How to stop procrastinating and get your work done

07 May 2020
By Matt V., Student at Sheffield Hallam University

How often do you delay getting things done? That essay, this big project. We tell ourselves we have ample time, and there’s no need to start just yet.

We know it doesn’t help to delay like this, yet so many of us do it. Add in the stress and worry of the current coronavirus situation and it's even easier to fall into this trap.

Delays lead to rushing, and rushing leads to poor quality.

This three-stage system will help you eliminate procrastination and allow you to work more efficiently.

Stage 1: Accept the need to get started

It’s time to admit it. This article you're reading isn’t actually helping you do your work. Do you really need to be in the ‘right mood’ to work? Do you really have to organise and clean your room before you begin?

These kinds of distractions act as excuses, excuses that alleviate any guilt you feel for not actually doing as you planned. This is because, in the end, you only have to justify not doing something to yourself - and you take a lot less convincing than somebody else might!

Delays lead to rushing, and rushing leads to poor quality. The first step in overcoming procrastination is realising that the earlier you start, the more time you have to improve.

Stage 2: Figure out why you’re stalling

Why do we delay? Usually it’s because, deep down, we don't want to do the thing we’re putting off. But why don’t we want to do it?

I’ve found I put off work for four main reasons:

  1. I find the task boring and unenjoyable
  2. I’m too disorganised
  3. I can’t decide how to start
  4. I’m afraid I’ll fail
Delays lead to rushing, and rushing leads to poor quality.
Be honest with yourself about why you haven’t started yet. Once you know, you can identify the first thing you need to do to get going.

Whatever lies behind your procrastination, the answer is almost always to start small. Get bored writing for hours? Turn the essay into small, short jobs. Don’t know where to start? Make a schedule. Commit to doing one manageable task at a time.

Stage 3: Commit fully to your first task

When you are going to start work, commit completely to the task at hand. Turn your phone off, put your computer on do-not-disturb, and focus.

Need ideas for staying on track? Try these:

  • Write 200 words every two hours, and no more than 600 a day
  • Focus for 15 minutes, then rest for half an hour, then repeat
  • Compete against a flatmate, see who can finish their task first

Once you have started, you will be motivated to tick off your first task and move onto the next one. And when you have got some words on the screen, you can go back and change the bits you don't like.

This tip is useful for any writing: write first, edit second. The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect - it’s more important that you get something out, and that you get it out early so you have time to refine it later.

Get into these good habits now

Remember, when you delay, you’re only delaying the inevitable. The deadline isn’t going anywhere! So get into the habit of starting small and starting early.

You’ll make progress more quickly. You’ll have more time to improve your first draft. And you’ll feel more relaxed when the deadline arrives.

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Matt is studying Business at Sheffield Hallam, and is currently on a placement year in the USA.