Sep 18th, 2018, 03:46 PM

The Year You Finally Stop Procrastinating

By Kathleen Sharp
Image Credit: Unsplash/Kinga Cichewicz
A new semester, an (actually) more productive you.

Great promises are born at the beginning of each semester. Students tell themselves and their peers that this year will be different: they'll attend all their classes, complete all assignments, meet every deadline. Vowing to be better, the phrase "stop procrastinating" is inevitably mixed somewhere in their discussion. Procrastination, it appears, is a pandemic, a leading factor in students' academic struggles.

How can those students make this year actually different though?

Pamela Montfort, The American University of Paris' new student guidance counselor, addresses procrastination and the misconceptions we have about it. She says that while procrastination may stem from an imbalance where a student prioritizes fun over schoolwork, or maybe as a result of anxiety, the student is dissuaded from beginning their work and the usual culprit is habit. "A lot of the time we say, 'We are procrastinators,' or 'I am a procrastinator.' We use [those verbs] 'are' and 'am,'" Ms. Montfort said, which isn't productive. Using 'are' reinforces the idea that procrastination is innate or linked to our identities, something permanent.

Image Credit: Thoughtcatalog/Unsplash

Instead, she suggests looking at procrastination as something which is "not genetic, [and] that has nothing to do with intelligence," since doing so unfairly triggers feelings of inadequacy or generates emotional distress. When you view procrastination as something learned, you'll realize that it can be unlearned, too. "Changing this mindset," she asserts, is key to dissembling the habit. Once you see procrastination as a behavior rather than a character flaw, it's a more approachable problem.

Montfort's advice resonates because the effects of procrastination—a failed essay, incomplete homework, or missed readings—often result in feelings of anxiety and failure. Distancing yourself from those thoughts and recognizing procrastination as a common problem means regaining some autonomy. Procrastination must not be a life-controlling monster that threatens your academic or professional achievements. Instead, it's conquerable. 

Apart from Montfort's ideas, there are numerous resources to help curb procrastination. Notably, there is an app which aids in habit-forming called Streaks, available on the Apple AppStore, for roughly the price of two espressos en terrasse. A humble price to pay for an app that reminds you to complete tasks and incorporate them into your daily routine, like going to the gym, reading for thirty minutes, or taking your gummy vitamins. When you accomplish a task, you check it off and earn "streaks" similar to Snapchat streaks that count the number of days in a row you've successfully completed each task.

Streaks' utilities are easily adaptable to a student's or a professional's healthy working habits. "Work undistracted for thirty minutes" as a daily reminder is a simpler than telling yourself to sit studying for an unspecified period. Plus, the joy in building streaks and fear of losing streaks are surprisingly strong incentives. While "Stop procrastinating!" is an open-ended goal, being reminded to work for set intervals cuts stressful workloads into bite-sized pieces.

Image Credit: Melanie Pongratz/Unsplash

One way—if you're craving those espressos—to stop putting off tasks is to record yourself as thoughts come to you. A popular suggestion for those who procrastinate is to write down those thoughts. While not everyone carries a pen and pad of paper, we do carry our cell phones. Taking a voice memo can be a practical solution. It allows you to conveniently note elaborate thoughts at the same rate of your thinking.

For example, as you walk away from a class, you recall that you must read three chapters of a novel due the following morning. Making an audio note, you can tell yourself how, when, and why to finish the assignment and even throw in a reminder to get started right away instead of "later." Verbalizing your intentions solidifies them and makes them harder to forget when the nagging voice of procrastination tempts you.

But, if none of these tips prove effective, channel Shia LaBeouf and Nike and just do it.