A few weeks ago I had lunch with a friend of mine at Deluxe Noodles. We were talking about assignments when he mentioned he had a few essays due soon.
“When’s your due date?” I asked.
“Well, one was due tomorrow,” he answered nonchalantly. “Hey, pass the soy sauce.”
Procrastination is a common problem for students and pretty much everyone who works with a computer. No, I don’t care how much you like your MoleSkine, it’s still a problem.
With exams around the corner, I thought I’d write about a hugely complicated topic in an incredibly small article. Maybe you’ll learn just enough to help you prepare for your next exam.
Like drug addiction and irrational fears, the first step to stop procrastinting is to identify that your procrastination is a problem. If you’ve spent 15 hours watching Pokémon reruns when you should be reading Walter Benjamin’s discourses on semiotics, then you’re probably procrastinating. Other signs include filling your day with meaningless little tasks like de-linting your wallet, and spending your time imagining how good things will be once you finish your task.
One of the major sources of procrastination is that people who work with knowledge-based tasks like writing essays or reports don’t see a reward for their efforts. This is because our brains are still wired for hunting and gathering. Killing a mammoth has a very immediate and very visible reward of being able to eat for a week. In school, though, the only short-term effect of finishing an essay is a headache. This, incidentally, is why procrastinators always kick into high gear when a due date approaches: in situations like that, you do see an immediate reward (not failing a class).
Procrastination experts recommend setting up a clear goal system to help wrap your brain around the task. Make a deal with yourself to eat a bar of chocolate when you finish your task, or use anti-procrastination software like writeordie.com to keep you focussed on finishing.
Another source of procrastination is the vastness of the task. For this, breaking down a big task into tiny ones might help you get some perspective on it, and get rid of your fear of doing it.
The final and possibly most valuable anti-procrastination exercise is to just churn something out without caring about quality, resolving to edit it later. Most procrastinators are actually perfectionists who are afraid of not measuring up to the standards their mission requires. Conquering your fear of not getting a task done, or just ploughing through it regardless of whether you do a good job, will help you gradually get over your fear.
All in all, procrastination and getting things done is a constant struggle. Until a day comes when we develop Vulcan-like self control, we will need to fight with our baser natures to be productive members of society.
Also, keep in mind that the fact that I am writing this at 8 p.m. on a Sunday night does not make my evaluations any less valuable.