overcome the habit of procrastination?

I got a great question yesterday from a student about how to overcome the habit of procrastination. I am sure that we have all suffered from this vice at times. It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t always have to be great, just keep showing up and putting in the work.

  1. First, we have to change the way we think about ourselves. Self-talk is powerful, so if you have been a procrastinator in the past, forgive yourself, and change your mind on the matter. Instead of saying, I am such a procrastinator, try changing your tune too, I used to procrastinate but that isn’t like me anymore. I always get things done early, or at least on time.
  2. Make a commitment to getting the task done. As a student, say you have a 15-page project due next Friday. Make a commitment to working on the paper between these times every day. Focus on completing 1–3 pages at a time. Setting aside ~ 90-minute blocks is perfect for this because we can maintain our complete focus for that length of time.
  3. Minimize distractions. Say you have set aside 7:00 to 8:30 to work on your paper. Turn off the interweb, put the cell phone down, lock the door, turn off the tv, and focus on getting shit done. Take your mocha latte Starbucks to go and hide in the library for 90 minutes.
  4. Budget your time A few thousand years ago, Plato said“An unexamined life is not worth living”. True. Examine your time in great detail.
    1. There are 24 hours in a day, sleeping ~6 leaves of ~18.
    2. Maybe ~6 hours in class leaves you ~12 additional hours.
    3. Even if you work 8 hours, you still have 4 hours remaining.
  5. Make a list, check it twice. So, we now know there are 24 hours in a day and you probably have, at minimum 4 hours of free time. How you spend that time matters substantially. Make a to-do list (on paper!) of things you need to accomplish that day. Stick to making a list of the 3–5 most important tasks, and when you nestle down in the library with your Starbucks, start working on the most time consuming or most difficult task first.
  6. Make a game plan. With the project in mind, make a game plan for completion. Remember, the project is going to be due no matter what you do between now and then, so I suggest you plan your time wisely. A bike ride around the world begins with one pedal stroke, break projects down into single pedal strokes,
    1. create an outline,
    2. create an annotated bibliography,
    3. create a draft,
    4. revise,
    5. revise,
    6. revise
  7. Have an accountability buddy. Remember friendships go both ways, but have a friend, classmate, colleague, parent, neighbor, mentor that can check in on your progress now and again. Maybe they could use a hand staying focused as well. As the old adage goes, there is safety in numbers. With the beauty of the information age, your accountability buddy can be on another continent and still check in often so don’t limit yourself to those within an earshot.
  8. Reward yourself. Finish the paper before the deadline? Great! Celebrate the win be rewarding yourself in some way. Maybe you put off playing your favorite video game the past several days so you could work on the paper. Now reward yourself for getting stuff done by playing until your eyes bleed (not literally). Then take yourself out for a bowl of ice cream. You’ve earned it.

Pro tip: this is not a once and done method. As a master procrastinator myself, this is something to work on daily, with each and every task you face. Not just as a student like your question states, but as a human being, procrastination will always be knocking on the door, it’s your choice to answer or not.

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