Last year, I volunteered to make a presentation in gender studies. I knew it was far from easy, but I was totally eager to do it. I felt passionate about the subject. But what actually happened was beyond any explanation. Instead of starting to work on it at once, I lost myself in the endless stream of useless information.
…During the first week, I researched Gender Studies programs in Europe, as I decided that, one day, I might want to study abroad. Then I read a ton of low-quality articles about female celebrities and their complicated lives. I watched a couple of movies about Karen Carpenter and Amy Winehouse. Not that they were completely irrelevant, but clearly beyond my topic. In the end, I had to pull an all-nighter and complete the work in 5 hours. I spent 10x more time procrastinating than actually doing my presentation.
Procrastination is our worst enemy
I bet all of you collegiettes have this problem. Right when there is a book to read or a paper to write, you suddenly end up doing all kinds of things other than your assignment. It’s true that academic life can be tough, and the load is really heavy at times. But the worst is always not the amount of work we have to do, but the amount of distractions we have to overcome: Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Netflix, Buzzfeed, and all those messaging apps that never go quiet.
So why are we aimlessly switching between things, rather than paying attention to our immediate tasks?
Tim Urban of Wait But Why suggests that we all have an Instant Gratification Monkey inside our heads. As opposed to the Rational Decision Maker (who values things that make sense), the Monkey only wants what is easy and fun. Instead of doing something that’s productive or important, the Monkey tries to pull us into the “Dark Playground”. That’s the place where we get stuck doing all kinds of things, from checking our phone notifications every 10 minutes to watching a series of YouTube videos for hours. But do those fun and easy things reward us? After all, what we really do is waste our time and end up feeling guilty about it.
Information overflow and its pitfalls
We often make an erroneous assumption that we’ll be more productive by consuming more information. Most of us feel that we have to know what’s going on. That’s why we read on average 10,000 news stories every year. Or check our phones every 30 minutes. Our FOMO makes us mindlessly devour data of any kind. But in fact, we’re better off without most of the information out there.
Did you know that each year, there is more data created than during the previous one? Between 2012 and 2014, people have created 9 times more information online than they did until 2012. And most of it isn’t of any value to us.
I’ll let myself suggest that the Monkey inside you hasn’t learned how to deal with the abundance of information. It’s a thoughtless consumer of any data that’s out there. Sarah Peterson of the Unsettle has her own term for this, “researchitis”. It sounds like something pathological for a reason: when we are overloading ourselves with information, we are weakened, neither productive nor focused.
Our brain has its limits. That’s why it’s impossible for a collegiette to keep that chapter from a textbook in mind that’s already stuffed with 5,000 celebrity stories.
More information brings more confusion than clarity. As a result, we are lost in the labyrinths of the Dark Playground wasting our productivity time. Many collegiettes end up pulling all-nighters to finish their papers. And when you’ve done that, you are too tired to soberly analyze all your writing on your own; you are forced to use Grammarly to correct your mistakes or DoMyPapers.com to understand them. …And if there isn’t a deadline? What about your long-term plans or life goals? They are always on the back burner.
What if we didn’t procrastinate…
If we were to conquer that monster whose name is procrastination, we would be able to:
★ Have things done when they should be done without exhausting ourselves.
★ Enjoy having fun without feeling guilt and remorse.
★ Be more productive. It means, doing more (good, pleasant, and useful) things within the same amount of time.
★ Follow our dreams and achieve our goals.
Sounds sweet, doesn’t it?
Let’s battle procrastination once and for all
Planning is the beginning of everything. However, procrastinators plan in a funny way — they manage to procrastinate while planning. Note that there is a difference between planning and effective planning. So what should the struggling collegiettes do?
First and foremost, be precise in describing your to-dos. “Write a research paper next week” is not a good one. “Pick a topic on Monday between 10:00 and 11:00”, “research the topic on Tuesday between 11:00 and 13:00”, “write an outline on Wednesday between 12 and 14”, and so on are loads better.
Making the first step is often the hardest thing. Tim Urban says that completing a task is like laying one brick after another. Breaking big to-do items into smaller steps will help you get going. Our brain will not treat a “to write one paragraph” task as a long and boring one. And if you have trouble getting started, there are methods that’ll help you. Pomodoro is one of them. Just set an alarm clock for 25 minutes and work during that time, make a 5-minute break afterwards, and repeat until you see the minimum result. Then treat yourself with a longer, 30-minute break.
Minimal Effective Dose
There is a term in medicine, the minimal effective dose, which is the amount of a drug you need to reach the desired effect. Everything that’s beyond that dose can be at times harmful. Treat information the same way. Consume only what you can digest and put into action immediately. Be critical about the information you receive, always ask yourself, “is this really what I can use right now?”
Rewards should be meaningful
Remember the Monkey who’s all about fun? He just wants to have a good time, and he wouldn’t tell between earned and beneficial fun and spending time in the guilt-filled Dark Playground, which results in anxiety. Make sure that you reward yourself with breaks or little fun activities for a reason. This way, you’ll keep your Monkey entertained and happy, and your rational self satisfied and confident.
Some leisure activities help us feel more relaxed. Timothy Egan of the New York Times says that reading a book (and gardening) helps him to maintain focus for a much longer time. Different activities work for different types of people. Universally, exercising after periods of work helps us to stay more focused and mentally active. So, instead of going to Facebook every time you switch between mini-tasks, better exercise for a couple of minutes. When making a longer break, get a book from your dusty shelf and indulge in it for a while.
Information cleanse and quality leisure time
Sarah Peterson suggests that doing an information cleanse is essential for the digital-age folk. For more than 70% of people, checking their smartphones is the last thing they do before going to bed (Microsoft). Turning your device off in the evening will help you to focus on the important things, such as writing a paper for your class or enjoying an evening walk with a friend. It will also prepare your brain for a healthy sleep by keeping it away from the information overflow.
You can try it out: turn off your smartphone and laptop after 9 PM every day (first, for a week). Instead, read a book or play a board game with your girlfriends. On a weekend, make a trip rather than spending two days as a couch potato. This way, you’ll get your portion of new high-quality information without any overstrain. If these methods seem too harsh for you, start small: don’t check your phone notifications more frequently than once every hour and disable them entirely after 12 AM and until you’re done with your morning beauty session.
Battling procrastination depends on how well you set up your routine. Don’t forget that it’s essential not only to plan your to-dos, but also plan your leisure. A well-rested young college lady like us is capable of saving the world. Or, at least, of finishing that tricky psychology paper as if it were a piece of cake. In the end, staying productive and sparing no time for procrastination is the only way to become the master of your own life. So make a plan, put your smartphone aside, and be your true productive self.