A Procrastinator's Guide to Essay Writing

We’ve all been there, deadlines approaching fast and struck with the sudden realization that we squandered the month and a half we’ve had to work on the project. We work ourselves into the ground trying to make up for lost time. We know it isn’t healthy for our bodies or our grades yet we do it anyway. Well, here are a few good habits-- or at least tolerably neutral habits-- to help you procrastinate more efficiently.

1. Get a planner or use one of the many free online planners that send you notifications (the one I use for myself is StudentLife). This will help you keep an eye on your deadlines and commit to the minimum amount of work in a week needed to avoid an aneurysm from stress. If classes offer you workdays, milk them for all their worth. A friend has to cancel on a hangout? Use that time to work a bit before playing that awesome new game you got over break.

2. Select a work-only space or otherwise use one you already have. I’m serious about it being work-only. Spaces like your desk in your room will be less effective than a specific spot in the library. Getting your body into a pattern of work in these areas will prime you for more effective uses of your time. Be aware that you’ll have to use this space frequently enough that the habit will stick, even if it’s just a five-minute worksheet. 

3. Pace your work out near indefinitely if you have to. Putting stuff off may be relaxing now but we all know we’ll regret it later. Think of a day or a week as a limited resource and allocate accordingly. If you can hold yourself to a schedule, even if you’re only doing thirty minutes to an hour of serious work a day, you’ll still get your project done on time. Work expands to the time allotted to fill it, as procrastinator efficiencies we know this. So set a timer and race yourself. How fast can you make an outline that makes sense? Give yourself thirty minutes to create an annotated bibliography? Do it in twenty, no do it in fifteen. Set your milestones and you’ll feel infinitely better about yourself when you cross them.

4. Set rewards for completing tasks on time or ahead of time. Treating yourself for good behavior is one of the most important things you could do to set a habit. Got a favorite food? Make it special as a job-well-done treat. That new game you got? Go ahead and play some, you’ve got all your work done for today. This is tied heavily to self-discipline and simplifying and externalizing these methods of positive reinforcement will encourage your good working habits to stick.

5. Multitask only if you can do so easily. It’s beyond important to stress I do not mean switch-tasking. Switch tasking is checking your Facebook feed after every chapter of your textbook reading. Switch tasking is messing with your Pandora or Spotify stream, or Youtube, or anything really while working at something else. It takes your focus from what you’re doing and moves it to something else, causing problems when you have to force your focus back on what you were doing. This is usually mitigated by a work-only space like I mentioned before. Multitasking is something else, something much harder to do. Listening to an audiobook while doing an activity requiring muscle memory is a good example. Have a thirty-minute workout routine and need to read a book for your literature class? Find the audiobook and listen to it while jogging. Multitasking is layering up your time in an efficient and practical way, engaging different parts of your brain so your conscious focus is not diverted from what you need to pay attention to. If you find yourself getting distracted by one activity or another, stop doing both at the same time. You can train yourself to get better at multitasking in this way but usually, the activities will be very specific.