Life — Fending off Procrastination

We all know what procrastination feels like. It sucks when you run out of time to handle what needs doing and you’re forced to do everything at once, only doing a passable job with the time constraint. I’m sure I’m not the only one that has been given a major ten page essay to do months prior to it being due, only to write the entire thing in one sitting on what would otherwise be a relaxing Sunday. You tell yourself that you’re never going to let this happen again, and it probably isn’t even a full month before you rescind that promise.

I’m not going to say it’s easy to stop procrastinating. It’s a habit, and a rewarding one at that. You reward yourself early by relaxing when you should be working, so when the situation comes and goes, you can’t remember it being entirely bad because it started off so well. But you can’t train a dog to sit by giving out treats followed by directions. That’s just not how it works, and our brains are programmed the same way.

There are two ways that I’ve found out of this hole, and unfortunately, my experience says these solutions are only case-by-case, and not cures to the disease that is procrastination, but perhaps with vigilant and unyielding practice they can turn into habit. The first way is what I’m sure many people have heard, and that is to parcel out the assignment. Work on it for an hour every other day or so, depending on what the assignment is. Even if you end up getting to that fateful Sunday night with a half-finished essay, it still yields some success, because now you only have to work half as hard as you would have without trying at all. I’ve personally found this method to be the worst, because its hard to think “Oh, I’ve got free time today, I should spend it working on the essay.” Rather, you’d say to yourself “Oh, man that was a long day of work and/or school. I can’t wait to relax!” and you continue to do that to yourself until you realize that you’ve spent no actual time on it. (Plus, I personally have a hard time devoting only one hour on something, even if its video games! If I’m working on something, I’m giving it all my attention which means I need a good chunk of free time that day.)

The method that I prefer is what I call reverse procrastination: you get everything done immediately, the first chance you get. This gives you the most time to relax afterwards, and the feeling is amazing. I can only recall a few times I’ve pulled this off, because it’s incredibly difficult to jump on something like a ten page essay as soon as its assigned when you doubtlessly have other things to do, but if you can get it done, it’s incredible. You can sit down with your free time and think “Do I have anything I need to be doing?” and then remember you already finished the essay that isn’t due until two weeks from now and you get an extra sense of happiness and accomplishment every time you think about it. Rather than this essay being a stress inducer, you’ve just managed to make thinking about it a stress reliever, and it makes your life so much easier.

Now, I totally get that saying “Just do the thing,” is a terrible way to stop procrastinating. To make it easier on yourself, target things that you cannot procrastinate on. Let’s say you’re taking five classes in high school or college (doesn’t matter). Tell yourself whenever you get an assignment in specific class X, you do that assignment immediately. You handle the other classes like normal, but for that one class, challenge yourself to do everything as soon as possible. As you’re doing this, you’ll find that you probably enjoy that class more than the others, or at least more than you think you would have, because that class is not a source of any stress whatsoever. This advice doesn’t have to be school related. It could be something along the lines of your job, or housework/chores, etc. Take one piece of your life that is a constant source of stress, and tackle it ruthlessly, compressing all the air out like a plastic bag with a hole in it. If you can manage to do that, tackle two things. If this works, keep adding more until deadlines don’t stress you out anymore.

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