“Well… it’s not due until next week” I thought to myself as I checked Facebook for the fourth time that hour.
Sound familiar? So maybe Facebook isn’t your jam, but what about checking your snapfeed every hour, or becoming a Merry Maid and cleaning your house within an inch of its life to avoid your scholarship applications?
You have to consider what you might be giving up by pushing things to the last minute: In 2011-2012 (the most recent data available from The National Center for Education Statistics), the average amount in grants and scholarships earned by/awarded to a student across all income levels was $9,740.
Let that sink in for a minute: Across all income levels, the average scholarship and grant aid per student was almost $10,000 a year. That’ll mostly cover tuition and fees for full time study at a state school in many cases.
But, if you turn in a shoddy essay because you wrote it at 10pm and submitted it at 11:59pm on the night of the deadline, or you miss out on applying for some key scholarships because you forgot about the deadline, your average is likely to be much lower.
You’re not the first or the last student who has struggled with procrastination. But here’s the good news! You don’t have to struggle! You don’t have to be defined by poor time management skills, stress, and work that is less than your best.
Reasons We Procrastinate
There are lots of reasons, conscious and subconscious, that we procrastinate. Here are a few and what you can do to overcome them:
It’s Scary or Intimidating or Unappealing
Brian Tracy, author of “Eat That Frog!” says, “If the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.” He then goes on to define your “frog” as “your biggest and most important task of the day.” His top tips for “eating frogs” are:
- If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first
It’s easy to put something off because you’ve gotten something smaller done and gotten the synaptic reward of dopamine that makes you feel good about yourself and less inclined to tackle what will likely be more challenging and at which you may not succeed. Do the hardest thing first, and finish it, that way the other tasks constitute a downhill slope.
- If you have to eat a frog, it doesn’t pay to sit and look at it for very long
Just like chugging the pitcher of nasty leftover milk and cereal at summer camps that your buddies dared you to drink, the longer you contemplate the task in front of you, the less appealing it’s going to seem. Take a cue from Nike on this one and, “Just do it.”
- Take action immediately
Action is only constituted by measurable progress on the project in question. Going to the gym, cleaning your entire bedroom, walking the dog, or doing your chores are all admirable actions, but they aren’t going to get you any closer to a completed essay or application. Start outlining your essay, make a calendar with all the upcoming scholarship deadlines, send out a request for recommendation letters – take decisive, focused action.
Check out Brian’s website to find some other sage advice about tackling your hardest task first.
You Don’t Know What To Do Next
Really this is an excuse that reflects poorly on your organizational ability. Most people aren’t born organized, so we need to develop a system that works for us. Like I talked about in one of my last blogs, what the system is doesn’t matter as much as meeting a few key criteria:
- Everything needs to be in one place
If you have lists in your email, and in your online calendar, and in your phone, and on a pad of paper in your kitchen, you’re probably going to drop a ball at some point, and probably a big one. Pick one system and stick to it. It might be difficult at first; you might have to try more than one, but it will be worth it. It needs to be something you have access to when you need it and it should to be easy to use. This is key. If you think you’re going to lose information, you’ll try to keep it all in your head. This severely limits your creativity (which you’ll probably need for those essays) and reduces your effectiveness and efficiency.
- Prioritize the tasks
Not all tasks are created equal. There is no expiration date on cleaning (usually) but there’s definitely a deadline for that application. Once you have everything you need to do in one place, you need to go through and ruthlessly rank everything you have to do in order of priority. You should only have three at the top as we can only work on one thing at a time really well and each time we add a task (whether we’re thinking about it or actually multi-tasking) we decrease our productivity significantly.
- Organize yourself
Everyone thinks differently, but if you’re responsible for more than three things, you’re probably going to need reminders. So once you’ve prioritized your tasks, give them a deadline and set reminders leading up to the deadline. It’s not just easy to leave something to the last minute; if we haven’t thought about it, it’s inevitable! Make sure that your all-in-one system is integrated with some kind of reminders that give you a push in the right direction.
- Keep looking at your list
Make time every morning to review your list. Re-prioritize as necessary and make a time-structured plan for how you’re going to eat your frog that day.
- Do it!
Now that you have a place where all your tasks can live without fear of forgetting something, your mind can be clear to focus on the task at hand. This is where eating the frog comes in. It still might seem difficult or intimidating to get to work on something even if you know what you need to do and you have a plan, but you can do it – you just have to decide to.
You Don’t Want To Do It
All of us have tasks that we don’t want to do, but that’s part of growing up and/or being responsible. If you never washed your dishes, or vacuumed your house, or cleaned your toilets, your house would become a hazard – the return on investment (having a clean home that you can share with others) is worth the effort. In the same way, you have to look at the value proposition associated with putting in applications. It might seem scary, you might be afraid to fail, creating a system or putting together a plan may seem daunting, but you have to consider what you risk by not applying. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, the average amount in grants and scholarships earned by/awarded to a student across all income levels was $9,740. That’s approximately 974 hours if you’re making more than minimum wage in most states. It almost definitely won’t take you 974 hours to apply for enough scholarships to hit that $9,740 mark – but even if it did, you’d get to do it mostly on your own time, when you want to, in the comfort of your own home. That beats the heck out of a 5am Starbucks shift. So if you don’t want to do it, as Mom always said, “Suck it up, cupcake.” It’s worth it.
If you have any other tips that have worked to help you silence your inner procrastinator, please let us know in the comments below!