It’s that time of the semester again. Deadlines. Finals coming up. More deadlines. And what does your brain say in response? Netflix. Youtube. “Just one more video”. We cut down on stuff that could actually help with studying like going to the gym, catching up with a friend or calling our parents but are we really putting most of that time and energy into studying? I doubt it. Tim Urban in his Ted Talk “Inside the Mind of a Procrastinator” talks about the process. He says we have an “instant gratification monkey” that pretty much only cares about two things “easy and fun”. And because we’re so stressed out with all the work that’s coming up, “easy and fun” seems about right for the moment. And the several moments after. It’s like a cycle. You realise you have a bunch of things coming up, the anxiety kicks in, you look for something to instantly gratify you, feel guilty and go to bed promising yourself tomorrow will be different…only to repeat the cycle all over again. And then we get to that golden period where we have 3 nights left and 3 assignments due on the same day and Google searches like “how to pull an all-nighter” and “is it ok to pull 2 all nighters” start as we have our double shot cappuccinos. Yes, I’m calling all of you out, including myself. We’ve all been there at some point of our lives and it’s not obvious to me when and how to put a stop to this. Well, I can’t give you a instruction manual but I can give you some things that’ll help steer you in the right direction.
- Write everything down. I know you have a million things due and it’s easier being vague and saying “I have so much stuff, I’m stressed and need to start working”. You need to specify your goals. As Tony Robbins says “you can’t hit a target if you don’t know what it is”. So write each assignment down and write the steps that need to be taken for you to finish it. Make the goals as tiny as you can. Even if the goal gets so tiny that it sounds ridiculous. Having it all in front of you and breaking it down helps your mind understand what needs to be done. You’ll be surprised at how much faster you’ll be ticking items off from your list. The great thing about that is, as you get one thing done, it motivates you to start the next. It’s a neat system.
- Sometimes it makes sense to start with the simplest task. Like I said, finishing one task helps you to start another one and so the best way to go about finishing an overwhelming amount of work is by starting with the small things and working your way to bigger ones. Sometimes, however, you may need a course — maybe for a program or a requirement. And so that assignment for that course will automatically get priority. So while it makes sense to start with the simplest task, keep in mind what you want to do the best in.
- Be even more cautious of things you don’t have deadlines for. There’s no immediate external pressure when it comes to eating healthy, going to the gym or calling your parents. All these things aid your work process more than you realise. They clear your head and help keep you mentally stable and focus on the work at hand. So I would suggest trying to create a sense of accountability there. Get a gym buddy, call your parent on the way back from class, the next time you go grocery shopping get one less thing that you know is really bad for you and substitute it with something that you know is good for you. These are all tiny ways you can start so you don’t go down the whole spiral where you’re just sitting at home behind your laptop screen, pretending to study when in reality you know 20 minutes at the gym will help you get that blood circulation and refreshed for your next study session.
- Cut out every distraction you can. I can’t emphasize this one enough. That 2 minutes facebook video never just ends up being 2 minutes. Memes are great and funny but how many? In fact, I’m writing a research paper right now on interactive mobile technology and cognitive development and studies are showing that the mere presence of a mobile phone on your desk impedes concentration and slows down the process (Thornton et al. (2014). So that’s something worth thinking about. Maybe just putting it off for a bit and inside your bag can help you more than you realise.
These are all things that I’ve tried and have helped me. Thankfully there’s loads of content on procrastination on the internet (which is a good and a bad thing because what better way to procrastinate that procrastinating by reading about it?). These are my main take away points because they’ve helped me and a bunch of my other friends as well. The hardest part I’d say is starting to implement them and sticking by them. Trust me I know, I’m working on it too. So think about what each of these mean for you specifically. Maybe discuss it with a friend and then, know that it’s going to be hard and dive in.