We have all done it. Our assignment is due in tomorrow, but I’ll just have one last look at Twitter. Then Facebook, then Instagram, then YouTube. Then more YouTube. Then a little more YouTube. Followed by one last YouTube video. Procrastination is an affliction that affects us all at some point. In fact, you are probably procrastinating right now…
Procrastinating? Well, the question you should ask yourself is….
Should I be at uni?
Procrastination is a psychological prod in the side. It is the brain’s way of telling you “Hey, I don’t really know why I am doing this, or, if I even want to do this. Let’s do something else.” And because you don’t know what that something is, you procrastinate.
I’ll explain that further shortly, I’ve just got a tweet – one sec….
Right, I’m back. It was nothing to worry about. Where was I? Oh yeah, procrastination…. When you avoid work, it means that your motivation isn’t strong enough. Why are you at university? Do you even know? Do you know what you want out of it? Do you know why you want that? Do you know how to achieve that outcome? If you answer any of these questions in an unconvincing fashion, should you be at university? I once went to watch Man City play football. It was horrible. Firstly, I felt completely alone. Because I was alone, the ground was empty. But secondly, I supported United! I had no reason to be there! My emotional involvement was zero. I didn’t feel the highs and lows of the game because they weren’t my team. Uni is the same. You have to be emotionally involved for it to be a success.
Funny, I spent the majority of that game playing on my phone. My reasons for being there were not strong enough, so other trivial activities suddenly seemed much more important. But, they were free tickets and I had plenty of leg room because the row in front was unoccupied. So all in all, not too much of a loss. However, it was essentially a waste of time.
Procrastination is your brain telling you that the activity you should be doing doesn’t mean enough to you. You aren’t emotionally involved enough. How do you create that emotional involvement? Well, I’ll explain.
What’s the cure?
Christopher Columbus wanted to discover an alternative trade route to Asia. He was convinced, much against popular wisdom, that the earth was round. He thought that by sailing in the opposite direction to the normal route, he would end up in China. He would approach it from the opposite side. Trouble was, a large land mass in the form of America stood in the way. Columbus landed in America, as opposed to China, and is now credited with its discover.
Columbus had a clear aim – to get to China. As he pursued his goal, he failed, but in failing, he achieved another goal. The discovery of America. In order to achieve his aim, he worked tirelessly. He planned, he persuaded, he recruited, he prepared. He knew what activities he needed to do to complete his goal, and he completed them with diligence and fervour. Columbus knew that if he took his eye off the ball, he would not complete his task. And so, he worked.
When he eventually met failure, he was able to make the best of it. He knew that navigating towards a goal is not a straight forward process. If you are to drive to London tomorrow, and meet with road works, you will take a diversion. You know your final destination is London. To get there, you need to navigate around the blocks in the road. You will make the decisions required to get you to your end destination. It may not be straight forward, but you will eventually arrive. In Columbus’s case, he never reached China. He thought that discovering a country was far superior to finding a new way to an old one.
By having an end result in mind, you are able to make better decisions. “Will this activity get me closer to my end goal?” If the answer is no, then do something different. You will also be able to evaluate every activity against this criteria. “Am I any closer to where I want to be?” No? Well turn around and try a different route.
If you never have an end in mind, your work will have no meaning or context. You will fail to see the point of what you are doing, and you will (you guessed it) procrastinate. By setting an end result, you have something concrete to aim for. All of your work will suddenly take on meaning. Is sending tweets propelling me towards my career in investment banking? No? Well, do something that will! The only way to stop procrastination is to know what you want, why you want it, and what you need to do to get there. If you are doing an activity that doesn’t get you closer to your desired outcome, you will procrastinate.
An end result creates emotional involvement. You now have a vested interest in your studies – it means something to you. Instead of playing on my phone at the City game, I could’ve made it my end goal to want City to lose. That would have got me emotionally involved. The look on the faces of all those former Chelsea fans would’ve been priceless….However, that would’ve given the game away and I probably would’ve met a sticky end. Although, I think I could’ve taken the three people sitting in the ten rows that surrounded me.
Work out what you want, and focus on activities that will get you there. Procrastination will melt away.
But, THE URGES!!!!
Even with the best end goal in the world, you will sometimes procrastinate. In some instances, it is just human nature. Plenty of people rely on will power. Well, will power is in short supply, save it for the really hard tasks such as getting out of bed or avoiding eating all the chocolate in the house.
Here are some practical tips to autopilot your will power: –
Turn off all notifications on your smartphone and computer
A notification is your phone being an attention-seeking two year old. It is screaming “Look at me, look at me”, and showing you a star jump or a hop when you look. It builds you up to see something important, and you are almost always met with the trivial. Take back control, look at your phone when you are good and ready. Be proactive.
Download the StayFocussed extension for chrome
“I’ll just nip on Facebook / Twitter / A N Other rubbish website that adds nothing to your life”. Trouble is, it is never just two minutes. You may be researching the French Revolution and how Louis XVI lost his swede, but the temptation to engage in the trivial will always be there. Download StayFocussed from the “Chrome Extension store”. This little baby allows you to limit time on certain websites. I suggest instantly putting all of the social networks on there, YouTube, and many news sites. You can then set a time limit for these sites. Remember, this time limit is collective. In other words, if you set 10 minutes, you will have a total of 10 minutes for the day on ALL of the blacklisted websites. You can set your time longer, but nothing focuses the mind more than having a limited time on Facebook. You find yourself asking “why am I even on here?” and other life-affirming questions of that ilk.
Make a rule: Open your computer only when you have a clear objective
Too often, I found myself going on my computer for no reason. I now keep a pad next to my machine, and write on it before I open the computer, what I am opening it for. If I can’t think of a clear objective, I don’t open it.
Front Load Deadlines
Make yourself a faux deadline weeks before the actual one. If you have ever worked in an office, and had an impending holiday, you will know the power of this. Somehow, when you have a holiday on the monday, all your work gets done on the friday beforehand. This little beauty is Parkinson’s law – a task expands to fill the time you give it. Well, give yourself less time. Set your deadline for the night you get the work. Get it killed off and done. Then relax!
Perfection is for idiots
In a language, the first 2000 words counts for 85% – 90% of the language. All of the other words takes years to learn and account for 15%. You will sound fluent if you can learn 2000 words. Learning the rest has a dwindling return. the time it takes isn’t necessarily worth the output it produces. The same can be said for work. There is a certain amount of work that will get you 80 – 90% of the marks. This will be a lot less than you think. The other 10 – 15% will be achieved by spending a lot longer time. But is it worth it? Probably not.
The best way to get fit is to do high intensity work outs in short bursts. The best way to do work is to do high intensity periods followed by complete rest. I recommend 1/2 hour units of work followed by 15 minutes rest.
Even with best intentions, procrastination can grab you by the proverbials and never let go. Create systems to help you avoid the dreaded slide.