The great illusion people are under is the illusion we have time – Dalai Lama
Procrastination is the only thing I can do without doing anything, which is probably the appeal. It’s not that I’m doing nothing, I’m just chillin’ out, relaxin’ maxin all cool (AYY shout out to all the Fresh Prince-loving 90s kids in tha house) and postponing the task until later.
You can relate, right?
You want to clean your room or write an essay due in next week or revise for that test you genuinely want to do well on but, well, Tumblr. And binge-watching, and also your bed, which apparently seems to be the cleanest (and comfiest) part of your room.
And then the night-before arrives, long after your 15 hours of being able to keep your eyelids open have expired, and you are extreme cramming. Or maybe it’s registration period, and you’re trying to copy your Maths homework off anyone in your tutor group that’s done it. And then you realise – yep, you guessed it – you’re here again. You think you’re able to deliver until you actually, seriously realise that, no, you aren’t even slightly capable.
I’ve been there too. Haven’t we all? We choose pointless slithers of God-knows-what in lieu of the beefy, gritty serious important stuff to do with beefy, gritty serious important life. Not only is it incredibly stressful, it’s incredibly frustrating. And there’s no-one to play the classic Adam-and-Eve blame game with: it’s all on you.
Meanwhile, there’s all these Lisa Simpson-type people achieving more than you are, balancing work with health and education and their secret talent of sculptory or some shit and being a living, walking form of those Instagram accounts that make you sick yet really, really jealous. Ugh. And, why aren’t you one of them? What are they doing so right? Where did it all go wrong?
I’ll tell you when. When you became pro-procrastination.
What is pro-procrastination? You may (not) be asking me at this very moment. It’s when you give into the temptation of wasting your time on something you won’t even remember the details of, like scrolling through your favourite social network’s app, getting practically nothing out of it, and doing it again even when you know you shouldn’t. It’s like the unhealthiest relationship in the world. You waste your energy and effort being with this monster that sucks up your time and all of a sudden you’re handing in a word-for-word Wikipedia synopsis review on that book you only read the blurb on, wondering where it all went wrong. In the midst of procrastinating you’re thinking, don’t worry, it’ll change, I’m capable of handling this but by the time the dreaded due date has come you’re swearing never to do it again. That is, until next time – which is literally the next time.
Don’t think I’m having a go, because it’s understandable. Procrastination is like drugs and junk food and cute cat memes – it’s really addictive. The only difference is that, unlike the other three actual real things; procrastination can’t be held in your hands or hung up in a museum (like cat pics totally should be) – it’s a mental attitude. And not even the cool, sassy kind like in this scene of Peggy from Mad Men – it’s the totally suck-y one that ruins stuff for you.
There is, actually, a reason why procrastination feels kinda drug-addiction good. According to researcher Piers Steel, we do it because of the impulsiveness. “Showing self-control or delaying gratification is difficult for procrastinators,” he says. “We just don’t have much ability to endure short-term pain for long-term gain.” In addition to those words of wisdom and insight, we also have this natural drug called dopamine that boosts us whenever we do something we like. (No, not dope. Dopamine. Jeez, crackhead.) For example, you see a cute dog running on a treadmill?? (I’M SORRY OK I’M SORRY!) You will want to repeat it again and again because the dopamine makes it feel gooooood. So, in other words, we’re all pretty much suckers to the influence of ourselves and our primitive impulses. How lame.
What I’m pretty much saying is that quitting the addiction of procrastinating will have withdrawal symptoms; temptations and the pain of letting go because our body just likes functioning procrastination’s way, even when our brain’s alarm bells are ringing like sirens. Believe it or not, it’s kinda hard. It will defiantly take more effort than doing nothing eg. procrastinating would, but the struggle of doing it all last-second is a shackle you can free yourself of. Buuuut, ever heard of ego depletion? It’s been proven that will power is actually an exhaustible source of encouragement, meaning eventually it simply won’t be enough. So “just try harder” won’t help you out – you need the techniques.
So, Sharon, I hear you (probably) cry. What are the techniques?
Oh, munchkin, am I glad you asked.
Don’t Be Overwhelmed
Easier said than done, granted, but this is vital. One of the biggest reasons people procrastinate like crazy is because they want to get their head and down to do this but, also, this has to be done asap and oh yeah they have to do that and in the back of their mind they remember *that* thing and crap doesn’t that other thing have to be done too??
And then they crumble under their own mental burden because it’s oh-so-stressful and they need a break that last billions of years to get away from it all.
