Why does it have to be so easy to start a new season of Grey’s Anatomy when I know I should be studying for my calculus test? Why can’t I resist the urge to scroll through my Twitter feed when I know I still have pages of pages of French vocab to memorize?
My name is Irina, and I’m a procrastinator.
Procrastination has always been my biggest problem when it comes to school. It doesn’t take me very long to learn terminology or write an article, but it’s so incredibly difficult to pull myself away from a myriad of distractions – most notably, my phone and my Kindle – and actually get to work.
In the past month, this has gotten worse – the more pressing assignments, applications, and decisions become, the harder I try to ignore them. That is, until the “Panic Monster” wakes up. Deadlines sneak up on me, and I end up staying up until 3 in the morning finishing everything.
This “work ethic” has worked pretty well so far.
But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I need to kick this bad habit. In February, when I’m filling out my supplementary applications for university, one all-nighter won’t cut it. And I can’t risk my entire future for a few extra episodes of Gossip Girl.
The in-class procrastination quiz we all took showed me that my procrastination is rooted mainly in value problems. Basically, I put off tasks that I don’t enjoy doing. To solve this problem, I have to make myself appreciate the assignments I don’t really want to do. To do so, I will implement two specific strategies, or “critical moves”.
One factor that affects how much I enjoy my work is the difficulty level – I want a challenge, but not an impossible one.
All Nelson math textbooks have at least 30 simple, repetitive problems for each lesson, but only about 3 or 4 questions that really make you think. When I do math homework, instead of completing all 30 of the easy problems, I will choose to do a few from each page, complete the challenge questions, and then look for more complex and engaging material from the Waterloo website or Khan academy.
On the other hand, English doesn’t come as easily to me. Instead of looking at an essay analysis assignment as a huge, terrifying assignment, I can divide it into smaller, simpler tasks – I’ll begin by taking notes, then writing an outline, and only then will I write the actual paper.
By enriching easy tasks and simplifying daunting ones, I’ll make my assignments from every class much more enjoyable.
Another factor impacting how enjoyment of a task is its relevance to my long-term goals. To increase my perceived value of a task, I can try to connect it to these objectives. A single French assignment doesn’t have much of an impact on my future success, but doing it well will bring me closer to achieving my goals. And I don’t mean “it’ll raise my top 6 average”. Everything I do for French class improves my ability to communicate in the language – whether it be learning new vocabulary or just practicing a presentation, every assignment brings me one step closer to being bilingual. This ultimate goal is a much better motivator than a single grade.
But even after taking these steps to motivate myself and get my work done, how will I know that I’ve stopped procrastinating? How can something like that be measured?
Well, currently, my bedtime is constantly fluctuating. I’ll go to bed at 3 two nights in a row, and then I’ll be out at 9 the next. This awful sleep schedule leaves me tired every day. If I start dividing my work into relatively even chunks, I’ll be able to fix this pattern – if I start going to bed before or around midnight most nights, I’ll know that I’m on track.
I will also pay attention to what kind of work I avoid the most – if my strategy works, there won’t be anything I particularly dread doing.
Obviously, I have to break my solution into smaller steps, or shrink the change. “Just stop procrastinating” isn’t very helpful, and quite honestly, it sounds impossible. I described the specific strategies I would use to make my work more enjoyable, but instead of implementing them all at once in all my courses, I can begin by focusing on one subject, then slowly broadening this focus. I will set a goal for a single course, then figure out how to achieve it. My first goal is to ensure that on the night before a math test, I am not trying to learn any of the lessons in the last minute. As soon as I get home from school, I will review that day’s lesson, complete the homework and enrichment questions I find, and write down any questions I still have. That way, I will have already practiced every concept and cleared up any confusion by test day.
A final important aspect of my plan that I have neglected to mention is changing the environment in which I work. Whenever my phone buzzes, I feel an irresistible urge to check my notifications. Chances are, it’s an irrelevant message from a group chat, or an Instagram like, but what if it’s something important? It’s pretty much impossible to concentrate with these constant interruptions, so my first step is obvious: leaving my phone outside of my room while I work. After temporarily abandoning my phone, closing all irrelevant tabs, and muting all laptop notifications, I will have created an environment in which I can work without distraction. This good working environment, along with the strategies I have described will help me achieve my goal.
Procrastination has continuously caused me stress since elementary school. I think it’s about time this stopped.
My name is Irina, and soon, I will no longer be a procrastinator.