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2020-04-16

Techniques and Strategies to stop Yourself Procrastinating

Procrastination affects us all, in fact, it’s probably the reason you’re reading this right now. You’ve had enough. But you know the ‘you’ve had enough’ feeling? It doesn’t last as long as it should, does it? It doesn’t drive you to finish your assignments or work a week in advance. It doesn’t prevent you from being awake at 1 AM before a deadline desperately trying to finish your paper.

So what can you do? Well, thankfully this is not a new problem and has been around for as long as there have been tasks to avoid doing. But did you know that there are different types of procrastination:

Surface Procrastination

If there is a type of procrastination you want to be effective with, this is it. It’s low lying, generic, and affects everyone to some degree. This is where you have trouble starting work and getting things done, you can find a million distractions on your phone, and don’t even get us started on how clean your room will be before you begin actually working.

But at some point you are going to do the work, it’s inevitable. If it’s not done you won’t pass and will have wasted all that money, even though it seems like an invisible loan, and you’ll flunk out of university.

So realistically it’s going to get done. The quality, the time frame and the stress you go through getting it done will vary drastically depending on how far you go down the procrastination path — but it will get done. ​

Deep Procrastination

Now deep procrastination is rather more severe. It is a symptom of a much larger problem. It affects those students that don’t find purpose in what they are doing at university. Where there is no end goal that pays off for the work in any way, shape or form.

This might be because the course they are doing isn’t the course they thought it was. It might be because the end of university road doesn’t seem to be the one they want to take. Or it may be caused by a form of depression or anxiety.

The good news is that if you are feeling that way your university is going to be there to help. The help may vary in quality, time, and effort, but the help is there. Evolution tells us that the reason we lack the motivation to achieve goals is that the path to what that goal rewards us with isn’t clear. Perhaps not only is it not clear, the reward may not be great enough.

The journey to tackling and solving Deep Procrastination is unique for everyone, but it starts by asking yourself a couple of hard questions:

  1. Why are you studying what you are studying?

  2. Where does this course lead you once you finish?

  3. Is that destination the one you want? If so why?

  4. If not, then what would you prefer to be doing and why?

Reconciling these answers isn’t an easy job. In fact, there’s a chance even if you don’t suffer from Deep Procrastination that you won’t adore the answers that these questions present. But as long as value trumps effort then you’ll be fine.

Seeing the long-term future value of things is hard. It’s not something we’re used to; especially considering the on-demand service that life presents these days. From next day delivery to immediate video content on demand, the world has changed in the last 10 years. We can get our dopamine fix, what we want when we want it — rather than having to wait.

But being able to wait, to choose the harder option over the easier, being able to see the value in waiting long. That is what is important and will go a long way toward helping you achieve success. The value of booking a holiday far in advance is the fact that it is cheaper. The value of waiting one month for a product from China, for example, might be the ability to get a large quantity straight from the supplier. But these pale in comparison to the weight required for university pay off.

A three-year degree might take 10 years to see the pay off your looking for, a 6-year medicine degree could take even longer. Therefore, you need to find rewards along the way. For example, if you’re studying to be a Dr. then you won’t be running your own practice for many years to come. Here in the UK, you’re going to slog it out in the NHS working night and day. What drives you to keep going? Is it helping people? Solving problems, saving lives?

Not all subjects can offer the dopamine reward for saving a life. But they can offer smaller more frequent dumps than the 10-year payout.

What are the mini goals that you can accomplish along the way and what can you do to make them mean more/more worthwhile?

Back to the Surface

Having taken a brief trip to a more philosophical diagnosis of Deep Procrastination, we’ll now look at some actual techniques to solve the simpler Surface Procrastination.

Pomodoro Technique

Traditional Tomato Egg Timer

You’ve probably heard of this technique. The reason it keeps rising to the surface is that it works. It takes what we were just talking about, splitting a long-term goal into smaller chunks to the extreme. If the long-term goal is 10 years out and the smaller chunks are the essays or exams you need to pass to start you on your way, the Pomodoro is the granular moments.

Traditionally, an egg timer is used but there are apps now available that allow you to set an alert, 25 minutes in the future, and work until that time is up. When the buzzer rings you take a quick 3–5-minute break before embarking on another 25-minute segment. Ideally, this is repeated four times in total before giving yourself a longer break of around 30 minutes.

Forcing yourself to minimise distractions, remove your phone (put it on Do Not Disturb) and limit auxiliary notifications is key to making this work. Your reward comes at the end, reply to those texts, check Instagram and then get back to work. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish. Then take that pride in how much you’ve done and use it to drive yourself to do it again, and again.

Focuswriter

This program removes the distractions from your screen when you are working. It’s a word processor (like Microsoft’s Word) that simply blocks out the background so you cannot be distracted by other windows. You can also set alarms and timers to make sure you stay focused for the required time.

Freedom App

This is one of the best distraction-blocking apps out there. It works with Mac, Windows, iPad and iPhone so there is little excuse not to use it. The app blocks your selected sites for set time limits leaving you to work undistracted. Users say they gain an extra 2.5 hours of productivity each day whilst using the app.

Your Own Phone

The latest version of Android already has a feature that allows you to limit your time on apps on your phone. And so does iOS. Use them! Or go one step further. Just delete the app entirely from your phone. Trust us - deleting Instagram, Tik Tok or whatever apps you find yourself using regularly from your phone will do wonders for your productivity.

Set yourself a time to finish work (say 6pm) and then re-download them after that. You can also really help yourself by leaving your phone in a different room. It seems silly but by having it out of reach and out of sight plus knowing that it is in a different room you will find that you are distracted less.

Like all changes it might take a while to get used to. I still find myself occassionally reaching for my phone when its not there.

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© 2020 Sam Loyd. All rights reserved.