Procrastination is the easiest way to make an assignment harder. With every day you put something off, you give yourself less time to do it. With every second closer to a deadline that you crawl, you compound the difficulty of an assignment, pile the stress on yourself and always (or at least usually) end up regretting the choice.
Despite this, many of us are chronic procrastinators. Every time we barely make it by, we swear to never do it again (or at least I do) and then next time we come up with a new excuse to put the lit essay, the exam prep or the art project off. Now that we’re heading for college — meaning lots of long term assignments, tests worth half the class grade and homework that won’t be checked — it is time to break the cycle.
The bad news is that according to Psychology Today (and my own personal experience) there are a lot of little things that contribute to procrastination. At any given time, one or more things can add up to make doing a task seem like the worst, most impossible thing in the world. Luckily, for every cause of procrastination, there’s a fix.
Cause #1: You simply don’t like the task.
1. Think of something worse that you tackled.
Simply thinking of something way worse that you’ve already accomplished can make the task at hand seem like a piece of cake. If you wrote a 10-page essay on “Macbeth,” writing a 3-page essay on a book of your choosing is nothing. If that perspective isn’t enough to kick you into gear, some negative reinforcement may be in order.
2. Blackmail yourself.
Use apps like Better Me or Aherk! that will embarrass you online or post your ugly selfies if you don’t finish a task. There are even special apps to help you quit procrastinating, exercise writing or eating better. A Google search to get going with any goal will reveal tons of apps, sites and support networks to get you going.
Cause #2: You have anxiety and/or a fear of failure.
1. Realize that your chances of failure are increased by procrastinating.
No matter what, procrastinating shortens the time you have to work on a certain task. Your greatest chance of success is the chance you have by starting right this moment. Giving yourself only a week, a day or an hour to complete something will make it much more difficult to kick butt.
2. Try to visualize the end result or feelings in a positive way.
Instead of focusing on the “What if?” of not doing the task perfectly, try to imagine the feeling of satisfaction and pride you’ll have at the completion of it.
Cause #3: You lack focus.
1. Get into or create the right environment.
Most folks have a place that’s best for them to focus, whether it is in their bed, at a desk in the library or in the window seat of their favorite coffee shop. It’s important to put yourself in a physical environment where you feel calm and not overstimulated. It’s always a good idea to experiment with different types of music, lighting or even seating positions to find out what gives you the best headspace to accomplish something.
2. Kick distractions to the curb.
Freeing yourself of constant distractions is also a part of creating the right environment. For starters, technology. Put away the cell phone, social media and unnecessary computer usage while you’re working. You may think it’s not so bad to check a notification here and there as you work, but on average it takes people 25 whole minutes to return to their task after the smallest distraction. This can make completing a task feel even more daunting as it begins to take exponentially more time to complete.
Note: If you have no willpower, apps like Self Control will block distracting websites for a specified amount of time and Focus Booster will help you work in timed spurts and reward you with routine breaks.
Cause #4: Your task seems too daunting.
1. Break one big task into smaller, more manageable tasks.
Sometimes a project seems like it’s impossible to finish no matter when you start. But smaller sub-tasks are easier to accomplish, easier to visualize and easier to finish in a shorter sitting. Break the monster of a project, report or study guide down into a bunch of little monsters. Start with the easiest, most fundamental task and then build on it. You’ll feel good after having successfully completed the basic parts and that momentum will carry you on to be able to tackle the harder stuff.
Cause #5: Believing you’ll have enough time to finish it even if you put it off.
1. Approach every task knowing that it was assigned to you with the appropriate amount of time to do it.
If your professor gave you two weeks to write a paper, it’s probably because two weeks is the amount of time you’d need to spend on it to do a good job. Not because Wednesday, November 16 seemed like a fine day for an essay on Crime and Punishment.
2. Work backwards from your deadlines.
This kinda goes along with breaking it into parts. Think about each individual task you need to complete to finish the work, think about how long each part will take and give yourself a timeline to accomplish it. If you’re writing a paper, break it down. Think, “well, I’ve got to pick a topic, do research, make an outline, write a draft and then edit the draft.” BAM, you’ve got a five-part to-do list. Give yourself mini deadlines and knock out the pieces one at a time. It’ll seem more manageable, you won’t be doing an entire paper in an 8-hour sitting the day before and your outcome will be better because you’ve started every component with fresh eyes.
Nothing will derail the quality of your work, your stress control or your confidence when going at assignments faster than being prone to procrastination. Hopefully, with an awareness of the causes and a slew of strategies to tackle them in your arsenal, you can break the cycle. But first, coffee.
Lead Image Credit: United Plankton Pictures and Nickelodeon Animation Studios