In 29 Credits, I focus a lot on how to stop procrastinating. I procrastinate incredibly well, or incredibly badly, depending on how you look at it. I know I am not the only one. I find that overcoming procrastination is one skill that helps all of us use our time better, stay on top of our work and most of all, reduces stress and eliminates that feel of dread you have when you are putting off work.

Still, how do you stop procrastinating?

How to Stop Procrastinating

I have found that most procrastination comes from a combination of having a task that is both daunting and undefined — each characteristic seems to exacerbate the other. A daunting task  leaves you paralyzed against acting. It is just so large. The fear builds and builds and morphs and manifests itself as dread, all the while you are doing nothing to move in the correct direction (or any direction at all).

An undefined task makes you unsure what to do, so even if you find the motivation to do it, you aren’t too sure what it is. This makes it even harder to start and can lead you to missing deadlines when you finally do start because you suddenly need more time than you have left.

We all do it. We all procrastinate. It sucks. Here’s how you stop.

Carving Time

First, focus on time that you will work. Meaning, grab your day planner or whatever you use to track your time (I cover how to set up a day planner in the book, if you don’t know how) and outline some times where you will do something. It doesn’t matter if you feel like you have something to do, or something that is due. Just schedule time to work. That is your defined task. Make the time you work as small as you need to to make sure that you do work.

For example, when I am having a particularly unmotivated time in my life (which, believe it or not, happens a lot), I set myself a 5 minute work schedule and commit to working for 5 minutes. I literally put on my schedule that I am going to “work” from 11:00am to 11:05am. At 11:05am, I am free to do whatever I feel like with a clear head. Don’t think about what you are going to do or how much you don’t want to do it — just commit to that very small time.

One great thing about carving time is that it gives you something discreet to build your day around. You are going to start and stop at a certain time, and that means that you can plan around it. It also gives you a very clear thing to focus on and commit to — showing up at your start time and working.

Ok, you have a start and stop time. You’ve already committed to work. Now you fill it up with something.

Filling It Up

In my book, I focus a lot on taking large tasks and breaking them down. It is pretty difficult and overwhelming to have “Write an essay” as a task. Why? It isn’t just too large — we can all write an essay — but it is too undefined. Just like how a college course requires that you complete a lot of smaller tasks, each of those tasks also need to be broken up. Take your “essay” and jot down some easy tasks:

  • Find 5 sources online
  • Find 2 sources in book form
  • Read Wikipedia
  • Format your Word document
  • Put your Bibliography together
  • Read 20 pages
  • Write down what info you are missing

What ends up happening is that, with really specific tasks, you still get to procrastinate and you overcome procrastination by doing things that still take you in the direction of your overall goal, instead of doing your main task. Meaning, instead of “writing your essay”, you are going to format Word.  I realize that “Format your Word document” is still working on your essay, but it is also not writing your essay. It gets you closer to what you need to do, but also works as a trick mentally because it feels like you are doing something else.

Once you start working, list out the other things you need to do until you have finished your original task, instead of switching to something new. Most people, once they start working, are much more able to keep going, provided they continue to have well defined tasks. Before you know it, you have procrastinated your way to a full essay because you kept working on things that simultaneously were, and were not your essay. You keep working on chipping small portions off, which lets you continue to procrastinate the larger piece. Those small chips add up, though, and before long, you are done.




Time to Stop Working

Like any good story teller, I try and stop when I still want more. Burnout happens, so stopping at your designated stop time is always a good idea — you can always schedule another. Before you stop, though, take stock of what you accomplished and how you feel having accomplished what you did. Even if you don’t feel like it is very much, it is more than you would have done procrastinating. Remember that feeling and use it as motivation to start your next working session.

Finally, brain dump everything that you still have left to do. Write small tasks and just get them out of your head. Then, stop working. Have fun. You earned it!

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In 29 Credits: A Guide to Hacking College, I talk a lot more about removing distractions (Facebook? Netflix?) from your “work times” and how you can make the time you do spend on work be even more effective. I cover things like speed reading, reviewing notes and, as mentioned above, how to actually keep a proper schedule.