How ‘procrastination’ should be defined is something I’ve been thinking about a lot over these last couple of days. According to various online resources, it is the postponement of one task in favour of a less urgent, or a more enjoyable, activity. A blatant example is scrolling through twitter as a means of avoiding an essay which is due in a matter of hours, or watching ‘just one more episode’ of your favourite TV show when there are urgent work-related emails that need to be answered. While you value your long term goals, and a morsel of anxiety may sit at the back of your mind in regards to the consequences of not doing what needs to be done, but this is not enough to force your brain into prioritising long-term rewards over short-term gratification.
Some proponents of ‘hustle until you drop’ deem anything that is not contributing to your long term objectives, whether those are related to financial stability, fitness or moral fulfilment, a waste of time. Have you ever watched Netflix at any point in your life? You’re a lazy procrastinator. I’ve even seen someone give skincare the procrastination label. However, I have to disagree with this because frankly, we are not emotionless machines. Self-care is paramountly important. Entertainment exists for a reason – as humans, we need to enjoy ourselves on a regular basis, and set aside time to reap the benefits of all of our hard work. For sure, we have different staminas, and tolerate different workloads before we start to go crazy, but a lack of balance and overexertion will actually make you less productive and more prone to wasting time (I will return to this point later).
Whether something can be reasonably deemed ‘procrastination’ is a matter of intentions and priorities. For example, doing something in order to avoid a daunting task, like gathering home decor ideas on Pinterest to push the leg workout you’ve planned further into the day. This in turn exerts pressure on your overall schedule. Poor prioritisation also results in wasted time. As mentioned above, leisurely activities are integral to living a fulfilling existence. Watching films and spending quality time with friends may be great when you have plenty of free time and have completed the day’s most pressing tasks, but doing this with the sole intention of dodging homework assignments is less than ideal.
So, I guess the reason why procrastination has never been a major problem for me is because I’ve taught myself to value that long-term payoff, and dread the outcome of delaying something to the point where it is not complete on time. Frankly, procrastination gives me anxiety: I physically cannot be on social media when there is a half-finished blog post lurking in my computer, and drag myself to the gym in the morning, knowing how much harder it will be to complete my workout after a long day. Rounding off my to-do-list and then treating myself to a relaxing book in the absence of stress feels much more rewarding. During study leave before our final exams, some of my friends would spend the whole day doing anything other than studing before complaining about stress – stress which was entirely avoidable. Moreover, I make sure I do fun things for whatever benefit they deliver, such a positive impact on my mental health, not simply as a means of delaying necessary evils.
Of course, I am far from perfect and the occasional episode of time wastage is inevitable even in the lives of those ‘productivity gurus’ who always send their ‘free’ e-books to your spam folder, but I have compiled a list of tips which have majorly refined my time management skills and ensured procrastination remains a marginal concept rather than a reality in my life:
1. Just do it
This may not work for everyone, but oftentimes the dreaded event associated with not getting something done is enough for me to simply get on with it. I remember when I was studying for the IB, I would often be tempted to substitute urgent, but difficult, pieces of coursework with ‘easier’ ones to create the illusion of productivity, and in these cases I would quite literally force myself to sit down and do the former. Think about how good finishing the task will feel, and use that to motivate yourself. After a while, ‘just doing it’ will become a habit. Harness your fear to propel you towards your goals.
2. Identify the reason behind your procrastination
I cannot cover all of these in one blog post, but identifying the ‘underlying issue’ is always the first step towards overcoming a problem (and this doesn’t just apply to procrastination!). Often, people avoid something simply because they do not enjoy it – for example, homework for a compulsory course/module you would not have chosen to take, or a tough cardio session. You know the task will require hard work, and with insufficient motivation, you deny its existence. If I am tempted to procrastinate, two main reasons are usually responsible: firstly, if a task is truly monumental, I may feel overwhelmed and not know where to start. The second reason is something one of my teachers helped identify – if I want something to be done perfectly, I may avoid starting due to doubt surrounding my abilities to live up to a given set of standards.
3. Make a task more manageable.
This is particularly catered to those who struggle with feeling overwhelmed as mentioned above. Say to yourself: ‘just five minutes’, ‘just 200 words’ etc., which will be enough to get you started (and starting is, in my opinion, the most difficult part), and most of the time you will keep going beyond these mini goals towards the larger one.
4. Create a schedule and practice good prioritisation/time management skills
To-do lists are my life saver and I do not know where I would be without them. Each evening, I like to set aside 10-15 minutes to write down everything I need to do the following day in order of priority. This will stop you from waking up in a state of disarray, without a clear goal of what you need to accomplish, a state in which you naturally fall towards easier tasks at the expense of the urgent ones. Complete the hardest jobs first thing in the morning, because not only will it feel great to get them out of the way, but your brain is at its most alert in the early hours, leading to greater efficiency and attentiveness to detail. However, make sure that writing to-do lists does not become an act of procrastination in itself!
5. Change your mindset
This is a critical step if you want to rid yourself of the procrastination habit in the long run, and may help anyone to whom perfectionism is a source of their problem. Instead of thinking ‘if I do not do x, I will fail my exam’, think ‘if I do x on time, I will do really well in my studies’. Instead of thinking ‘this piece of work has to be perfect’, opt for ‘all I have to do is try my best, make sure the first draft is done, and I can always go back and fine tune it later’ (I apply this when writing my blog posts). Positive thinking can help eliminate the dread surrounding a task and make you less likely to engage in avoidance.
6. Reward yourself
This isn’t something I personally do because the long-term result of getting things done in a timely manner, and even the initial satisfaction, is enough of a reward for me. However, many people say that treating themselves to a new item of clothing, or even a piece of chocolate after every 100 words written can push them through points of low motivation.
7. Physically rid yourself of distractions
Make procrastination impossible! Whenever I am revising, I like to place my phone downstairs so the effort of retrieving it in order to check twitter for five minutes is just not worth it. Switch off your internet and even block websites you may be tempted to browse because you cannot procrastinate when all you have access to is work-related materials.
8. Only do something if it has a tangible benefit
Ask yourself constantly, ‘why am I doing this? Is this contributing to one of my long term-goals? Is this making me happy or benefitting my mental health? Is there something else that I should be doing instead?’ This can stop you from falling into the trap of doing something just for the sake of distracting yourself from a more daunting task.
9. Do not overdo it!
This is a no brainer. If you’re burnt out, and if your brain is constantly functioning on overdrive (this specifically applies to chronic multitaskers who are yet to recognise the detrimental effect of their habit!), you will be more likely to reach for those feel-good sources of procrastination, while taking a general hit to your stamina and ability to work efficiently. Linking back to number four as well as the importance of self-care, set aside some time for yourself every day, and do not assume that constantly being busy and having fifty things on your to-do list is somehow a sign of productivity, especially if you’re going beyond your means to avoid them: it is all about quality and sustainability, rather than quantity!
I hope you guys found this post helpful! Let me know in the comments: do you struggle with procrastination? If so, what are your favourite ways of tackling it?
Much love, Maria ♡
If you liked this, you may enjoy my post on excessive modesty and ambition.