Ah, procrastination. We have all encountered it at one point or another – some more than others. I am definitely guilty of it. I am the queen of procrastination and not proud of it. The amount of all-nighters I have pulled in order to finish a hand-in is ridiculous. Over the years, being a serial procrastinator has taught me a thing or two about how to get your shit together and get things done.
The thing about procrastination is that, at the back of your mind, you know you should be doing something else. So you feel guilty which, in turn, makes you feel even less motivated. Talk about a vicious cycle. There is also something I like to call “productive procrastination”: doing productive tasks, such as dishes, laundry, sorting through paperwork, in order to avoid what you should be doing. Whatever type of procrastinator you are, however often you push off tasks until the last minute, here are a few tips that hopefully will help you win more battles against procrastination.
Get ready for the task at hand
Getting ready for something is a sure way of giving you some momentum to get going. Firstly, the movement will make you feel less sluggish. Second, when you prepare yourself to do something by, say, taking a shower, putting your hair up, putting on your favourite workout gear or whatever else you need to do to get ready, it gets your mind ready to start that activity. So get up and get ready for whatever it is that you need to do.
Dedicate a space to work (and work only!)
Find a space in your home that you can dedicate to being productive: it could be your desk, a space at your dining room table, a coffee table, an armchair… Avoid making it your bed: you want to keep that your place to rest and sleep. And don’t choose a spot where you will constantly disturbed/forced to move. So after you have chosen a place where you can focus on your work, make sure that you only use that space when you are being productive. This will let your brain know that once you have a seat there, it’s time to work. It will make focusing much easier for you.
Have a tidy workspace
This goes hand-in-hand with the point made above: keep your workspace clear of any clutter. This will help you focus more because a tidy space = a tidy mind. Spend some time on making your workspace clean and motivational. You can add a plant, a lamp, stationery, a candle, even a moodboard if you really want to up your motivation (more on that later). Make sure you’ve got everything you need with you there so you aren’t getting up every 2 minutes and losing your focus.
Block out distractions
Before you start working, make sure that you block out anything that is going to distract you from what you have to be doing. We all get distracted by different things so I won’t list all of the things you might need to block out while you try to do work. But a few common distractions are phones, pets, flatmates, noise, but there are many more. Make a list of possible distractions and write down how you can block them out while you work: you can close your door, put on some headphones, play some classical music (I swear by it to stay focused), turn your phone on silent or leave it in another room, tell the people you live with not to disturb you, etc.
I recently downloaded an app called Forest. You may have heard of it because it’s quite popular. It does cost £1.99 but it really is worth every single penny. I am very bad for getting distracted and grabbing my phone to google a random thought I’ve just had. The way Forest works is simple: you set yourself a timer (between 5 minutes and 2 hours) and during that time, the plant you selected grows. If you leave the app, the tree will wither away, so you don’t leave the app! It has honestly been game-changing. So if you have trouble staying focused on a task at hand or if you’re on your phone when you should be doing work, try this app.
Starting is the hardest part of any given task. Sitting down and forcing yourself to do it takes the most self-discipline. So just sit yourself down for 10 minutes. 10 minutes really isn’t a long time, so sit down for that amount of time – you can even set an alarm for yourself – and just start doing the task. Chances are that once you start, you will get into the flow of working and when your timer goes off, you’ll just turn it off and keep on working.
Starting also has a lot to do with the above-mentioned distractions. If you’re on your phone too much for example, set time limits for apps or ask someone to take away your phone and only give it back once you have finished a certain task. If you are finding yourself practising “productive procrastination”, write a list of these tasks you feel like have to be done and do one each time you’ve ticked off something from your to-do list.
Planning what needs to be done and making to-do lists is one of the best ways to beat procrastination. Making a daily (and a weekly) to-do list will help you ease your thoughts slightly. I don’t think there is anything more stressful than constantly thinking “oh, I can’t forget to do this! And I also have that to do later and I really can’t forget to do this or else I’ll be in trouble!” Just writing that gives me anxiety. So to make your life slightly less stressful, put these things down in your planner or on a sheet of paper.You can also use Google Keep if you enjoy having your to-do lists on your phone and laptop. That way you can access them wherever you are.
Planning your day can also be very beneficial to stop procrastinating. Set yourself times to do work, to eat, to relax, to do chores, etc. That way, you will be able to hold yourself more accountable and your brain will be tricked into attending these “appointments”. When doing this, make sure you add times for all these tasks and avoid going over-time, even if you feel like you’re in a good flow. Just write down what you were planning to continue doing on this task and move on to the next one in your schedule.
Also, don’t worry if you don’t finish everything on your to-do list. Choose 3 priority tasks that need to get done that day. If you don’t finish all the other ones, it’s fine because you’ve finished the ones that you needed to finish. And if you’re not able to complete all 3 of your priority tasks, don’t beat yourself up! Sometimes we underestimate the time needed for certain tasks; so learn from it and become better at managing your time in the future.
It’s so important to stay hydrated, I don’t need to tell you that. So make sure that you have a glass or bottle of water with you that you refill throughout the day. Avoid sodas and too much caffeine. Instead, stick to water and herbal teas as much as you can. You will feel more energised and ready to smash all your work.
As well as staying hydrated, giving your body and brain fuel to complete tasks is important. Try sticking to foods that won’t make you feel sluggish. I have recently discovered energy balls – there are many recipes online – and they’re a great pick-me-up. I just mix almond butter with maple syrup, chopped dates, chia seeds and GF oats. They’re delicious – send me a message on Instagram if you want me to post the recipe in the future! Nuts and fruit are good, oatcakes will give you a boost of energy. Have a browse online and find the best snacks for you!
Set alarms for regular, short breaks
When working, it is really important to take breaks so that our brain can take a breather and come back to the task more focused. The average human attention span lies anywhere between 30 and 50 minutes. Set alarms for however long you want to work (I tend to work best for 30-35 minutes) and once it goes off, set another timer for a 5-10 minute break. During that break, get up and move around. You could use this time to make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, a snack, put on a wash, let some fresh air in, do some stretches, go play with your pet… Avoid scrolling mindlessly through social media though! Also, when the timer signals the end of your break, you have to get back to work or else procrastination will get the better of you.
In order to maintain your motivation and avoid procrastinating, it’s important to reward yourself for things that you have successfully ticked off your to-do list. Whether that’s ordering your favourite food, watching a movie, spending some time on your hobby or calling someone, make sure that you work hard but also play hard. Mentioned above is a good way to stay productive for a set amount of time. Repeat this “work/short break” rhythm for a chosen number of hours and then reward yourself by doing an activity you want to do.
Figure out your why
I lightly touched on this subject earlier on, but figuring out why you’re doing these tasks will help you stay motivated in the long run. Ask yourself right now, why are you doing the things on your to-do list? Is it for your career dreams? For your mental health? For your self-growth? Because you want to start your own business? To save up for a trip or a house? To build a future with your significant other? To care for your family? The possibilities are endless and unique to you. You can have as many whys as you want.
However, if you have a lot of them especially, I suggest creating a moodboard. Print out pictures that represent what you want in life and stick them down on a surface with quotes, stickers and whatever else you feel like adding onto your board. If you need help making one, check out @theself_carekit on Instagram, she has an amazing tutorial on how to make moodboards (she’s also made an IGTV video about that). Once you have made it, keep it somewhere you can see it every day and go back to it whenever you feel like you need to be reminded of your why.
So here are my tips on how to beat procrastination. It’s not an easy battle but it’s worth picking for sure! I hope that these can help you and I look forward to seeing you again soon!