If you need a break, you can have one (advice on that further on in this list!), but worrying will never add more seconds to your life, as my wise grandma would quote constantly from the Bible (thanks Nana Igbokwe slash Jesus!). By refusing to cave in to the protests of your procrastination-prone mind, you are taking a step towards being a well-rounded human being who is opening doors to themselves. Even if that door leads to wherever the washing machine is, where you’ll finally wash your laundry so that you can have a pair of clean socks available each morning… Look at it this way: super sparkly nice-smelling socks may literally be a step in the right direction, right?
Another great way to prevent being overwhelmed, for me, is to…
Write down the things you need to do. This can be done at any point in the day, not just when you have to get the work done. In fact, you’re better off if you write it anywhere and any time possible because, in comparison to mental memory, noting it down as you go can help you figure out what your real priorities are. Do whatever’s convenient! Put it on a post-it note on your mirror; write it in a planner, type it up before you go to sleep or even write on your hand – the latter only if you have to, as you’ll probably need to pee sometime in the day and you’ll have to wash your hands. Unless you’re manky and don’t wash your hands. Then goodness gracious just don’t touch things. At all.
When it comes to getting ready to finish all that needs to be finished, write everything that has to be done that day in a mini schedule. Being more specific, with time slots and all, may work for some people; other people like me may feel more confident if they give themselves twenty minutes to do this little task then up to dinner to finish this bigger one. Be as loose as you need when it comes to setting an agenda, but one thing I advice not debating me on is this whole list thing. Before you start doing everything you need to do, just set five or so minutes to decide how much free-time you have to get shizz done (time off to flick through TV channels doesn’t count) and get it done!
Why? Because you can’t. Yes, women, this includes us too. Whether us ladies really can do it better or not (duh, yes), multi-tasking should be saved for the busiest of Monday mornings and not for important tasks we have at hand. When you have an aim in mind, try and stick to that aim and focus on it instead of doing lots of stuff at once. Our productivity flops a mega 40% when we try and multi-task because we’re not actually balancing multiple things, we’re switching in between tasks so quickly that we’re not reactive to what we should be doing and our mindsets aren’t adapted well enough to any of the situations we’re tricking ourselves into thinking we’re juggling. Concentration is the friend, not the foe. Concentrating on what you’re trying to do is the key to up-ing your anti pro-procrastination game.
Set Deadlines For Yourself!
Why would I act like a grumpy teacher and set myself unnecessary deadline?? You may be grumbling to your inner-most self this very moment (yes, I read your thoughts, YOU ARE DOOMED). Here’s why: if you don’t limit yourself, you won’t be able to do jack shit. Seriously! A study even conducted an experiment to check this out: two groups of Uni students were set three essays to do and three weeks to do them, but with a twist: the first group had to hand one in each week whilst the other were to hand in all three at the end of the three weeks. Who got the best results? The group with stricter deadlines! Despite the second group having a more flexible approach, they used their freedom to deceive themselves into thinking they could do it whenever, but ended up doing not-that-good.
This just proves that no matter how great the outcome could be, we humans aren’t too good at limiting ourselves. If you’re thinking “I can handle the pressure, I just need to work at my own pace; I work best under loose rules”, you’re tricking yourself. Setting a deadline needn’t be too hard. In fact, it can be simpler than you think! Decide that you’ll do the practice exam question set as homework before you go out today. Or, take down three mega projects one at a time in a month: one week each, the last week to review it all. Et voilà!
Avoid Gadgets! And Distractions! And Outside Life All Together!
According to a British study, trying to check texts and get work done effects your memory in a similar way as smoking pot does – but without the fun factor (yo don’t do drugs kids make sure you tell your parents I said that). Save your debates on the legalization of marijuana for later, all I know is if simultaneously checking the group chat whilst trying to revise makes you as forgetful as being high on weed, which is a memory loss drug, does than expect it all to go through one ear and out the other (s/o to Jim and Dwight from The Office for that fun fact btw).
So, how can we deal with it? You can switch your phone off; disconnect from the wi-fi or leave the mobile on charge in your bedroom while you work on the dining table downstairs slash on the other side of your flat/bungalow. There’s also sick apps and websites like Cold Turkey and FocalFilter that literally block out websites that you consider distracting for a pre-determined time period, so to prevent diversions and boost productivity. How amazing is that?
