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Dec 05 2016
by Elizabeth Robinson

8 Steps to Productive Procrastination

By Elizabeth Robinson - Dec 05 2016

If you're like me, then you're most productive when you're procrastinating. Have a paper due tomorrow? Suddenly you can draw the Mona Lisa, learn a language and do all of your chores in one night...but you still have to do that paper. Here are a few ways to harness your procrastination energy and put it to some real work during finals week. 

1. Make an optimistic to-do list for each day.

Think of all the things you have to do during your last weeks of the semester, whether they're trivial or vital to your future. Include tasks that you're eager to do and the tasks that you're cringing at the mere thought of. Go ahead and be optimistic: assume you're great at optimal productiveness and assign each task to an ideal day. In other words, assign tasks to the day you should be doing them so that your to-do lists take into account time-sensitive tasks. 

2. Evaluate your to-do lists.

Try to make every day an equal mix of tasks you do and don't want to do. If you can, give each day one task that you're absolutely dreading but really should be doing. This will come into play later. By looking at your list, you should be able to easily see a hierarchy of tasks you'd like to accomplish: all the way from "dying to do" to "rather be dead than do." 

3. Allot yourself certain hours of the day during which you MUST work.

Assign yourself work times for doing tasks on your to-do lists — any tasks you'd like. You can be flexible with the times and make as many chunks of time as you want. Be fair, reasonable and optimistic. With this technique, it doesn't matter how many tasks you accomplish in an hour as long as you work for that hour. 

4. Assign times for breaks.

This is optional but optimal. Working for three hours with a ten minute break at the end of each hour is far more productive than working for three and a half hours straight. Breaks heal your brain and motivate you into not picking up your phone in the middle of an assignment. Without breaks, it may be two hours before you can respond to a text. You're far less likely to pick up the phone if you instead know you'll be able to answer it in twenty minutes or so. 

5. After you've done all but one task, add something cringe-worthy.

Remember when I said to give every list one item that you're really dreading? That is designed to incentivize you to do the less-intimidating tasks. Your body will automatically kick into "anything but that" mode, and the less cringe-worthy tasks on your list suddenly seem very inviting. Normally, the last item on the list would be the part where you glance over at your phone and five hours later realize you still haven't written your rhetoric essay. Instead, you're going to add one or two tasks that are even more cringe-worthy. Don't want to work on that paper, even if it's just for twenty minutes? Well, add "ask Tom out on a date," "talk to your professor about tutoring options," or "learn to do a push-up" to your to-do list, and suddenly you'll be comparatively eager to finish that last task from your original list. 

6. Bop to the top.

Work on your to-do lists from "dying to do" to "rather be dead." Start off with fun tasks, then slowly move toward less and less fun until you finally reach your most intimidating assignments. The fun ones will get you in a working mood and give you time to forget about all that Netflix you were considering watching just a few hours ago. Thanks to the super scary task you added to your list in step five, you'll find that it's relatively easy to move up the gradient until your very final task. 

7. Stick with your schedule!

I know it's hard, but this technique only works if you stick to the time intervals you assigned to yourself in step three. If you're not diligent about saying "just ten more minutes and then I'm scheduled for a break," you'll quickly stop working once you reach the more intimidating tasks. 

8. Get help.

If item seven is a problem, then you need to bring out the big guns. Find a friend and tell them to take away your phone for an hour. Turn off your wifi. Leave your room and walk to the nearest library without bringing your headphones. Do whatever it takes to reduce distractions during the time intervals you've assigned yourself. 

If you have chronic problems with procrastination, then it's time to put this natural personality trait to work! All those nights you've managed to write a novel while procrastinating writing an essay, and you never realized that you shouldn't try to fight human nature — instead, use it to your advantage. 

Lead Image Credit: Pexels

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Elizabeth Robinson - University of Texas at Austin

I'm a sophomore at UT Austin majoring in Dean's Biology. I've loved writing since elementary school and published my first novel in high school. I love reading, writing (obviously), foreign languages, doggos, martial arts, anthropology, theater, and watching far too much YouTube. I dream of being a fiction author and geneticist after graduate school, hopefully combining my two loves to change the world. Follow me on Twitter @MetokaPublishi1, Instagram as BlackPage13, or (best option) visit my website,!

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