Two weeks ago, I sat at my laptop, developing my anti-procrastination plan. After the many, many sleepless nights of the previous weeks, I was determined to put an end to my worst habit. My plan rested on one main idea: making my homework seem more enjoyable, which I would accomplish using two strategies: making everything into a surmountable challenge and connecting assignments to my long-term objectives.
strategy #1: make it a challenge
As I said before, I love a challenge. I love thinking through tough physics problems. I love developing solutions to complex case studies. What I don’t love is facing a seemingly impossible task and thinking, “I give up.” When something is too easy or too hard, I lose all motivation to do it. I get up from my desk and curl up in bed with a murder mystery instead. To stop myself, I planned to “enrich easy tasks and simplify daunting ones”.
I began by implementing this strategy for French class. Instead of memorizing vocabulary by writing all the words and translations out by hand twenty times, I used Quizlet to study them. Quizlet has a “learn” function that varies the question type and difficulty as you make progress. After I had reached “100% mastery” of the material, I took several tests, automatically generated based on the preferences I indicated – Did I want to translate from French to English? Did I want multiple choice or just short answer? The variety of possible question types made studying much less mundane and repetitive, while the randomized online tests saved me hours I would have otherwise spent writing my own. I had found an effective way to make one of my major assignments much less overwhelming and time-consuming.
Next I tackled math and English – I made my math work more challenging, and my English assignment simpler.
I stopped doing all the math homework assigned, focusing instead on the more challenging problems and searching for harder problems online. I divided up the notes I had to take on 1984 into more manageable chunks and set deadlines for each chapter.
By the second day, I found myself lying in bed, scrolling through social media, and dreading my responsibilities less often. Once I made the effort to alter the task (in calculus), or the process of completing it (in English and French), nothing really seemed tedious or impossibly difficult any longer. This strategy took only a few extra minutes to implement and was incredibly motivating.
strategy #2: make it important
It’s easy to think, “hey, in the long run, this assignment won’t really matter.” It’s comforting to say to yourself, “the world will go on if I fail one test.” And yes, while these statements are true, they’re not an excuse for procrastination. And a fun fact about these internal reassurances? They’re only reassuring until the night before the deadline.
I thought that if I could connect all my assignments to my long-term goals, I would be more likely to do them on time. Boy, was I wrong.
This second strategy was much less effective than the first. Complete fluency in French is desirable, and so are the analytical and problem-solving skills calculus helps develop, but the possibility of long-term, abstract results didn’t really motivate me to do any work.
I measured my success by examining my sleep schedule. Everyone knows that a teenager needs at least 8 hours of sleep per night, and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d consistently followed that rule. I hoped that by stopping myself from procrastinating I’d be able to get to bed before midnight every night, guaranteeing at least 7 hours of rest.
Figure 1: Hours of Sleep Per Day: depicts the amount of sleep I got the night before (i.e. the night of Sept. 26-27, I got 6.5 hours of sleep)
As you can see, I was reasonably successful. Naturally, I got a lot more sleep over the weekends than during the school week, but I almost always reached or exceeded 7 hours.
Throughout this period, I used both strategies daily. Although my dedication to kicking my procrastination habit fluctuated based on my mood, especially after long, stressful days, I forced myself to stay on track, at least until the long weekend.
While I tried my best to meet the deadlines I set for myself, there were some obstacles out of my control. Obviously, there was a big dip in how much I slept the night before October 3rd and 4th. Those just happened to be the last few days before a huge French group project was due. The ample class time we were given was wasted on bickering and insults, leaving us to finish everything in a last-minute rush.
Overall, I felt much more rested in the past two weeks. I was going to bed between midnight and 1 a.m. every day rather than staying up until 3 one night then crashing at 9 the next. I consider this a sign of progress.
Although I want to continue working on my procrastination issue, I need to modify my plan. While challenging myself was effective, connecting my short-term projects to my long-term goals had virtually no effect on my motivation. Instead, I plan to focus on something I found extremely helpful – breaking down my assignments into smaller chunks and making a schedule for each day.
Rather than spending an entire evening reviewing derivatives and scrambling to finish taking notes on 1984 the next, I’ll schedule, say, 1 math lesson and 10 pages of notes per day. Giving study sessions some structure and setting daily goals seems to be a common theme in all the “How to Stop Procrastinating” articles I’ve read over the past two weeks, and it doesn’t hurt to try.
Honestly, I was under the illusion that this would be easy, as soon as I made an effort. But I’ve realized that I can’t just follow a plan for a few weeks and suddenly stop procrastinating for good. If I want to get rid of my worst, most destructive habit, I’ll have to make a conscious effort every day. Someday I’ll be able to resist the call of Netflix.