We’ve all faced this problem before- the scary, ten eyed monster itself- Procrastination.
You get home and you know that you have an essay to write, six pages of history notes to finish and 10 pages of math problems to hand in tomorrow, but you convince yourself that having a snack first before you start working on your homework will help you relax and work more quickly. And then you decide that you might as well watch a couple of youtube videos while enjoying your snack, or maybe finish that one episode of your favorite show on netflix- and before you know it, it’s midnight, and your body shuts down into panic mode when you realize that you haven’t even started on work due in a few hours, leaving you no time for sleep.
Even if you go to sleep at 3am and stumble through the next day in a groggy daydream, promising yourself that you will not procrastinate on your work ever again, the vicious cycle often continues, costing valuable sleep and causing you to become stressed and angry at not being able to control yourself better. When you get home after school, watching videos, reading, baking, or doing anything seems much more tempting than opening up a textbook and getting your brain machine up and running.
So how can you exercise mind control over yourself to become motivated to get all of your work done quickly? Here are some strategies that might help you shed the title of master procrastinator.
#1: Write down a to-do list
Writing down everything that you need to get done can help you remember all of your tasks and encourage you to get working. Whenever you think of something you have to do or receive a new homework assignment, write it down with your other tasks in one place, such as a planner, notebook, or digital sticky note. Google keep or the reminders app on your phone can be helpful, but some people prefer physically writing things down- there’s something satisfying about seeing your tasks visualized and being able to cross them out one by one.
The key part about writing your tasks down is that you have to be as specific as possible- don’t just scribble “English Research Essay” in your planner (with a couple of panicked exclamation points tacked on at the end!!!!) Break large tasks down into smaller, easier to digest bites. This way, the work will seem a lot less intimidating, and you will be able to better budget your time to get everything done.
For example, if you need to work on a paper for History class that’s due in two days, you should think about the specific parts of the task rather than of the assignment as a whole. Maybe before even starting the essay you need to do some research on the sugar cane industry or the significance of Mao Ze Dong’s giant mole, and also need to create an essay plan. You might feel more than a little overwhelmed by the enormous amount of work that needs to get done, but by spreading these smaller tasks over the two days you have to complete the task, you’ll be able to better keep track of your progress (and hopefully the essay won’t seem so scary after all).
Here’s what a broken down task might look like:
Project: 1000 word paper on “The Difference Between Syrian and Winter White Hamsters”
Today is: Monday
The paper is due on: Wednesday
Number of days before task is due: 2 days
- Research 3 differences between Syrian and Winter White Hamsters
- Draw up essay outline
- Write introduction
- Write first paragraph
- Write second paragraph
- Write third paragraph
- Write conclusion
Now that the humongous task of an essay is broken down into smaller, specific tasks, you’ll have a better idea of what exactly you need to get done, and when you can get them done. Bringing this strategy a step further, you can not only assign certain tasks to different days of the week, but also to different times of the day.
#2 Schedule your day
Once you break down your larger tasks, try to estimate how long each smaller activity will take. This can be difficult to do in the beginning, so keep track of how long some of your regular tasks take so you’ll know how much time to budget for it in the future. If you do the laundry every Friday, for instance, time yourself to see how long it usually takes you so that you can include it in your daily schedule.
If you’re unsure about how long a task will take, give it your best guess- as time goes on, you’ll only become more accurate with your estimates. The reason that assigning a time frame to your tasks is important because it allows you to schedule your work periods around other commitments in your day.
This method particularly helps students who have lots of commitments to clubs, sports, and jobs with the tendency to feel overwhelmed. When it seems like you have too many things to do and no spare time, every free moment that you have in your busy schedule counts, and budgeting out the time in your day can help you get all of your homework done. For example, if you know you only have 30 minutes before soccer practice and that your math homework will take 20 minutes, then you’ll be able to get that piece of work done earlier than you would have if you wrote it off as being too large of a task. Physically writing your schedule down with specific times attached to tasks can also motivate you to stick to your plan and get your work done more quickly, and also help you feel more relaxed when you’re able to visually see the fact that you can get everything done! (as long as you stick to the schedule 😉 )
However, don’t fall into the trap of underestimating how long your work will take- this might cause you to “overschedule” yourself, and at the end of the day, to wallow in disappointment when you were only to complete three of the twenty things you assigned yourself to do that day. If you know that you’ll only have three hours of time to do homework, only schedule yourself to do the tasks that you’re confident you can complete.
