Being the outdoorsy type, I'd much rather sit in a tree than sit inside - which makes being productive difficult at times.

Planning for Procrastination: a (late) guide

Procrastinate (verb) (pro-cras-ti-nate) – to intentionally put off the doing of something that should be done.

If you read my first blog post, you’ll know that procrastination is a wonderfully irritating habit of mine, and the cause of a large proportion of my deadline related stress. Not just academic deadlines, but daily deadlines too – putting the wash on early enough to get it dried, ordering online shopping early enough to have it delivered on time, pretty much any task that isn’t in my immediate interest gets put off and off until it becomes an issue. Then, I’m stressed about the tasks and they’re often ten times more tedious that if I’d have done them earlier (any form of tidying, cleaning or washing is particularly guilty of this).

Now I’m in my final year of University, I’m feeling like I should probably work out a way to stop this unconscious procrastination from ruining my life and setting fire to all hopes of coming out with a first class degree. The only problem is, until very recently (it was actually six days ago, I procrastinated writing this) I didn’t have any idea how to even begin tackling the problem. How do you make yourself want to do the things you don’t want to do?

First, you could take a stab at deducing why you’re procrastinating. Is it..

A lack of motivation? Some tasks are tedious and you’ll have zero motivation to do them.

Distractions? Why would you sit and organise your finances when you could watch Bargain Hunt?

No idea where to start? If the task is confusing, unclear, gigantic or you think you might struggle with it, you could be less likely to even want to start it, let alone finish it.

Too much else to do? If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you might find it hard to break down your to-do list in to manageable chunks. This in turn makes lying on the floor doing nothing a whole lot nicer a prospect than starting to tackle it.

So how do you manage it?

You might have guessed that there isn’t a simple answer to this conundrum, however, there are little tips and tricks that you can use to help. I spoke to a variety of both staff and students around me to help compile a list of things to try when you just can’t stop not doing things. One tip stood out above all others, courtesy of an inspirational lecture about my impending assignment: if you can’t beat the procrastination, accept the procrastination. If you’re the type of person that has to clean the entire house before sitting down to do work – do it! Get it done and out of the way. The key is factoring this into your time scales, if you know you’re going to have to vacuum your car out before you can start doing any work, add an extra hour or two on tot he time you’ve given yourself to complete the task.

Write yourself a list: not just a general list, but a comprehensive list. Write down every little thing you have playing on your mind that you still have to do, whether it be wiping those fingerprints off the window or starting a giant piece of work. When you can see the whole picture a bit better, you can then start to break it down. You could even organise the list – start with the tasks that have the closest deadlines, and work backwards.

Prepare your work space: try to remember all the things you need to get going. It might be tying your hair back, having a bottle of water, having a clear desk, wearing comfy trousers.. whatever you need to do to get yourself in the right frame of mind.

Set goals: if you’ve got a particular task to do, write down your goal. It might be a goal about how much you want to have gotten done, for example. You can also set time goals – for the next 30 minutes, you’ll do nothing but the task.

Set smaller goals if you need them: if you’re having a particularly bad procrastination day, reduce your time goals. If you’re finding you can’t work for a whole 30 minutes, set your goal as 15 minutes. More manageable goals can be easier to meet, and reaching them can help you keep a nice positive outlook on how you’re doing.

Distraction free environment: sometimes, you might have to take yourself out of a busy environment. If you can, choose a quiet area to work – busy libraries often have quiet study areas, your pals will understand if you want to study quietly instead of in a giant gaggle, and if you can’t leave the area – putting headphones in (if they’re allowed, and also if they’re appropriate, please do not ignore your co-workers on my account) can help to cut out background noise.

Notification free environment – we all think that social media won’t distract us. Of course it won’t, we’re adults who have self restraint and won’t check Facebook. Of course we won’t. But what happens when you hear your phone buzz? You’ll check it, just in case it’s important. Emails are another enemy of concentration – although you might not respond to them, you’ll still have the tab open, just in case you get one. If you do – you’ll check it. Just in case it’s important. Set yourself time goals – fifteen minutes with no other tabs open, and your phone tucked away. Try not to get into too many involved conversations over social media during your work time – you’ll want to reply, and then you’ll get out of the work flow headspace.

Beating procrastination isn’t always easy, there are multiple reasons and difficulties that might make it harder to concentrate. These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg, every one of us will have develop our own methods of getting things done. If you haven’t found yours yet, don’t worry – there are many magnificent things on this planet that are formed under pressure, and hopefully, this list can grow and be added to.

I’d love to hear what works for you – and what doesn’t!

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