I’ll Do it Later…: Tips to Vanquish Procrastination

15 Nov

Are you making like my cat when you should be working?

We’ve all been there. Deadlines. Many times it’s a homework assignment due in a matter of days, perhaps it’s a project or exam that will come up weeks down the line. Sometimes, you have no real timetable for completion, making it even worse! If you’re currently enrolled in some sort of school (High School, University, etc) or are in a profession where deadlines are common, you’ll understand what I mean.

I know – often I procrastinate like it’s my job. Over the years I have gotten better (I was absolutely horrible in my grade school years before college) but I understand the feeling. As defined by Stay Focused, the application I use to help curb my procrastination habits:

The procrastinator is often remarkably optimistic about his ability to complete a task on a tight deadline; this is usually accompanied by expressions of reassurance that everything is under control. (Therefore, there is no need to start.) Lulled by a false sense of security, time passes. At some point, he crosses over an imaginary starting time and suddenly realizes, “Oh no! I am not in control! There isn’t enough time!”

Is that you? It’s certainly been me. There’s no definite way to end procrastination – different things work well for different people. Plus, if it’s a really ingrained habit, breaking it is difficult, even if you complete a task before the last-minute. But even so, certain things have helped me, so here are my tips to kick procrastination’s ass!

Write down the task and due date – where you’ll see it!

The “where you’ll see it” is probably the most important part. How many of us have dutifully gotten a desk calendar or day planner and written an assignment down a week ahead of time, only to remember right before it’s due? If you can’t see when things are coming around the bend, make sure you remind yourself in a way that you’ll remember.


  • Get a monthly desk calendar – that way you can see your projects that month at a glance, not just what you have due that day or that week.
  • Write up post-its and place them in highly visible places – if you see “schedule an eye appointment” on your bathroom mirror, it’s hard to forget!

Plan Ahead

Some things are relatively simple – sending a quick email, for instance. Other things need a greater amount of time – planning an event or studying for an exam come to mind. It’s best to get these big deal items out-of-the-way quickly to see the best results – so plan accordingly. If you think you need a week to do something, make sure you give yourself that time!
  • Schedule your tasks not just by the day you need to finish them, but also by when you need to start working on them. For an exam, just don’t note the day and time it’s happening, pick an appropriate starting point so you aren’t scrambling to a professor’s office hours the day of the test because of a last-minute question.

Break down big tasks into small steps

When you have a big, abstract task to get done, for instance “Write Sociology Paper”, or “Study for Chemistry Exam”, it can seem daunting. For many people, if they don’t know where to start, they’ll hardly start at all, so it will sit on the top of their to-do list, sadly going undone until it is almost too late. Don’t let this be you! Take the time to consider what doing these tasks entail, exactly. Do you need to print out review notes? Re-read a selected set of chapters? Go over in-class quizzes? Write those down instead. That way, when you head to the library (or wherever), you’ll know ahead of time what you intend to carry out and how.
  • Breaking these tasks down sequentially may help. When planning programs for my residents, I might spend one day making flyers, the next printing them and posting them, and the day after that, reminding them to come out via e-mail. If I know what order I need to work in, I don’t have to stare at my to-do list wondering which to start on first.
  • For an added dose of productivity, arrange your to-do list not by task, but by “place”. For instance, if you have various things to get done at a computer lab (print lecture notes, send e-mails, scan pictures, etc), group them together so you can get them done at the same time.

Crack the whip – on yourself

I know, I know – some of these sound great. And many times, you may try them and realize how gratifying it is to finish something ahead of time, allowing you to sleep the night before without worry…but old habits die hard. Good intentions are often not enough and you’ll find yourself stalking random high school acquaintances on Facebook and reading semi-interesting articles on Wikipedia and not doing any sort of work. You may know in the back of your mind that a single sheet of paperwork will take you fifteen minutes to complete, at max – but you just need to finish this tenth game of Solitaire! Sometimes you need to give yourself some tough love. This requires some self-control because it’s hilariously easy to cheat sometimes, but sometimes a gentle shove in the right direction is all you need.
  • Move out of your room – Sometimes eliminating the home environment can make you easily more productive. Even though I have the same amount of distractions at my disposal, I’m much less likely to mess around on Livejournal in the campus computer lab than in my room.
  • Eliminate distractions manually – this is where things like Stay Focused come in. Sometimes you have to give yourself the extra reduced incentive to mess around, unfortunately. If you’re writing a paper, shut down your internet browser, turn off the television and set your phone to silent.
  • Delay gratification – This one works for me, sometimes. Maybe I have a craving for something from the vending machine, or I want to watch the latest episode of Modern Family on Hulu. Perhaps I want to hit the town with my friends. I’ll refuse to indulge my desires until my task gets completed, so I’m forced to get it done if I want the reward.
  • Set an ahead-of-schedule deadline – When I write papers, I usually try to finish them a day ahead of time so they someone can critique them at my campus’ Writing Center. While it is great to have another set of eyes read my work, it’s also a great way to make sure I finish my papers before the night before or day of.
These are some tips that have served me well in the past – but I’d love to hear more suggestions! If you have more ideas, or just suffer from procrastination yourself, drop me a line in the comments!
xoxo, Tara

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