After writing my last post, I worried that I’d painted a pretty bleak picture. But I am here to reassure you that hope is not lost! And so, before posting part three of my mental illness/learning disability intersection series, I’m going to slip in a post or two about how I deal with procrastination. Despite what you’ve been told, just because you make the same mistakes time and again does not actually mean you haven’t learned from them. I don’t claim these tips will work for everyone, and understand that people meet their own needs differently. However they have at various times worked for me, and so I’ve decided they are worth sharing.
1. Study hard, play for a few minutes as a reward.
a) The SelfControl app is your new best friend. You can download it for your Mac for free here. This app lets you block any number of sites – which you can edit anytime before you turn the app on – and then asks you to set a period of time during which to block them. I usually turn the app on for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour at a time. Giving yourself a 30 minute work period might not seem like much, but I think it’s worth admitting upfront that a lot of us struggle with our attention span. If you can focus for 30 minutes, you’ve earned yourself a 5 minute break. If you can focus for 45 minutes or even an hour, even better! (although you still only get a 5 minute break, or maybe 10 minutes if you’ve studied for an hour). Also be sure to be honest with yourself when writing up your blacklist. Mine includes Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, but also Hotmail and Outlook, and occasionally I’ll add various news media and blogs to it as well.
b) You can also try the site mytomatoes.com. Sounds ridiculous, I know, but it came recommended to me by one of my previous psychologists. The site lets you work on one “tomato” at a time. You set a timer (like the SelfControl app, I usually aim for 30-45 minutes per tomato) and then work for that period of time. When your time’s up, the site asks you to write down what you accomplished during your tomato. It’s a total guilt trip – if you goofed off or got distracted you realize pretty quickly that you just wasted 30-45min – so I suggest using it in tandem with the SelfControl app. It is also fun to work on tomatoes with your friends when you’re study buddying. Set your timers at the same time, and encourage each other to focus on your tomatoes!
2. Make yourself accountable to others.
This one’s all about the self-imposed guilt-trip.
a) Find a study buddy! When putting out the call, make clear that you are not looking to study aloud through conversation with someone else in one of your classes – although if you’re into that, that’s totally cool too. Instead, look for someone who will study quietly in the same space as you. Invite them to your house (snacks and/or meals are a big incentive here), or invite yourself to theirs. You can also offer to meet in a common area. Not only will you feel guilty if they look like they’re working hard while you know you’re not, but you can also take breaks and relax together once you’ve worked for a sufficient period of time. Although I often feel like a burden constantly asking my friends to study buddy with me, they reassure me nearly every time that they too get more work done when we work together.
b) Work in a public space. Some people thrive in more dynamic environments like coffee shops or cafeterias. I’m more of a silence person myself, but that doesn’t mean I can’t work in a public space. There is of course the main library at your university or in your city/town, but also other public-ish study spaces, at least at Mount Allison, like department-specific libraries, computer labs, various centres (in my case, the Meighen Centre) etc. I find that working around other people makes me feel accountable to them, even if they are complete strangers, and I get embarrassed if I think they assume I’m working on school stuff when I’m actually working my way through every picture of a friend’s vacation on Facebook. I also find that working around other people helps me keep my anxiety and panic down, and forces me to shower, get dressed, and get out of my room, all of which are healthy habits as well.
If campus isn’t an option but you require silence to work, try noise-cancelling headphones or classical music. Better yet, use the same classical music every time. I’ll warn you this will completely and utterly ruin this soundtrack for you, but it will ensure that you both associate this music with studying, and get to know the soundtrack so well that you aren’t distracted by it. I probably owe Yann Tiersen a shoutout when I graduate, considering the number of times I’ve listened to the complete Amelie soundtrack.
c) If, for whatever reason, options a) and b) are not available to you, you can try co-opting others to help hold you to your deadlines. If I know I have to get an assignment done by a certain time and that if I don’t, I will be flirting with disaster, I’ll sometimes e-mail my professor and let them know when to expect it. I’ll also ask that they send me a reply, if possible, acknowledging that they’ve received my assignment. I usually let them know that I don’t require feedback or anything – just a simple acknowledgement that I’ve sent my assignment. Although rationally I know that my professors do not spend their Friday nights waiting breathlessly for me to e-mail them my essay, my anxious brain tells me they do, and thus once I set this kind of deadline, I feel beholden to it. I also tend to keep to this kind of deadline for fear of my professor’s judgement (but don’t worry . They’re not actually judging you. They have lives, and way too many students, for that).
I’ll do something similar with friends if I know they’ll be staying up late and I want to make sure I get to bed at a reasonable hour and don’t draw my work out all night long. I’ll ask if I can send them a draft/part of a draft/final product at a certain hour, and also request they let me know they’ve seen that I sent it. It sounds silly, especially because there’s no way they’re actually going to read whatever I send them, but I swear it helps me stay on track.
3. Designate a study space.
Once you’ve found a space that seems to work for you, save it for your study space. It might be a favourite desk in the library, a favourite library period (I might marry the Johnson, the philosophy library at my university pictured above, one day), an armchair in your room, anything really. Don’t let yourself Youtube dance videos there or watch Netflix if you have it (thank goodness I don’t) because this is now your sacred study space. When push comes to shove and you need to get stuff done, you’ll always know you can rely on that space to stay focused.
4. Keep an agenda.
I swear it’s not as scary as it seems. I hadn’t used an agenda since first year because I often found looking at everything I had to do was overwhelming. I’ve given agendas a second chance though this year, and I’m very glad I did. As it turns out, it is actually way less overwhelming to lay everything you have to do out in front of you than to hold it all in your head. Moreover, trying to remember everything you have to do runs the risk of you forgetting something (that is possibly important). I’m pretty sure most universities offer their students free agendas. Personally I invested in one that was better suited to my needs. It’s pretty (which is totally key if I’m going to motivate myself to actually look at it), featuring Charley Harper prints, and includes a separate calendar for each month, along with space for daily scheduling.
5. Know your enemy, but be kind to yourself.
I’m pretty terrible at this one, but seriously, try not to beat yourself up if you’ve procrastinated yet again. It doesn’t actually accomplish anything or help anyone. You are not the only procrastinator in this world. Your worth is not equivalent to your productivity. You do not always need to apologize for living your life outside of school. You are dealing with your stuff, which may include mental illness that actually contributes to your procrastination. That said, be wary of your proclivity to procrastinate, and try to do what you can to be proactive about it.
I would love to hear your own pro-tips for procrastinators. Comment below! Procrastinators unite!
I have many more tips brainstormed, but I’m going to save them for a second post on how to deal with essay-specific procrastination. Make sure to check back next week!