3:30 PM- school ends
3:30-5:30PM- Soccer practice
5:30-6:30PM- walk home, dinner
6:30-6:45PM- Start working on essay- research 3 differences between Syrian and Winter White Hamsters
6:45-7:05PM- essay outline
7:40-8:10PM- Pre-calc worksheet
8:10-8:40PM- Essay- paragraph 1
8:40- 9:30PM- SAT- functions worksheet
#3 Reduce Distractions
Leaving your phone on your desk can make an instagram break seem extremely tempting when you’re struggling through your English literary analysis about a group of sentient communist animals. The constant pinging of new emails, text messages and other notifications can snap you out of focus and distract you from completing the task at hand. A quick break to check an email can lead to a social media binge that only ends when your phone runs out of battery, leaving you feeling disappointed in yourself and no closer to having your work done than you had been an hour ago.
Even if your “quick” break really is only for a few minutes, it might be hard to continue studying when the snapchat stories you had just viewed leave you thinking about how your friends must be having so much fun at so-and-so’s birthday party instead of focusing on writing your essay.
The best thing that you can do to eliminate these distractions is to leave anything that you think might distract you in another room. For most people, this is their phone, but there are many other things that are potential distractions that differ from person to person.
For me, every time I see an unread email pop into my inbox I feel a strong need to open it, so I leave my phone in a different room when I do my homework and close all tabs on my computer except for the ones I need to do my work. If you want to keep your phone with you, you can go into the settings and turn notifications off for specific apps that are distracting.
If the urge to refresh instagram for new cute kitten posts is too strong for you to resist, there are plenty of applications out there that are specifically designed for this purpose. Concentrate is an application for computers that will block websites that you specifically select for yourself for a certain length of time, and the Forest app for your phone will grow flowers and bushes in a virtual world- but only as long as you leave the app on your screen open. If one of your family members is willing to help, you can ask them to be your “phone guardian” and instruct them not to return your phone until all of your work is completed.
However, today, getting anything done is simply an exercise of self control, and it’s best to rely on yourself instead of others. Your brother won’t be there to protect your phone forever, after all. Instead, try to motivate yourself by thinking about how great it’ll feel to have all of your homework completed and to be able to have time to relax before bed, or get a good night’s sleep and feel truly alive at school the next day (for the first time in forever).
#4 Visualize your goal!
This might sound super cheesy, but try to look past its “motivational-quoteness” and really think about your ultimate goal that motivates you to keep working. If you don’t know what you want from life quite yet, don’t worry- this goal doesn’t have to be something like “become the first astronaut to land on Pluto”- it can be something simple, like to prove yourself to your classmates, or to finally feast your eyes upon a 95% on your final exam. Personally, I promise myself that I’ll be able to have a snack after finishing all of my work for the night, and having a box of cookies in the pantry practically calling my name motivates me to work much more efficiently.
Think about what your goal might be. Maybe you really want to get an A on this assignment to bring your GPA up so that you have a better shot at getting into your dream college, or you want to one-up your sibling and show your parents that you really do have what it takes to be a stellar student and human being. Maybe you just want a taste of that slice of yummy pumpkin pie sitting in the refrigerator- but whatever your goal might be, write it down next to your to-do list and stare at it. Imprint it in your mind.
Take some time before every work session to think about how awesome it’ll be to hit your target and know that you accomplished something, and are taking steps closer to reaching your goal.
May the pumpkin pie of your dreams become your reality.
Have questions? Leave a comment down below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
Until next time!