Okay, disclaimer: I don’t know how to stop procrastinating (no one really does), but over the course of my four years at Deakin, I have managed to pick up some tips and tricks to try and keep it to a minimum.
1. Your phone.
For the love of God, just get off your phone. Put it down, you’ll be okay, I swear. And by ‘put it down’ I mean physically away from you. Out of arm’s reach, in another room, buried under a pile of cushions where you can’t see the notifications popping up to tell you what’s trending on Twitter. Seriously, it’s like a reflex for me to pick up my phone and open Instagram and start scrolling. As soon as my attention drifts for a second, I’m deep in cat videos before I even realise I’ve stopped writing my essay. You can get apps that lock your phone so you can’t use them, or that incentivise you to log off. This one plants a seed, and a tree slowly grows taller the longer you leave your phone for. Added bonus: for each tree you grow, you earn coins which can be spent planting real trees through the charity Trees for Future. I mean, sustainability and productivity? That’s the dream, folks!
2. Be realistic.
Things take time. Sure, maybe you can write that essay the night before it’s due, but is it really going to be very good? (We all know that one annoying person who can actually pull a great essay out of thin air in under ten hours, but it’s probably not you, okay? I’m sorry, I’m telling you for your own good, I swear). I fully understand life can get in the way of best intentions, so my advice is to start early. Half-watch something crappy on Netflix while you do your research, by all means, but do it early. Then when you accidentally binge-watch the really good stuff, you’ll still have time to get your essay done. This is especially helpful for assignment-clusters where you suddenly find you have a week to write three 2000 word essays.
3. Organise yourself.
Use EndNote or Scrivener or any of the other wonderful programs that are free to access and will help you get your life together. You already know what you like. If you’re me, you like programs that let you obsessively tab, categorise, and sub-folder things. When I’m writing an essay, I like to compile all of my research in one place. I organise it by quotes from each article I’ve read, and I’ll highlight it according to my main points or themes so that I can write my essay alongside it and easily skim for supporting evidence without losing my momentum. If you don’t like to toggle screens, then spend an extra couple of dollars at Officeworks to get organised with some cute notebooks (or more than a couple of dollars—let’s be real, nobody can resist the lure of fresh stationery).
4. Power playlists.
Thanks to our notification pinging society and my freakishly good hearing, noise is something that bothers me like nothing else. Solution? Noise-cancelling headphones and strategic soundtracks. I can’t do music with words because it’s just a different layer of distraction, but I love a bit of classical piano. Pro tip: layer smooth jazz with rain sounds and a crackling fireplace and you’ve got yourself a faux-cosy setup that is chill but not too chill (there are YouTube channels that provide this kind of ambiance). Spotify has a great range of study-focused playlists: this article lists some of them by genre if you want a shortcut.
This is a concept that most of us probably associate with face masks, but it’s a bit deeper than that. Self-care is not just about bubble baths or a cheeky glass of wine when you’re feeling down. The point is to look after yourself long-term. So, if staying up til 2am and powering through that last body paragraph is productive for you, then that’s great—enjoy a sleep-in and congratulate yourself. For me, late night writing sessions usually result in reading my work back the next day and finding it to be mostly rambling with just a touch of gibberish. Plus, I’m totally the kind of person who needs a solid eight hours of sleep, or I become a grunting, grumbling troll-human. So instead, I go to bed and get some sleep so that I can be more productive the next day. Do what works for you, but be kind to yourself along the way.
Let’s get real for a second. Do you know why people procrastinate? Yes, it’s because we’re lazy and social media has ruined our attention span and we’re all addicted to brain-numbing technology. But also, we’re afraid. If you’re like me and you have a crippling need to achieve, then tackling big projects is actually kind of scary, because they matter. It’s easy to slip into a restless cycle of self-loathing where you switch to playing a video game or watching Netflix rather than actually trying at something you might fail at. When I find myself in this kind of self-sabotaging behaviour, I try to give myself a pep talk: I am capable, and I can do this. It helps to enlist a bestie to help you if you’re not great at self-motivation.
7. Reward yourself.
It helps to have something to look forward to. I know the ‘treat-yo-self’ mindset can be dangerously hard to get back out of, but when you finally finish that project that took you way longer than it probably should have, you deserve to give yourself a break! Have a cupcake, read something non-academic, catch up with a friend, just do something that makes you feel good.
So, to sum up: everyone procrastinates, and technology can be wildly distracting, and writing essays is kind of hard work! At least maybe now you can keep the procrastination to a minimum, or even just pretend that looking for the perfect Spotify playlist is part of your productive process.