It makes me smile when I get emails from my readers asking about procrastination and how to fight it. Procrastination is the biggest problem students have, next to student debt. And I’ve been through it.
I would fill my schedule with 20 tasks. By the end of the day, I’d get 1 or 2 done while still being worried about the other 18 things I had to do. And that was on a good day. On a bad day, I’d get nothing done, except for clearing my YouTube “Save for Later” list and greeting 10 of my friends “Happy Birthday!”
Here’s a screenshot of a to-do list that just scares the hell out of me.
After a couple of semesters I got sick and tired of the constant catching up and frenzy of looming deadlines. I hated getting subpar grades and submitting subpar work. I hated feeling useless and lazy because I knew that I wasn’t a useless and lazy person. So I set out to get my life together and fix my procrastination problem.
After some thought, I realized that one of the reasons I don’t get started is because I had so much stuff to do that I was paralyzed into inaction. It’s not that I was tired or unmotivated. I was just overwhelmed and my mind always seemed to be running at 200 kilometres an hour on a million different tracks.
The first thing I did was get real with myself and work within my constraints.
Being a chronic procrastinator, I hadn’t developed the consistency and mental power to do 20 tasks. So I had to get real with myself and limit my 20 tasks to 3-5 a day. Soon, I cut that down to just 1-3 absolutely essential tasks. My criteria for my #1 to-do was that the task that would let me sleep well that night if I finished it. After finishing my top task, I would then move on to the second and then the third. No multi-tasking. I told myself that if I didn’t get to the other 2 lower priority tasks, that I was OK with that.
Now that I could calm myself down a bit and start, I then focused my mind on keeping my mind on track.
While I worked, I kept a sheet next to me to write down wandering thoughts and to-do’s. If I remembered that I had to try on that shirt my mom bought for me from Costco, I wrote it down. If a friend tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I could help her with her homework, I wrote that down. And if I suddenly had an absolutely awesome idea of a place to go for my graduation trip, I wrote that down, too. By writing them down I acknowledged them as good ideas and then put them out of my head until it came time to sort through them.
Finally, even if I wasn’t fully done with my top 3 things or even my top thing, I let myself take breaks. During my break, I made sure to stay away from Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest… Because they are black holes of doom that quickly spiral out of control.
You may be facing a similar problem of paralysis and overwhelm as I do. Start prioritizing your days and focusing on getting just one thing done today. Then do that again tomorrow. Then the day after that.
If you don’t get your one thing done, just pick it up again the next day.
No judgment. No “You are so lazy and incompetent”. Just realize that it’s part of the journey towards becoming a more productive and focused person and pick it up again the next day.
- Be easier on yourself and reduce the barrier to starting your work.
- Clear out your to-do list except for the top 3 things you absolutely have to do that day.
- Have a sheet next to you to jot down to-do’s that pop up as you work.
- Be OK with taking a break.
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