Identifying why we are prone to procrastination is a big part of being able to be productive, and knowing how to handle this is a crucial element in reaching our goals and doing our best work. Identifying where and when you get stuck gives you the opportunity to work around it in a way that will allow you to get unstuck again. Do you procrastinate more in the morning when you get to uni and don’t have lectures or meeting until later in the day? Or do you work better in the morning and get less focused in the afternoon? Tricking your mind and planning around your procrastination is one of the most powerful ways to make it productive. If you do your best work before noon, try to honor that and plan your meetings and lectures in the afternoon when you wouldn’t be able to work well anyway. If you tend to procrastinate around bigger tasks, if you can, planning out your day so that you deal with the bigger tasks in the hours you are less prone to procrastinate, leaving the smaller parts for the more difficult times, is a really good trick.
Achieving some kind of balance with your procrastination and making it into an opportunity to be productive in a different way instead of simply seeing it as resistance is something that can be as easy as breaking up your tasks into smaller parts. By doing that, it’s easy to switch to something else when you really don’t feel like doing what you initially sat down to do. If you are writing a paper, this could be changing between writing or reading to smaller things like doing additional research, start writing your list of literature, working on the structure of your paper, or editing parts you’ve already written. Not getting stuck on finishing what you started, but rather keep returning to it and taking active breaks where you work on something else, can be a good way to get more done instead of persisting on staying on the particular task you had decided to do. By doing this, you still get it done, while countering your procrastination at the same time through doing other things you would have needed to do anyway. Working in an office or as a professor you don’t have the same freedom as a student, but the principle applies in the same way. Switching to replying to emails, doing parts of planning or structuring, or focusing on some other small task that needs to get done, allows you to stay productive while also moving away from what caused the resistance, so that you can return to it later.
Sometimes we procrastinate because we just want to lie in bed and watch Netflix, and maybe that’s the only reason. But it can be useful to take a look at why you feel like procrastinating in the first place. You might be stressed, overworked, not feeling confident in what you are supposed to do, feel like you have lost autonomy because of the many demands you are faced with, or unsure whether what you are doing is really right for you. Research has found that people tend to procrastinate more if things don’t have inherent value to them, that it doesn’t feel important. The reasons for this can be many. You might be questioning if you are in the right field, or simply faced with other problems that feel more important. If you are dealing with a lot of things in your personal life that is causing you to feel stressed, overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed, it’s really important to become aware of this so that you can take proper care of yourself and ask for some assistance to get through what you are battling with. Sometimes getting an extension on your exam or going on sick leave can be the right choice because that is the proper way to take care of yourself, and a strong, persistent need to procrastinate and being unable to do what you need to do can be a good indicator that something else is going on. Procrastination can be an important sign that something might be off, and if it’s related to mental health or occurs because you are feeling unsure of whether you’re in the right job or degree, getting some council to find out whether you are feeling overwhelmed or actually unsure about the path that you are on, can be an important step to get you back on track. If you keep getting stuck and don’t feel motivated to work, you might want to look a little deeper so you can get help to get unstuck.
Working smart is a crucial element in avoiding procrastination, and taking breaks is a way to make your procrastination productive. We often feel like taking breaks is unnecessary because we feel like we should just power through, but taking a break can be the very best way to use that procrastination for good. By taking a break, getting up from your chair, and moving your body you are both doing something good for your mind, but also for your overall productivity. Taking a break is an active thing, something you should indulge in for the sake of better focus and decreased feelings of stress and exhaustion, not something to be seen as a guilty pleasure. Active breaks can be a big help in countering procrastination because it most often appears when we are starting to feel tired, dehydrated, or stressed and our brains need a break anyway. Get some air or even sunshine if you can in between lectures, spend some time talking to your colleagues or fellow students, and get your mind off work completely before you return so your get the chance to feel refreshed.
Procrastination can easily get in the way of progress if we are not aware of and conscious about how to take advantage of it and understand why it’s happening. It’s very natural to procrastinate more when you have bigger tasks at hand, and research suggest that this is because students in particular tend to procrastinate more when someone else has decided what they need to do. Breaking things into smaller parts and being flexible with what you need to do and changing things around can really help you keep moving when you encounter resistance with a particular task because it increases the feeling of autonomy. If you’re writing your Bachelor or Master thesis, looking at the work as a whole can be extremely intimidating, with endless literature to read and pages to write, and is one of the most common reasons students struggle with getting started. Breaking your thesis into smaller parts, chapters, themes, connecting curriculum and literature to specific parts of the paper, can help you get started on the part you feel most attracted to. Moving on to a different part when you feel like procrastinating can help you keep your focus because you are breaking the resistance with a different task that still relates to the overall work on the bigger project. By breaking things into smaller sections, you also get more frequent hits of satisfaction from finishing something and crossing it off your list of things to do.
When you feel unmotivated to work and fall into procrastination you can get far by having a good overview of small things or actions that will make you feel good and more motivated again. Knowing how you can snap out of your procrastination and make it productive and an act of self-care can help you move on from it more quickly. If you are at home, changing your focus by watching an episode of Netflix, prep for dinner, clean your apartment, or other small things that will keep you going, but has nothing to do with the task you feel stuck at, can help you more easily go back to it, than if you stayed and persisted. Take half an hour to an hour to do something entirely different, something that makes you happy. Go for a run, cuddle with your cat, or take a bath, something that makes you feel good whatever that might be, and then return to the work. If you are sat in an office or in the library it all looks a little different. Getting back into motivation though focusing on self-care might mean going for a 10 min walk around the block, get a cup of coffee, or do a bit of stretching before you return. But allowing yourself to get up and do something different, preferably something that keeps you active and doing something you will benefit from at a later point in the day, is ultimately more productive than trying to force it. A short (or longer if that’s what you need) change of focus, location, and/or task can really help you get back to a more positive and less tense place to work from.
Feeling unmotivated, getting stuck, and being tempted to procrastinate is all part of being human, and is not occurring for you because you are on the wrong track, lack in focus, have little willpower, or are not good enough at what you do. Feeling guilty and beating yourself up about falling into the traps your mind sometimes sets up is the most harmful and counterproductive thing you can do. Being kind to yourself through just acknowledging it and moving on with no feeling of regret or guilt is the way forward. It’s easy to get stuck in a negative spiral that enables the procrastination to continue because you feel bad about having indulged in it, which makes it easier for it to keep happening. You will meet that deadline, get your work done, and deliver your paper on time. Just cut yourself some slack, don’t feel guilty, and get back to work. That is all.
Knowing how you work best and how to work around procrastination is all a process of trial and error and a very convenient life skill to have. See procrastination as a sign you need a break or change of focus, and if it persists over a longer period of time, look into whether your focus should be on your mental health or other life challenges before you can properly return to work. Procrastination can be small opportunities to inject self-care that will benefit your stress level and productivity over time, and ultimately your results if you treat it right.