I don’t know about you, but I have been discovering lately that I am world class at procrastinating. I’m talking gold medal standard. And no, I’m not proud of that.
Mark Twain said, “If your job is to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning, and if your job is to eat two frogs, eat the big one first”. When you’re studying law, you can often feel like your job is (to use the above example) to eat a thousand frogs, all of enormous size. So how do you choose which frog needs eating first? Okay…lets stop talking about frogs or this might get weird.
If you’re finding that you’re feeling overwhelmed and/or procrastinating, here are seven strategies to avoid those avoidance tactics…
- Getting your priorities in order: I would suggest you prioritise the absolutely essential things you need to do. There is a key difference between ‘important’ and ‘essential’ – and knowing which tasks are which is a skill worth developing – not only as a student, but for your future work life. For example, that summative essay that’s due in two days and counts for 30% of your final marks is probably an essential.
- Turning off your phone. Sounds easy, but we are so addicted to technology it can be hard to go even an hour without checking WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter etc. I am definitely guilty of looking at my phone when I am meant to be studying. If you need an extra hand with self-control, friends of mine use the Forest App which apparently helps you to stay focused on a specific task, or there are plenty of apps that can block you accessing websites (like Facebook) for a set period.
- Writing a to-do list: this is linked to point 1 above, but I find it is an essential to keeping on top of workloads and making sure I have done what I need in the week. Make sure to list the things that you may be avoiding and add a deadline too.
- Rewarding good behaviour: it works with children and animals, so it should work for you… e.g. if you complete all the reading you’ve been putting off for a seminar, allow yourself an evening off.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff: a trite phrase, but one that we can often overlook. It’s very easy to use any opportunity to beat ourselves up or get frustrated that we aren’t the most diligent or brilliant student – thus counter-intuitively making us more inclined to procrastinate. Identifying the things we ‘should’ be worrying about and putting time and effort into is half the battle. For example, I have a rule that I don’t spend any longer than 5 hours on a formative assessment, including all the research, writing and proof-reading – that way I don’t get really stressed about it, nor do I fall behind on my other work, but I still put in enough effort to get constructive feedback.
- Practice self-compassion: as I have already alluded to, it can be easy to become frustrated with our more human and fallible side, especially if we compare ourselves to an idealised person. Forgiving past procrastination is a great way to set yourself up to regain focus, let go of perfectionism and take action – let alone just being a fantastically healthy thing to do. We all need friends, and being one to yourself is key for health and happiness, not just having a good study session.
- Share your goals: whether this is texting a friend your plan for the day or going to the library with a study buddy – people are often more likely to stick to a goal if they are publicly accountable to it.
So there you have it – seven ways to put the brakes on that runaway procrastination train. On a side-note, and in the spirit of full disclosure, this blog post – ironically – has been sitting unfinished in my drafts folder since November 2016. That being said, it has finally been written, thanks to me following the seven principles above. Hopefully this shows that if you can harness the essence of those seven things, anyone can complete a task they have been putting off.
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