We all know the phenomenon of a to-do list the length of a novel, conveniently paired with motivation that resembles a hungover Sunday. The result: procrastination. While every student knows procrastination is an unavoidable side effect of University study (they should really warn you about this at O-week), the good news is you can beat it. Here’s how:
1. Work hard for five minutes
Choose one of the items on your to-do list, e.g. the long-dreaded essay, and give it your all for five minutes. Research shows that once you’ve started a task, you are much more likely to keep working on it and finish it, as it gets stuck in your memory. This psychological phenomenon is called Zeigarnik effect. Thanks to this, a five minute power session will make all the difference.
2. Fall in love with the outcome, not the task
Let’s face it, studying, cleaning your flat and finally finding that summer job aren’t always fun but the end results are. The good grades get you your dream job; the clean flat increases your chances of finally dating that girl/boy; and the summer job pays for some good old student fun. Focus on these results. Tell yourself how much you value them, it gives every ‘to-do’ a personal meaning. The pain of the task will be gone soon but the outcome will have a long-lasting impact.
3. Kiss perfectionism goodbye
There is no such thing as perfect. You won’t finish your entire to-do list today and you won’t write the perfect essay within the next hour. But if you lower your expectations, you are much more likely to start and get your creative juices flowing. Choose only two or three items on your list to work on today and allow yourself a 5 minute break every 20 minutes. This will increase your productivity and motivation and lower your expectations.
4. Make an irresistible bet
If you find it challenging to motivate yourself in any way at all, let your competitive nature and your mates motivate you. Make a bet with your flatmates that you’ll complete your essay by Friday afternoon. If you don’t, you have to clean the flat all by yourself or cook your flatmates dinner for the next three nights. Sounds dreadful, right? Challenge them to a bet as well and get them to buy you breakfast if you win.
5. Choose a victory song
Choose one of your favourite songs and play it every time are about to conquer another task. This will create a habit that your brain associates with energy and motivation. It will also make you feel good when you get your groove on before your next challenge.
6. Reward yourself
Be kind to yourself. Most of us like to punish ourselves for procrastination. That has the reverse effect and will make you procrastinate even more. Instead we need to reward ourselves for starting and completing tasks. Before you begin studying, decide what treat you will indulge in once you have completed five hours of study, or any other task. Your brain will respond to this reward stimulus and work harder as a result.
With these six strategies procrastination won’t stand a chance. You should start thinking about all the fun things you’ll do with the time you save on procrastination. Sharing this with your friends could be one.