“I promise I will never procrastinate again for as long as I live.” This is the promise I made to myself as I gulped down a fresh cup of nearly black coffee while sitting at IHOP in the middle of the night writing case briefs for my Media Law class.
Something happens to your brain when you push it to operate early into the morning. I just wanted to cry. And sleep. And cry. I was not sitting at IHOP with a friend from class because we particularly loved the food, but because everywhere else in town was closed. And IHOP had coffee and a place to plug our laptops in.
The case briefs were a cruel semester long project to remind students they should never consider going to law school and a even crueler joke on the college procrastinators. Mainly me.
August-“I have all semester? I am sure I will finish this in no time.”
November- “I should really get started on those case briefs.”
December-“At IHOP crying over black coffee while writing a semester’s worth of case briefs the night before they are due.”
Not my finest moment.
I am happy to say that I did finish the case briefs and was able to keep enough caffeine in my system to drive to school, turn them in, and drive home to go to sleep. But that night, that moment, was when I really discovered I had a problem.
I wish I could say that was the last time I procrastinated on an assignment. But I can say that the memory of black coffee at a cold IHOP in the middle of night has propelled me into working ahead more than once. I am not perfect by any means, but I have learned a few things about how to beat procrastination.
Create margin in your life. Margin, space, room. I want to create room in my life to do the things I want to do. And not always have to be consumed by my responsibilities. A few months ago, I gave myself the challenge to try not to bring work home. Instead of trying to finish everything on Friday, I spread my tasks out over the week and actually scheduled a day for them to be completed. When I am at work, I work. Hard. Because I know that my reward will be peaceful rest at home without an unfinished assignment hanging over my head.
Does this mean I never bring work home on the weekends? No, but it is getting more and more rare. As I am learning the importance of creating space in my life, I am learning that procrastination is not a dragon I have to fight, but simply a creature I have to outsmart. I have to plan my way around procrastination. As soon as I get an assignment, I make a deadline for myself and I stick to it. This may be something that comes naturally to some people, but I have actually had to work really hard to train myself to do this.
Do the hard things now. This is something I have struggled with since high school. It is really easy to complete the simple tasks right away, but the hard things, the tasks I am dreading are usually the ones that I end up procrastinating on (Media Law Case Briefs). I am slowly learning that if I start with the hard things, I will have more energy to deal with them. This is translating into other areas of my life as well, like not running from conflict, but facing it head on.
Make shorter lists. I am a list maker. I have lists on lists on lists. But there is nothing more discouraging than seeing a huge list of to-dos at the end of the day that you did not have time to complete. What I have started to do is make a short list of the things that absolutely need to be done that day. Usually no more than five things. Then, when I finish that list I feel like a champion and sometimes I even have time for another task or two. There is no greater feeling than a completed to-do list at the end of the day. And a list of 22 things may not get finished and will leave you feeling like a failure.
Take Breaks. Sometimes when I am powering through my to-do list, I feel like my brain is melting and that is when I usually want to quit and leave all my tasks for another time, which breeds procrastination. The solution is to simply take a break. Sometimes I actually set a timer on my phone for five or ten minutes and go for a walk or read an article or blog that I enjoy. The key to this is to actually go back to your task when the timer goes off. With a renewed energy and focus, the tasks you have set for the day can be accomplished.
These are just a few things I have learned over the past few years that work for me. What do you do to beat procrastination?