Procrastination is a form of resistance to doing what we need to, which leaves us feeling stressed and guilty. We procrastinate mostly about work tasks and studying for exams. The logical part of our brain knows we need to study but the emotional part doesn’t care. Sometimes we experience this sense of reluctance as a physical feeling of tension or anxiety, like a weight on our shoulders or a cloud over our heads.
Procrastination is a result of our brain’s neurobiology. Psychologists have described it as a result of our conscious and subconscious minds conflicting. Our conscious mind is capable of focussing on long-term goals that are in our best interests but is often undermined by our subconscious mind, which tends to seek immediate and short-term pleasure.
In relation to studying, this is like knowing full well you have an exam next week and that it is really important you get at least a B grade in order to go to the college you want, but whenever you sit at the computer to study, sooner or later you find yourself scrolling through your Facebook feed or googling random questions for no particular reason.
Training your influential subconscious mind requires conscious effort and will-power. But if you really want to transition from procrastination to motivation, there are specific (and easy) steps you can take that will transform your self-control and your study habits.
1. The night before
Before you go to bed, create a simple to-do list for the next day. Putting a brief plan down on paper means that you have cleared your mind of thoughts that might otherwise keep you awake and stops you feeling anxious about what lies ahead the next day. Remember – a good night’s sleep is crucial to waking up refreshed and this is a huge factor in motivation.
2. The next day
Before you settle down to the study cycle, go for a walk or do a mindfulness activity. This has been scientifically proven to prepare your brain for the focused concentration required when trying to learn something. Physical exercise increases your levels of endorphins and serotonin (the happy hormones) and mindfulness exercises like focusing on your breath will calm your mind and cultivate your attention.
3. Eliminate all distractions
This means more than just putting your phone on silent. It also means preventing any mental multi-tasking that you might start doing while you are studying. If you are going to be distracted that the kitchen sink is full of dishes, do the washing-up before you settle down to studying. If you know your mother is waiting for an email from you, write a quick message so that you are not feeling guilty while trying to focus on your studying. That feeling that you ought to be doing something else is hugely distracting!
4. Start with a small routine
For example, when you sit down at your desk, tidy your desk, file your notes, review the ‘to-do’ list that you wrote the night before. This sends the message to your brain that you are settling down to your study cycle.
5. Eat The Frog
The author Mark Twain once said “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.” The frog represents the biggest task on your to-do list or the most unpleasant one – the task that you have no motivation to do and are most likely to procrastinate about. Eating the frog means starting with that task, in order to get it over and done with. A bit like the Nike advertising slogan, “Just do it”. By finishing this nasty task first, you will feel a sense of accomplishment earlier in the day, which will boost your overall motivation.
6. Set yourself deadlines
This means allowing yourself just enough time to complete a task well but, at the same time, no longer than is reasonable. Having established your deadline, train yourself that once you have started, you are not allowed to get up from your desk until it is completed.
7. The Pomodoro Technique
This technique is an alternative way to time your study cycles. You will need to use a timer, like the one on your smartphone. The procedure for the Pomodoro Technique is this:
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the timer (25 minutes is optimum)
- Work on the task.
- When the timer rings, stop studying and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes) then continue the cycle.
- After four alarms, take a longer break (15–30 minutes).
- Then reset your checkmark count to zero and repeat the cycle from the beginning.
8. Reward yourself
This is easy! Walk to the shops and buy an ice-cream or your favourite magazine. Treat yourself to a beer at the pub or a cappuccino at the local café. Whatever is your thing. It feels good to acknowledge your daily successes and doing this routinely will help your motivation levels a lot.