Tips for Procrastinators
You need to get this assignment done. The due date is looming. Yes, you’re a procrastinator. No, there’s nothing you can do to make up for that lost time now. All you can do is buckle down and get it done. But how?
How do you just get something done? How do you work under a deadline? More importantly, how do you work efficiently under a deadline?
As a Wordsmith editor who’s spent a significant portion of her editing career working in the high-pressure deadline environment of newspaper publishing, I have a few pieces of advice for you as you scramble to meet your deadline. Practical advice. (Not the cheesy “Just do it!” or the condescending “Remember to start studying in advance” that are of no use to you as your deadline looms and you really need to focus on getting things done.)
5 Tips for Procrastinators:
- Multitask: This is actually my favorite method for overcoming procrastination. It seems counterintuitive if there’s one thing you really need to get done, but having multiple tasks in front of you can really help you focus on the most pressing one.
The way this works is not to keep switching between tasks, shuffling from open word document to open word document without actually getting anything done. Rather, you start with the most pressing task, the one you really need to work on. Open the relevant files, start working. When you notice your focus starting to flag, open a less-pressing assignment or task.
Maybe just take a break to check your email, to write a message to a professor, to apply for a job. The important thing is not what you do, it’s the fact that you’re giving yourself a break from the stress of the task at hand. You’re allowing your mind to focus on something new. You’re recharging, but productively. Rather than watching YouTube videos of cats and getting out of a productive mindset, you’re letting yourself be productive in a new way.
Start losing focus on your new task? Switch back to the one you started with. Or, if you’re still not ready to tackle that one, start a new one. The important thing is to stay productive. And to remember to go back to the most pressing task, eventually.
Remember, multitasking is only productive if you get at least one of the tasks done. And your priority should always be the task with the most pressing deadline.
- Try Pomodoro: The Pomodoro Technique follows the same allow-yourself-to-recharge principle as my multitasking. It’s a more official, structured version of giving yourself breaks, a time management method that relies on increments of time rather than the (admittedly vague) reliance on trusting your self-knowledge of when you “lose focus.”
With the Pomodoro Technique, you work on a task for 25 minutes. Then you take a break. Then you work for 25 more minutes. And so on, until your task is completed.
Taking a break every 25 minutes—precisely, at the 25 minute mark exactly, whether you’re in the middle of a sentence or a thought or a copy-and-paste—forces you to leap in and out of your train of thought. It keeps you thinking constructively about your task for 25 minutes—a very do-able span of time, even for us procrastinators. And those breaks give you chances to reset your approach, to reconsider the roll you might’ve thought you were on. Not to mention the chance to watch YouTube videos of cats.
- Eliminate Distractions: I keep mentioning YouTube videos of cats, but there are other distractions the internet offers. I’m a (recovering) Facebook addict. Reddit is a seemingly-unending fount of information. And I know I’m not the only one who binge-watches shows on Netflix and Hulu. Or who spent one afternoon going through a certain webcomic and reading every single comic he’d ever written…
Procrastination comes in many forms. But the internet’s abundance of interesting sites makes it a particularly pernicious source of distraction. Particularly since you (probably) need the internet open for some form of research. Or to use an online citation generator as you compile your reference page. Or for WordsmithEssays as you near draft-completion.
Luckily, the internet has its fair share of applications to help you block the distracting sites it also offers. There’s a handy list of five of them here. Most of them are free, but you can pay for premium services. If you use Chrome, there’s a Website Blocker add-on in beta.
Try supplementing your wavering willpower with a distraction-blocking tool. No more Reddit/Facebook/porn pulling you into a never-ending timesuck and derailing your productive pursuits!
- Don’t Break the Chain: Maybe I’m just nostalgic for the ‘90s, but I miss Seinfeld. Luckily, there’s a way to channel Jerry Seinfeld’s creative energy. It’s called “Don’t Break the Chain,” and it’s a calendar system that forces even the worst procrastinators to create a productive schedule for themselves.
It’s pretty straightforward; every day you’re productive, you put a red X through that day on a calendar; but it’s also pretty satisfying. It’s a large-scale approach to productivity, focusing on the big picture of a year rather than on the minute-to-minute issues of staying focused on a task. But sometimes that big push is what you need to make it through those urges to procrastinate.
- Remember the 80-20 Rule: My last tip is a similarly big-picture approach to being effective. It’s more a piece of motivation than an actual tip on how to go about being productive. But it’s helpful nonetheless.
The 80-20 Rule—also known as Pareto’s Principle—says that 20 percent of what you do every day actually produces 80 percent of what’s important. The trick is to identify that 20 percent, and to focus on doing what’s important.
Hope this helps. Happy writing!
photo credit: Photo Extremist via photopin cc