Talking about distractions, there’s a lot going on outside aside from on our smartphone screens (make that your new mantra) and sometimes it drags us away from what we’re trying to do. So, what can you do? Schedule around your plans which, by the way, is to be productive and not to meet up with the mates that you can see in the school week. Take time outside that busy calendar you probably don’t have (if you really are such a vigilant procrastinator) and take a trip to your local library with just the books you need. You could even sit out in the garden if the weather is decent, or arrange a study session with like-minded intellectuals that you hopefully call your friends, so you can help each other and be in the right psyhe. If you’re really struggling you could try out The Pomodora Technique, which is all about time management and learning to love time, which is always shrinking my dear fellow teenagers who feel youth lasts forever. And, yes, I am 15, but my soul has been around for thousands of years.
Easeeeee Yourself In – And Out
You know that snarky self-made drug called dopamine I was bitching about earlier? It really ain’t that bad. In fact, we can use it to our anti pro-procrastination advantage! Say you’re creating a poster for a Geography project and creativity is your thang, you could start with writing the title in bubble letters, then decorating it with stickers once you’ve added all the interesting (eye-roll) info about continental drift and its relation to volcanoes or whatever it is. This not only gets you started on a motivated note, but you also have something to work towards when you’ve finished the stuff that will get you the grade. Plus, they do say presentation is key, and it’d look pretty top-notch compared to the scribbles a caffeine-crazed version of yourself would make late Sunday evening. Start with something lovely, end with something lovely then feel extra lovely when you succeed!✨✨Woop woop!!
It Takes Two 😉 😉 😉 (mins)
You know the first step you take to getting something finished? You get started! Pretty obvious right? Well, it seems not… according to studies we tend to avoid big tasks by simply not starting: instead we visualise the toughest parts and just trick ourselves into doing the smaller ‘important’ stuff… like logging into Facebook for the first time in ages or refreshing our Instagram every two seconds. Yeah, I see you. Don’t pretend you’ve never done that.
That’s why the two-minute challenge is a godsent mindset. The challenge is really just one question: can you do whatever needs to be done in two minutes flat? Then do it! Whether it be hanging up stray clothes from that chair, or packing your PE kit bag for tomorrow – if it takes two minutes, do it.
The two minute challenge doesn’t just apply to the little things, it can apply to larger scale tasks like getting the dreaded revision done or packing for a long holiday. This is thanks to the Zeigarnik Effect, a psychological pattern discovered in the late 1920s by an awesome female psychiatrist/psychologist named Bluma Zeigarnik. The theory mainly makes the acknowledgement that our brains focus more on tasks that are unfinished than tasks we’ve yet to begin or have already completed. It’s like a mental itch, and the perfect scratch is to simply get it done.
So, if you want to start jogging, can you tie up your trainers and get yourself out the house in two minutes? Then get movin’, gurl! Can you bring all the schoolwork you’ve done into one place so to have all the resources you need to make that essay you gotta write pure FIREE? 🔥🔥 Then get them! The reason this is so nifty is because once you’ve got all the stuff you need around you, the attitude to gettin’ down and ready for the big stuff is not just floating in your head as a thought but in front of you. You’re not just thinking about it anymore but surrounded by visual evidence that there is a task to complete. Not only is that encouraging, but it’s also calming – our brain sees that we’re ready to do that thing it’s been stressing about, and so feels like it can chill and help us get it done instead of panicking and diverting to making teeny Beyoncé’s ping around your laptop screen.
Schedule Breaks, And Wisely
According to Tony Schwartz, founder of The Energy Project, we work at our optimum rate with 90 minutes of hard, dedicated work and 20 minute chill time. This method has been proven so effective that elite violinists speak testimonies of the technique. Even if you don’t need an hour and 50 minutes to achieve what you need to do, working at that 9:2 ratio is as good of an idea. You could, for example, work for 45 minutes with a ten minute break, then loop.
Also, why cram when you can sleep? Those words of wisdom, which I feel I’ve uttered since I entered this world, is now backed by Science. There’s really is a reason why all those guides to Secondary School I chucked out in yrear7 say you should try sleep the night before an exam: sleep does miracles. Okay, so maybe switching off mid Maths lesson won’t get you in your teacher’s good books, but when it comes to working in your own time a little nap really does no harm. Deserving of the name 💪power naps💪, a short 20 minute of shut-eye can increase alertness; cognition, reaction time and even procrastination’s biggest enemy: productivity.
Don’t just think naps, though. Walks; reading, lounging on the sofa – these can all be the chillax you need to actually stay on task. Weird, huh? But super magic. You see that up there kids? Those are your cramming days. Wave bye to them👋👋
See? Staging a protest against procrastination starts and ends with you. So, isn’t it time to get some work done?