(After procrastinating by reading this post… about avoiding procrastination)

“ Procrastination has taught me how to do 30 minutes of work in 8 hours, and 8 hours of work in 30 minutes ”
– @whisper

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. You have approximately 48 hours until your essay deadline and you haven’t even started the reading yet. The new season of Made in Chelsea (or whatever crap we see as so necessary in our lives) started last night while you were on a bar crawl so you absolutely have to catch up today. This basically sums up my first year of uni mixed in with a lot of ‘I don’t give a fuck’ and thinking that my final grade would obviously be based on how fast I can strawpedo (can’t even do one) rather than my essays. I would do anything to avoid working, my procrastination knew no bounds. So much so, that I actually started to impress myself.

Of course, I had some advice from parents and suchlike, telling me things like “just focus!” (if it was honestly that simple I’d be an astronaut by now) and to clear my study space so I had nothing to be distracted by. This advice may have been sound back before laptops/iPads/smartphones/selfie sticks were invented but if I did that today, I would be left with a pen and nothing else. And quite honestly I could probably find a way to turn it into some sort of transmitting device to access Instagram. 

Alas, it could not last forever if I actually wanted to graduate with some sort of pride left so when third year came around, I decided to get my shit on lock-down. I couldn’t afford to find endless ways of avoiding my work when it felt like the fate of world lay in the hands of my dissertation. So I came up with a plan. One which I am so kindly going to share with you today. (Please don’t sue me if this doesn’t work – you do have to have some sort of your own will power).

  1. Set a goal, but be realistic. There is nothing worse than writing a To-Do List but at end of the day having nothing ticked off. I used to do that all the time, wake up on Monday morning ready to turn over my new and productive leaf (for the 100th time that term) and write a to do list for the day. Of course just in time for my 11 o’clock snack, my new drive was all but dead and by the end of the day I’d have started writing in things I did yesterday so I had something to tick. I’ll admit, it was a low point. So that said, don’t overdo it or you’re just setting yourself up to fail.  So when you write your list (and you should), these are my tips:
    1. Keep your daily goals and your weekly goals separate. Or you can find yourself becoming overwhelmed by the length of your list and give up before you even begin.
    2. Prioritise. Put the most important to-dos first to avoid filling your morning with less important tasks like picking up your laundry when you should be finishing a PowerPoint.
    3. Give yourself some back-up time. Instead of beating yourself up when you don’t quite reach your goal for the day, be comforted that you’ve already factored in some time tomorrow to finish anything off. A lot of this comes down to time management, but I have faith in you.
    4. Keep it to yourself. You don’t need to go around broadcasting your To-Do List to anyone that will listen – if you end up not completing something you’ll have to put up with endless questions of “did you finish it?” and “what happened?”. I certainly don’t have time to try and justify myself to others when I’m already busy justifying it to myself. Guilt is a terrible emotion so don’t let yourself or others encourage it.

2. Time yourself. A friend advised me to try timing my productivity. The idea was I set my stopwatch on my phone and every time I stopped being productive I would stop the timer and only start it again once I got back to work. That first day was a serious wake up call. I would spend hours in the library, often from 8-6. Day one, guess how many productive hours I had…two. TWOFUCKINGHOURS out of 10. I mean come on. That’s just not okay. Once I was aware of actually how much I was procrastinating I knew something had to change. So it became a challenge. Each day I would aim for more hours of productivity and less hours of pissing around. Eventually I got to the point where I was working more hours than I was not and had the evidence to prove it. So yeah, time yourselves people – you’ll thank me in the long run.

3. Get to the library as soon as possible!

It honestly used to baffle me that some of my friends would rather sleep all day and head off to the library at 6pm until 2am. That is just so impractical and antisocial and basically a recipe for a stressful disaster. Imagine your uni work is like a job and do a full working day. I would SO much rather get to the library at 8-9am and be able to leave by 5pm, leaving the whole evening to do as I please. I get it, some people are ‘night owls’ but that sort of routine is not reality, unless you plan on only working night-shifts. Let’s be real, at the time, uni (and third year especially) feels like the most stressful thing you will ever experience. Unfortunately, it’s not, so you need to start learning how to manage your stress now. And personally, I really believe that you have to maintain a balance in your life. Make sure you leave time to hang out with your friends, go to the gym, cook a nice dinner for yourself or watch pointless television with your housemates while you discuss the pros and cons of shagging your neighbour. These things are important as you need to be able to switch your work brain off and not let your studies and your stress take over your entire life.

4. Power Hours. My pal and I used to sit together in the library and basically get absolutely nothing done, distracting everybody in the process. So after one too many dirty looks from our fellow library-goers, we came up with ‘power hours’. The premise of this is very simple - set a timer for an hour (preferably on a watch) and PUTYOURPHONEAWAY!! Do not talk, do not browse Facebook/Twitter/Buzzfeed or whatever your go-to procrastinating website is and do nothing but work for a solid hour. This technique works well if you like working with friends (and are slightly competitive) because you can act as each other’s invigilators. And if you mess up you will be judged and you will lose. Because my friend and I have the brains of children and are incapable for concentrating for much more than a short amount of time, an hour worked well for us. But of course you can adapt this technique to yourself and change how long you want to ‘power’ for. Just make sure that whatever you choose, you stick to it!

5. Take breaks. And I advise having a set time for your breaks that you stick to everyday. This will help you to avoid taking sporadic and extended coffee breaks every 5 minutes. I scheduled three breaks for myself. Firstly, my morning coffee break, normally at about 11am. Stretch your legs, grab a coffee or a tea and have a quick catch up with your friends. But keep it short and sweet – 15/20 minutes. Next, LUNCH. Otherwise known as the best time of the working day. Go on, treat yourself, take an hour. Make sure you fuel up but not so much that you slip into the dreaded food coma, a sure way to make your productivity level drops to zero. And then of course there is the ‘afternoon snack’ break. Very important, very exciting, very quick – 15 minutes. Have something yummy and a quick natter then get back to it for that last push before home time.

So yeah, basically I followed these five excellent tips down the path of success and now you can too (you’re welcome)! Good luck!

Now stop reading this and get back to work.

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Written by Hannah Curnock Cook, 10 months ago