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Four Steps to Fighting Procrastination: Saying Goodbye to That Monkey

To choose to undertake a task at a time was all well and good till the time came around to actually doing that task. I seemed to have a strong case of ‘I just really don’t want to’ or at certain times ‘if I don’t do it now, I will most definitely get in trouble’. In other words: a combination of the panic monster and the instant-gratification monkey all over again.

Ugh - I thought - I hadn’t killed the habit with introspection. Pained by this realization I decided to create a list. A list of every technique I know to keep me from incessantly clicking the Facebook or Instagram tab on my home-screen and to keep me on task. I had convinced myself that there was a sweet spot of perfect productivity and satisfaction. Hitting the grind felt so good once I was on the roll and I absolutely needed to find my system. An hour and a half of scrawling later - I had it.

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Step One: Lists

A big part of avoiding doing what I needed to do was imagining a big pile of tasks. If twenty tasks were compiled on five different lists instead - each with only four tasks under them - I immediately felt more inclined to complete them.

Creating a list on Google Keep particularly helped in separating these tasks into manageable chunks based off of different categories. I had notes titled food, errands, internship and study abroad along with the names of the four classes I was taking and the three organizations I was a part of.

Here’s the thing about these tasks – life (or in this case my professors) wouldn’t throw them at me if they truly were unachievable. In fact nothing is. I say this with conviction as I’ve finally internalized a particular quote that I loved while walking down the halls of one of the aerospace buildings at university.

‘I have learned to use the word impossible with the greatest caution’ – Wernher Von Braun (US-German-born rocket engineer 1912-1977)

It particularly struck me because of the words being supplemented with an image of the moon landing. I chuckled at the poster then and I laugh now thinking back to all the times I thought I couldn’t do something but did it anyway.

Step Two: Paper Scheduling

Now that I knew everything that I had to do and was willing to do them I had to find the time to do them – realistically. This was important. I would often have these nights where I felt like I wanted to finish four homework assignments, study for two classes, clean my room, do laundry and do the dishes all in one night. The more rational voice in my head interjected at these moments reminding me: sweetie it just doesn’t work that way.

To find the time I had to resort to the clean old fashioned way of using a printed schedule with the days of the week across the columns and the hours of the day down the rows. I started off with filling in all my commitments – things I couldn’t or wouldn’t compromise on - my classes, lunch, dinner, meetings for organizations and working out.

Everything empty was what I had to work with and the tasks on the list were filled into the empty slots based on importance. I told myself that this paper schedule was the ideal. I knew that in reality each week would be different – filled with late nights of giggling and watching movies with friends or alternatively late nights of homework assignments that turn into coffee fueled mornings.

Step Three: Electronic Scheduling

After accepting that life would get in the way I gave up on sticking to the ideal used Google Calendar to log in the reality. I color-coded all the essentials and even logged the chunks of time I napped to keep myself accountable.

Step Four: Focus

Despite finding my system it didn’t seem to work unless the tasks were completed in the designated chunks of time. Nothing feels worse than a half checked to do list staring back at you. While many people allotted free time on Sundays as a tactic of allowing unfinished tasks to be carried over, I desperately wanted to be able to finish a given task on that particular day.

For this I began using a combination of two methods. I downloaded Self-Control on my laptop, an app that effectively blocks sites on your ‘blacklist’. I coupled this with an online Pomodoro timer. Many swear by this method and while I was apprehensive at first I’ve begun to see its benefits. The Pomodoro encourages productivity for short bursts of twenty-five minutes and allots five-minute break periods after every work period. After four work periods it allots a fifteen-minute break period.

The only struggle that remained was the possibility of mid-Pomodoro distractions. Locking myself up in my room or spending extensive amounts of time in crowded coffee shops did not bode me well. My mind wandered even if Facebook or Instagram weren’t beckoning. Accomplishing tasks made me happy but not seeing friends - who’d now become family - made me equally as unhappy.

At this time I was reminded of a Tim Urban quote that I had found particularly striking. It reminded me why this was so important to me and why this lack of clarity made me so perturbed.

“Because defeating procrastination is the same thing as gaining control over your own life. So much of what makes people happy or unhappy—their level of fulfilment and satisfaction, their self-esteem, the regrets they carry with them, the amount of free time they have to dedicate to their relationships—is severely affected by procrastination. So it’s worthy of being taken dead seriously, and the time to start improving is now.”

Taking something dead seriously meant implementing it every step of the way. Every day. For now I’ve resorted to celebrating the smaller victories and keeping a ‘victory’ counter if you will. Every time I see a new message pop up and don’t click it, it is a small victory. Every time I don’t instinctively open Facebook in the morning and read it like the morning paper it is a small victory.

As Tim Urban said – the time to start improving is now.

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