Last week I received an email by Natalie who lives in Brisbane, Australia:
I love your psychology posts and the advice you give so I was wondering if you could give me some tips.
I am an undergrad student and I have such a hard time finishing my assignments on time because I just can’t stop procrastinating.
Weeks before I stress about the deadline but I never manage to start working until there is just enough time to do a mediocre job. Do you have any advice for a hardcore procrastinator like me?
This is my reply:
I think the magic secret for overcoming procrastination is to realise that you are actually working a lot harder than people who don’t procrastinate. Let me explain. As a serious procrastinator you have built up a certain mindset about your work habits. This mindset has turned into something like a thick concrete wall that takes a serious amount of effort and motivation to overcome every time you need to work. The wall is not something you were born with, it’s the result of beliefs you have acquired over many years, which means you can definitely get rid of it. Once you have detoxed your mindset, you won’t have to break through the wall anymore and will need a lot less motivation, time and energy to start working.
If you think about people you know who procrastinate a lot and those who don’t, you will notice that they use different approaches to think about all the stuff they have to do. Serious procrastinators tend to focus on the negative aspects of it (This is so boring, I’ll be at this forever, I hate writing essays, I’d rather check my pinterest, eat ice cream etc). Non-procrastinators don’t necessarily have more discipline or like the tasks more, but their thoughts focus on the positive aspects (When I get this done I can do xyz, I want to achieve xyz). One mindset is a motivator, the other is not only demotivating, it also causes you to spend a lot of time thinking about the negative aspects of your work ethic and in a sense ‘practice’ and manifest your negative beliefs. Here are three tips for breaking through ‘the wall’ that will help you start associating ‘not-procrastinating’ with less effort and positive emotions, rather than boring, hard work.
1. Work less
Think about it: You said that you eventually do your assignments in the end but stress about them weeks before. All that emotional stress might even be harder work than the assignment itself. When it comes to tasks that have to be done eventually, non-procrastinators only have the effort of completing the assignment, but a procrastinator has to endure that plus a constant mix of stress/ guilt/ anxiety.
2. Know when to stop
It is super important that you set aims for yourself, but not for the usual reasons: you need a specific aim in order to know when it’s time to stop working. One of the biggest motivation zappers is feeling that you are not ‘doing enough’, but unless you define an aim and make your job finite, you will never have worked enough. So set out a realistic amount of work for one day and when you get there STOP. Don’t start working until you have clearly defined all the steps and divided them into daily goals. If you have to go through an entire text book, split up the chapters, otherwise you will have that nagging feeling that you should be working more for days or even weeks until you finish the whole book. If you divide your task into little one-day jobs, you can enjoy your free time without guilt, feel satisfied about your accomplishments and eventually build up more positive beliefs about your willpower.
3. Become an addict
Rather than trying to avoid failure, the main motivator for non-procrastinators is the feeling of satisfaction and/or pride after the job is done. As opposed to focussing on the bad things that will happen if you don’t start working soon, try to imagine how good you will feel once you have completed the assignment. Focussing on positive aspects is something you can practice: The next time you finish something, really try to relish the positive emotions you feel, so you’ll remember them for next time. This way you will slowly start to associate the items on your to-do list with the satisfaction afterwards, rather than dreading them and eventually be super motivated to start working.
I hope some of these tips can help you, let me know how it goes! :)
For more ideas on school/uni productivity read this post: The Burned Out Student.
*image via Tattly