Procrastinators often receive a bad rap for the way they operate, waiting until the last minute to meet their deadlines. While you should be mindful of making sure that you don’t procrastinate so much that you sacrifice quality, or miss deadlines altogether, we’ve come to learn that the way procrastinators complete their daily responsibilities isn’t necessarily bad or wrong; it’s just different.
We know every student, AmeriCorps member and teacher has their own working style, and each teammate works differently. If you’ve been putting off something important like applying to City Year, lesson planning for your students or completing graduate school applications, here are some tips for how to procrastinate productively.
Own your working style.
According to Mary Lamia, psychologist and author of What Motivates Getting Things Done: Procrastinations, Emotions, and Success, procrastination is every bit as legitimate as other working styles for getting things done. So, own the fact that you are a procrastinator, and try to do so without shaming yourself for it. Acknowledging that you’re procrastinating or putting off a certain task allows you to move on to the next step – taking action and doing something about it.
Understand your relationship with time.
Procrastinators are really good at storing things in their memory, organizing their thoughts and then spitting them out into action at rapid speeds, Lamia says. In order to get a better sense of where your time goes, make note of everything you’re doing and how much time it is taking you. If you’re on social media, how much time do you spend there in a single day? How much time does responding to and writing emails take you? How much time did it take you to write that essay? Once you have a better idea of how long something takes you, you’ll be able to estimate how much time you actually need to complete your tasks on time.
If you’re using this tactic with your students, ask them to track how long it takes them to do each of their assignments, and then discuss what makes certain tasks take longer to complete. This will help keep them mindful and accountable while completing their homework.
Break your tasks into bite-sized pieces.
Oftentimes, procrastinators get overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to complete in a limited amount of time. If this happens to you, the first thing you need to do is take a deep breath. Regardless of how much time you have left, take five minutes and break the task into bite-sized pieces. For example, if you have ten pages of an application to complete, break it into two-page increments.
Set a timer and remember to take only five minutes to write that list! Procrastinators sometimes love to plan more than they love to act on the plan they’ve set in place. It can lead to a false sense of being productive without actually working on the task itself. After five minutes, stop writing your list – even if it’s not totally finished – and get to work. How great is it going to feel to cross that first bite-sized task off the list? So, so great.
Build a reward system that excites you.
Reward yourself as you start to accomplish the smaller tasks within the larger task. Whether it’s enjoying a light snack or taking a step outside for some fresh air, make sure it’s something you will look forward to while working on those smaller tasks. If you have a student who is a procrastinator, this method can be particularly effective in helping them set and achieve their academic goals.
When the entire task is done, be sure to celebrate. Some reward ideas include 30 minutes of your favorite TV show, making yourself a meal or a treat, or calling a friend or family member to catch up.
Perfectionism is your enemy!
We know it’s easier said than done, but try really hard to understand that the end result doesn’t always have to be totally perfect to be effective and worthwhile. Our AmeriCorps members remind our students that their work doesn’t need to be perfect, as long as they’re trying their best and learning from their mistakes; the same goes for the rest of us. Taking off the pressure of perfectionism may even help you produce a better, more successful result. Plus, the added bonus of realizing things don’t have to be perfect is that you usually end up leaving yourself more time to take a second look at your work and correct any minor mistakes you didn’t catch the first time.
Ready to give up perfectionism? Embrace growth mindset, instead, to reach your goals.
At the end of the day, we all have different working styles and ways of getting work done. If you thrive under the pressure of deadlines, procrastinating can be an effective motivator. As long as your way doesn’t interfere with the quality of your product or your ability to be a good teammate or co-worker, then give yourself some credit for getting the job done. Good luck with your tasks, and cheers to procrastinating productively!
And remember, if you haven’t finished your City Year application, there’s still plenty of time to procrastinate successfully and apply!
An earlier version of this story appeared on the City Year National Blog on May 24,2018.