The Guidebook to Getting Things Done from a Serial Procrastinator

We've all been in that position where we procrastinated for a little too long and now there are about four hours until your essay is due and you haven't even started thinking about it. Diamonds are made under pressure though, right? Time to grind out about five pages of somewhat unstructured and not-well-supported arguments, but as long as you get it in, you can at least feel some sense of accomplishment with yourself.

Believe me, I've been there, and it's even harder to get motivated when your last-minute efforts miraculously turn out to be less terrible than you thought they were - you're not sure why you did well, but why look a gift horse in the mouth, right? 

So you're not terribly motivated and you know things sometimes work out when you do them at the last minute, but maybe you want to feel less like a headless chicken when it comes to those stressful days when all that work seems to pile up on you. Perhaps you're trying to motivate yourself to get out of bed and get something productive done. Or maybe you're really trying to change your approach and get away from your routine of serial procrastination. Whatever your reason, you came to the right place!  Here are a few tips from a serial procrastinator (i.e. me) who still manages to look like she has her life together...sometimes.

#1: Get a planner.

Even if you don't use a planner or you never write things down by hand, get some sort of notebook (something small and simple) or even just a blank piece of paper where you can write down all your assignments. I'm not the type of person to write things down the moment they're issued, but I do take the time every Monday to sit down and write out every major task I can think of that I need to get done that week, from grocery shopping and laundry to reading assignments and events that might be happening. This doesn't need to be super aesthetic - just get it down. It can definitely be aesthetic if you have the time (or if you're procrastinating actually doing the work you're writing down), but having a physical list that you make every week will help you get a sense for how the week should look in terms of how busy each day will be. If you're one of those people who doesn't like constantly crossing things off lists, don't worry - this list isn't necessarily for you to cross things off of. It's just there to exist and give you a clearer view of the week ahead. 

#2 (which builds off of #1): Keep your list/planner close by. 

Once again, even if you're not the kind of person to regularly cross things off a list, keeping the list with you wherever you go is still a good reminder that there are things you should probably get done at some point. I rarely open my planner more than a couple of times a week after writing down all my tasks on Monday, but I still take it with me to school, work, and most other locations. This is easy for me because my planner is quite small and I tend to take my backpack with me wherever I go; having something physical is a great reminder that there are tasks you should be doing (even if you can't remember them) for whenever you have some time between classes or are out of things to watch on YouTube because you've already watched all the recommendations. Thus, even if you never really open it, keep your list with you. If you forget it in a pocket and find it a few days later, at least you'll get a reminder to try to be a little more productive in your spare time.

#3: Don't Skip Class

This one is crucial! If you're going to put off all your homework and projects and studying for exams, at least keep attending class. This will ensure that you're at least somewhat aware of the current topic being discussed and what the professor wants you to know about it. I highly recommend taking notes in class because let's be real, you're not going to look over those PowerPoints after class no matter how much you convince yourself you will. But if you don't attend class in the first place, you may open those PowerPoints later and have no idea what they're about, leading you to give up on the idea of catching up entirely. This only makes things worse so, even if it's at 8 a.m., try your best to make it to class! Even if you're not paying attention, at least you're physically present so if something important does happen, that has greater potential to stick out in your mind than if you're not there to witness it at all.

#3.5: Don't take classes you don't want to be in.

Don’t be that guy. Don't take classes at 8 a.m. if you're not a morning person. Don't take an applied math class if you despise math classes. Do not set yourself up for failure by taking classes you'll want to skip. Don’t fill up your schedule with unrealistic expectations. Look up where each of your classes is before you enrol and make sure you have enough time to get from one to the next. If you need a class outside your interests just to fulfil a general requirement, try to find something that interests you as much as possible. Take steps to make your life easier for your future self!

#4: Use your class time wisely.

Particularly in humanities discussions and STEM-based labs, it's easy to feel lost when you haven't caught up on the readings or the lectures, but just being present for the discussions taking place and writing down the main points you learn will help you keep up with the class if/when you finally get up to speed. And if you don't ever manage to catch up on the missed work, at least you're not completely clueless about the topic! It’s amazing how much you can absorb just by being present. To truly make the most of the time, though, use your class time to pay attention and to take notes. Do the readings and make the most of the discussions by asking questions. If you finish lab early, start on the homework while you’re in class. Be productive in the time you’re scheduled to be productive so you have less to do outside of that time. 

#5: Doing something is better than doing nothing!

There may only be four hours left to get that essay in, but it's not too late! It may seem impossible but just start by creating the document. You don't need to procrastinate making the document - it doesn’t take much effort! And by creating that, you put the task in front of you so it demands your attention. If you have a reading to do, leave your books out so you see them. If you hide the work you need to do, you're a lot less likely to do it. Once the books are out, you can flip them to the correct page. Even if you don't read them right there and then, you don't have to work to find the readings. Make the job easier for yourself and just do it in little steps. If you can't manage the whole reading, just start with the first page. If you can't write the whole essay, start with your name at the top and the essay question. Do whatever you can! It's okay if it's not finished or it's not perfect - just do what you can because that’s a lot better than doing nothing at all.  

And finally #6: Keep your head up and don't be too hard on yourself! It might be midterm season but these grades do not define you. Take care of your wellbeing, be kind to yourself and others, and you'll be okay. Good luck!