Procrastination is an issue that affects everybody. And by everybody, I mean every single person you have met and will ever meet. For us students, with few major deadlines or exams but plenty of time to procrastinate in-between, the effects are particularly salient. Not just in our studies, but also in other parts of our lives, whether it be learning a language, starting a side project, or a new hobby. And while we will never overcome procrastination, we can certainly learn how to manage it better, to get done what we both need and want to accomplish.
- Procrastination, above all, is an emotional issue.
Dopamine, the anticipation chemical, is the one to get us off our butts and to take action – without it, we are truly lost. If you are in a bad mood, odds are you won’t get much done. If you are in a bad mood because you feel like you’ve already wasted half the day procrastinating, don’t beat yourself up for it. Accept it, do something that lightens your mood, and getting started on your work will become much easier.
a. Procrastination can also be a symptom of more profound mental health problems – anxiety, depression, and the like. In that case, getting to work is particularly hard – accept that and just do the best you can.
- “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
Studying with friends will help you be more productive in the long run, both by keeping each other accountable, but even more so, by maintaining a good mood. Just make sure to get some studying done when you meet up to study.
- Optimize your environment.
The first step is always the most difficult, whether it’s the blank page at the beginning of your assignment, sitting down to do the reading, or getting off Netflix or Instagram to go to the gym. Change your environment in a way that makes the right decision inevitable. Set time limits on distracting apps, put on your gym clothes right after getting out of bed, or pack your bag for the library the night before – the less friction we have to do the right thing, the easier it is to get it done.
- Willpower is a finite resource.
Naturally, you cannot cut out every distraction. That little bit of willpower is always necessary. However, realize that willpower decreases with every decision you have to make. Plan your hardest tasks when you know you have the most willpower – there’s no point in doing the most boring reading right after lunch when you are the most tired. Instead, get it done first thing in the morning, or later in the afternoon, when you have the most energy.
- Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
Too often, we sit in front of an empty page, somehow holding back to put that first sentence on the page. That’s perfectionism right there. Don’t be afraid to just start typing away, with whatever comes to your mind. It doesn’t have to be structured; it doesn’t even have to make sense. Title the page ‘Notes’ and just write your most random thoughts. Think of it like your brain throwing up on the page. From those, you can often piece together something quite good, and you won’t run out of ideas down the line – Because you already have a whole page of incoherent thoughts on the topic.
- Use whatever tricks work for you.
Some tricks you find online sound incredibly dumb, but if they work for you, that’s all it needs. A professor once told us that went on train rides around the country (he was Dutch, so luckily, he had free transport) with only his textbooks. For the first half-hour, he just looked out the window, but that got boring after a while. After that, there was nothing other to do than to open his textbooks and start studying. Sounds dumb, but he’s now a professor at our university, so it must’ve worked. Other people swear by things like the Pomodoro technique, going to different cafés around the city to study to have some novelty in our study habits (our brains hate mundanity). Just try out some of them, find whatever works best for you, and then put them into practice. More tricks and tips can be found here!
- Once you start, the rest follows.
Flow is the state we aim for when we sit down to do our work. It’s when work you previously dreaded stops feeling like work and stopping becomes more difficult than continuing. It’s ironic that exactly at this point, almost at the end, I took a break from writing – But in theory, this is the easiest point to do the work. The resistance or friction is the lowest, and it requires the least amount of willpower to do the work. A good way to get into this state on a task you don’t want to start is to follow something called productive procrastination. It’s when you start with the lowest resistance task on your to-do list and use it as a stepping stone to the more difficult ones. In practice, this means that you’d start with cleaning your room or reading the most interesting paper first, after which the harder tasks are much easier to start.
- Schedule rest days.
Probably the most frustrating thing is when you say no to exciting plans because you have to study. Yet, when it comes to studying, you procrastinate half the day and don’t get much done. Work expands to fill up whatever time you give it. Sure, results may vary, but most things can be done in either half the time you thought (like when you start an assignment the night before it is due), or twice the time (when you start early but still take the entire week). Plan rest days, allow yourself to get away from your work for a day, and just do whatever you feel like. Not only does it give you a great chance to enjoy your free time without guilt, but it also forces you to be more mindful of your time before. You can find some more tips on how to relax here!
- Don’t limit these insights to your studies.
While we notice our procrastination most when it comes to studying or writing papers, another, less overt form has an even bigger effect on our long-term happiness. In our studies, the looming deadline or exam typically gives us the energy to start, when it’s either start now or fail. But in our personal lives, we don’t have those deadlines. We start going to the gym tomorrow, or begin learning that language next week, but never end up making that first step. Don’t limit those tips to your studies, but apply them to all areas of your life – particularly those that matter most to you.
I hope these insights help you better manage your procrastination and accomplish the things you want. Of course, everything mentioned here is merely a repetition of things said by people much smarter and less prone to procrastination than myself – So please check out some more of their advice if you are interested. I hope you learned something, and thanks for reading.
Informative sources: http://www.structuredprocrastination.com & https://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html
Written by Valentin Wiesinger, from the Content Committee