a try!
You’ve heard all of your teachers say it: set yourself goals. A goal gives you something to aim for and gives you satisfaction once you complete it. A goal could be anything from “write 1000 words in an hour” to “get 95% on this assignment”. If you are setting yourself a vague goal, make sure to include checkboxes for the steps to get there. One important things to remember when setting yourself a goal is to make sure that your goal is achievable. Don’t be too hard on yourself, don’t set yourself a goal to finish your entire assignment in an hour because that probably won’t happen and you’ll just feel disappointed. Have a measured outcome, don’t say something vague like “I will do good on my test”. What does “good” mean? How are you going to do that? Instead, write “I will get 85% or over on my test” and set yourself mini goals like “study 15 minutes today”. Don’t get too discouraged if you don’t achieve your goals right away. Set yourself a more achievable one or take the failure as incentive to try harder next time.
For more detail on goal setting read Felicia M.’s article on how to achieve your goals (linked here)
Have someone help you
If you’re at home or at school get a family member or friend (respectively) to get you to focus. If they notice you getting off task, get them to tell you to get back on track. Obviously, make sure that they won’t be a distraction and make sure that you aren’t distracting them from their work, but if you can convince someone to help you, go for it. It truly helps.
Understand the consequences
Sometimes the only way to stop procrastinating and get the job done already is to understand what will happen if you don’t. The assignment isn’t going to do itself and if you don’t do it you’re probably going to get in trouble. A zero on your report card/progress report isn’t going to sit well with your parents, and you’ll likely get some privileges taken away such as your internet access or the right to dessert (gasp! the horror). Once you realize what will happen, you will be much less tempted to waste time. Think about future you, not present you. If present you is bored doing homework, then future you will have fun later. Conversely, if present you is having fun wasting valuable homework time, future you will have to suffer.
Understand what works for you
None of the ways listed above work for everyone. It’s super important to understand yourself and what strategies work for you. I hope that this article gave you at least one idea for how to stop putting the Pro in Procrastination.