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Existing in the middle of a pandemic is exhausting. Somehow, even though you don’t technically have to put pants on to do most things, every task seems to take more energy. The stress in and of itself can be overwhelming, and can exacerbate mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, making it difficult to start tasks. Even when the world isn’t a complete mess, most of us struggle with procrastination to some extent. Here are five of the best tools I’ve learned to get past procrastination.

Understand Why You’re Procrastinating

Two years ago, I consulted Google about how to stop procrastinating. One clickhole later, I saw an article that suggested no one really procrastinates just because. No one wants to fail. Generally, if you really need or want to do a task but haven’t done it yet, the article suggested, it’s for one or both of two reasons: You don’t entirely know what’s expected of you, or you don’t know how to get started. If you don’t know what’s expected of you, try reviewing the syllabus, rubric, or assignment description. If you’re still not sure, ask a classmate or the professor for clarification. If you’re not sure how to start, try some of the following tips.

Break Tasks into the Smallest Manageable Steps

Make it microscopic if you must. If you have to do a load of laundry but the smallest thing you can do first is stand up, start with that. Maybe the next step is just to walk to your laundry basket. Check in with yourself after each step to see if you feel up to doing more. The trick with this, as with all of the things on this list, is to be compassionate with yourself. If you only put your clothes into the washing machine before you need a break, that’s okay. Remind yourself how much energy you put in. You’ve accomplished something to be proud of.

Take it 5 Minutes at a Time

Another way to break tasks down is to start with doing them for just five minutes. After five minutes, check in with yourself. No matter how much you’ve  gotten done, be honest and compassionate with yourself about whether you have the energy to do for another five minutes. Remind yourself that if all you can do for now is those first five minutes, that’s perfectly okay. Those five minutes are good enough—always.

Get it Done, Not Perfect

As long as you've met the essential requirements for an assignment, it's okay to turn it in, even if there are improvements you could still make. If it’s a project like an essay you want to do more of later for your own sake, go for it, but the first priority is getting it done and submitted. My mantra to avoid this with writing is “Write now, edit later.” It prevents getting stuck on details and taking longer than necessary to finish, and can be modified for just about anything.

Get to Know Your Senses

This one might seem a little strange. We all know the five basic senses that most people have. The trick is figuring out what your sensory system needs to foster a sense of calm and focus. I like low-pitched noise, so I use a white noise app that allows you to customize the frequencies you hear and play. I find soft, fluffy things soothing, so when I get overwhelmed I put on my favorite hoodie so I can be completely surrounded by softness while I work. Spend some time thinking about what kind of sounds, smells, or feelings help you feel at ease and how you might be able to incorporate them into your work and study sessions.

I'm a writer and musician majoring in professional writing at Kutztown University. I love folk music, adaptive sports, and my dogs Roxie and Suzy Q.
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