Stop Procrastinating, the Intelligent Way
The usual “advice” given to students who cannot seem to stop procrastinating is typically just stating the obvious: “Put your phone away!” “Just close Facebook!” But for those of us who have felt almost helpless as we watched hours slip by despite how much we wanted to stop wasting time, it is clear that the solution to chronic procrastination is nowhere near that simple. I myself have been the worst of procrastinators at one point, but I was able to completely turn around and gain acceptance to Brown University, where I was very successful in and out of the classroom. In this process of changing my habits, I discovered that there is one key tactic to stop procrastinating: View yourself as a productive person who does not procrastinate, and develop a reputation for being just that. From here, focus will become a self-reinforcing cycle. And the best part? You can get to the point where you and those around you have this perception very quickly, and before it’s actually true.
In my first two years of high school, I procrastinated for hours every single day. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Youtube, and more would grab my attention, and hold it for hours. By the time I finished the rounds of all my open tabs and returned to my homework, half an hour had passed. As many students know, this creates a terrible cycle of getting discouraged and settling into the habit of procrastinating more.
But, one summer my mom presented me with a book, and called it my mandatory summer reading. Eat That Frog, read the title. It sounded strange, and I was not particularly interested. But I figured that if my mom expected me to read one book over a three month break, I would give it a look. I did not have any life-altering revelations reading the book, but I found it interesting and I finished it that summer. It was when I returned back to school the following year that things got interesting.
Doing my homework, I tried out some of the tactics discussed in Eat That Frog, and found they were actually quite helpful. I also told a couple friends about the tactics and that I’d read the book, and they poked some fun at me for it. Suddenly, I was the guy who did that kind of stuff, both in my eyes and my friends’. I hadn’t tried to be, or taken any serious steps towards it. But I was. To avoid procrastinating I did what others did not, like implementing researched techniques to focus, and reading a book on the subject. And this was the event that changed everything.
Knowing that I had taken steps to not be a procrastinator, and viewing myself as the person who did that, was the one of the most important factors in me becoming an incredibly focused and productive worker. Every time I reached for my cell phone, or opened a time wasting site, I became acutely aware of it like never before. Wait, I don’t do this, I would think to myself and return to my work. It is human nature to take more notice of actions that break from how you see yourself, and therefore changing your self-perception prevents a self defeating procrastination cycle from setting in without you even really realizing it.
Your perception of yourself with regards to procrastination is the key to changing your habits. Learning about the causes, equipping yourself with techniques like these, and blocking Facebook are all steps that help procrastination by themselves, but they should ultimately be building you towards this goal of changing your perception.
Just as important was that when I stopped seeing myself as a procrastinator, I stopped telling people that I was. And though I did not brag or talk constantly about how I was try to stop procrastinating, I did mention it if it came up in conversation. Now, I had set other people’s perceptions of me as someone who did not procrastinate. It is natural for people to want to live up to people’s expectations when they have set them. Whenever I was working in the library or another common space and would start taking out my phone or opening Facebook, I would catch myself. I had told people I was good about this; if they now saw me procrastinating I would look like I’d been making empty claims! And that’s the beauty of it. By telling people you do not procrastinate, you put yourself in a situation where you do not want people to see you procrastinating. You are essentially scared out of procrastinating whenever you are in a place where those you know might see. I did not do this intentionally, but when I noticed the effect I wished I had taken advantage of it years earlier. Just keep a book about procrastination in your bag for a while, or tell some friends about some cool tricks to focus that you learned about today while reading. It is as easy as this to quickly set new perceptions and expectations of you, ones that you will suddenly be motivated to live up to.
Getting to this point
So what should you do to can you reach this point, where you see yourself, and you are seen by your peers, as a productive person with the self control to limit procrastination. Quite simply, you just have to work towards not procrastinating, and start seeing yourself as someone working towards this. This begins to create the perception, which makes you better at actually not procrastinating, which strengthens the perception, thereby making you even better, and so on. Make some commitments to prove to yourself that you are someone who works at improving. Try a few of the tricks featured here in this article. Print out and read some articles, and put them on your desk as a reminder. Order a book and read just a little each day (this article here provides an argument for books being the single best way to learn new skills, habits and mindsets). If a related subject comes up, mention to friends and family that you’ve been reading book x and share with them cool point y. Invest a little of yourself and resources in becoming smarter about procrastination, and it becomes a self-fulfilling cycle.
Some of the steps I recommend are:
I hope that my experience can help show even the worst procrastinators that they can completely change their habits. You will be amazed at how much you can do when you take advantage of every minute, and you will absolutely thank yourself in the future for taking action today.
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