Mobile apps (or video games, or Netflix, or fill in the blank with your favorite pastime) can have a profoundly alluring effect, preying on our dopamine receptors, providing us an easy escape from less pleasant tasks that naggingly demand our attention.
Homework and studying, not so much.
The natural consequence is to just avoid school work, or whatever daunting task looming over us, and thereby fall into the clutches of what my mother has always tried to keep me safe from: Procrastination.
Let the excuses begin…
“Let me just do some other things first.”
“I’m tired and need to rest a little more.”
“I’ll concentrate better when it’s later, or tomorrow when I’m refreshed.”
“I can’t. I don't even know how to do this.”
All the while, the guilt, anxiety, and frustration mounts within us for letting a manageable situation become a stressful, stay-up-all-night fiasco that ends in what could have been a higher grade.
Next time you become aware of these insidious excuses and their resultant behaviors, ward off procrastination with some of these helpful strategies:
First, Get Your Mind Right
Go easy on yourself for having procrastinated. Getting down on yourself will probably only slow your momentum even more. Instead, remember that every experience can be an opportunity for self-improvement.
Think of the larger purpose. Sometimes tasks are unpleasant, but if you think of the overall benefit they contribute to in the long run, you can gain a new, motivating perspective to keep you focused on your mission.
Imagine how stressful not completing the task will feel. And/or, imagine how good being done and free will feel!
Then, Get Your Task Done
Get an accountability buddy to keep you in check. If you don’t have a willing and available person there to encourage you, try one of these anti-procrastination apps.
Divide your work into non-threatening little chunks. Even if the chunk is just to read one page (or, hey, even one paragraph), accomplishing any goal—no matter the size— will get the ball rolling. At the very least, you’ll have made that much more progress, leaving that much less to do. In more severe cases, set a timer to enforce a few minutes of distraction-free time; then give yourself a little reward when you reach your mini-goal.
Do a little right now. You may feel like you don’t have the ideal time or place, or state of mind, or optimal amount of energy, but all of that matters much less than you think. Often, starting is the hardest part, especially if you build up the task in our head, making it seem larger than it really is.
If nothing else, remember this. You don’t have to
STUDY FOR THE SAT.
Instead, just study for the SAT.
In other words, just doing the work—right now, without resisting it first—will make it much more manageable. You don’t have to get anxious and mentally and physically prepared to Big-Bad-Study. Instead, just grab a book real quick and no-big-deal-study. It’s not about perfection. It’s not all-or-nothing. It’s about actually getting work done. You can always go back and revise your work if time permits.
Of course, removing distractions from our environment helps, but a lot of the time our biggest distractions are the ones we create mentally. So let’s uncreate them and go get something done!
Kiley A. teaches SAT/ACT Writing and leads College Application Workshops at Elite Prep Rowland Heights. As the Elite Community Scholars Coordinator, he also works to spread this college preparation guidance to low-income, first-generation students who may not otherwise have access to such support. Above all, he wants his students to know the far-reaching power of their own self-assurance.