It is 10' O Clock on a Tuesday night. I go to check what Rajiv, my room mate is up to. To my horror, he is crouched over his study table, furiously working on something. "Rajiv"...He does not listen to me. "Rajiv, what’s up man?” I go and look closely. "Hey, is this the POM-I assignment. Dude you didn’t even tell me. When is it due by the way?”
Looking up from the table Rajiv says "10 AM Tomorrow morning"
Rajiv is our class topper. He does everything in time. I am sure you have one such fellow in your friend list - calm, composed and corporate type. Ever ready with that sly smile on his face. And you always curse him under your breath for him being super smart.
10:02 PM: I go back to my study table and switch on the study lamp. I get my POM-I book, the assignment papers, my notebook, white sheets and my Lucky Mitsubishi Pen. Arranging everything on the table, I feel I should have a mug of coffee to keep me going and concentrate on this.
10:15 PM: With the coffee mug on the table, I read the assignment papers and feel that I need to study the chapter in the book. I open the book laboriously and somehow I don’t feel like reading it. I stare at the pages blankly trying to make myself read the content. Suddenly, someone knocks at the door. I give a sigh of relief. My friend Ajay is there. Ajay is a darling. He is always miles away from his books. He is never bothered about his grades or assignments. He is a jolly good fellow, ever with a big smile on his face, an eager helping hand and an ear that he lends to anyone.
Ajay has some work at the student center and wants to know if I can accompany him. I think that is a good idea as I will get some fresh air and come back and finish my assignment.
12:00 AM: At midnight, we are back from the library. Now we are lounging near the canteen. There are a bunch of folks and we are having a good time. Someone reminds me of the assignment. I assure myself that I will finish it in good time.
2:00 AM: Its 2 in the morning and I am back to my room. Rajiv is fast asleep. The assignment papers are lying on the table. I tell myself that I have to do it now. I spend the next 10minutes struggling with it. It does not make a dent in my head. I deduce that I am too tired now to fight with it. Better sleep now and try that in the morning with a fresh mind.
8:00AM: I wake up. Rajiv, my room-mate is getting dressed. He has this smug smile on his face. He reminds me of POM-I. I press the panic button. The first lecture of the day is at 9:00. I have to finish my assignment in 1 hour. Without even getting out of bed, I jump on the assignment papers. I try to solve the problems as much as I can. It is 8:45 AM now. I am still on question 3. There are 2 more to go. I am sure; I will not be able to finish it. The POM-I assignment is very important and carries 10% weight. Also, I did not get good score in the last assignment. Have to do this one well. I need to finish it any cost. I decide to bunk the first class. 55 minutes later, I am done. I have to rush to the class to submit it. With just a few minute to spare, I hand over my assignment papers, SHIT - Some How In Time.
I am sure many of you would have been through similar situation at different times. Even though we know that something is important, we keep postponing it till the last minute. Sometimes, we may even do a shoddy job, or worse even miss our deadline because of this. The technical term for this is procrastination. The reason we procrastinate is because in the heart of our heard, we somehow dread doing it and always look for opportunities not to do the difficult task, even if it may have negative consequences. Procrastination often, becomes a habit by itself, albeit a bad habit. It is said to be one of the biggest obstacles to reach our goals. Procrastination is a big impediment to learning. So, why do we procrastinate?
As students, we have few specific reasons why we procrastinate:
o We are overconfident of our ability. We think we can finish the task in a short time
o We underestimate the time taken to do something
o We feel the time, mood, situation is not right to do it
o We think a bit of pressure will do good
o Boring, uninteresting work. We never procrastinate going to the movie!
Fortunately, there are some proven techniques to deal with procrastination.
1. Create a TO-DO list: This technique helps you by freeing up your working memory and putting things in perspective. Many times, things on paper look much smaller than what they appear to be in our head. Then prioritize the to-do tasks. A good way to do it (as per Stephen Covey) is to put them in an urgent and important matrix. Tackle the urgent and important ones first. As Prof. Barbara Oakland says, it is a good idea to create a TO-DO list the night before and sleep on it. It gives time to the brain to work on certain items in the diffused mode and get some breakthrough.
For certain type of tasks; it is advisable to schedule a very small chunk of time in your daily routine. For example, if you want to start a habit of running, and it seems a big daunting task, you may just schedule 10 minutes of time to run every morning. A 10 minute run is not very difficult. But once you start doing it, the positive habit of routine takes over and within a few weeks you would be looking forward to your run. This technique can also be used for writers writing books, papers or blogs.
2. Eat that frog: Start doing the most difficult and dreaded task first thing in the morning. As Brian Tracy says, if you have to eat the frog, it does not make any sense to keep staring at the ugly frog and thinking how distasteful it will be. You should rather take a deep breath, put it in your mouth and start chewing.
3. How do you eat an elephant? – One bite at a time: Most of the time, the task in front of us seems very large. It is like scaling the Mount Everest. So, how do you scale Mount Everest? Well, One step at a time. Similarly, if you have a big task at hand, reduce it to smaller pieces. Then tackle each piece one at a time. Breaking down the task to smaller manageable chunks helps to reduce the enormity of task at hand. We can then accomplish each portion one after the other.
4. Another way to stop procrastination is by having an accountability partner. You may have a friend ask you on a daily basis if you went for your run or not. Else, post your goal on your Facebook page and tell your friends to ask you about it. That will create the sense of responsibility that you need to do the task. Publicly displayed progress charts and various Smartphone social apps that are available today also serve similar purpose.
5. POMODORO Technique: Set up a fixed time frame to do the task that you have to do. Try to obstruct all other distractions and focus on the task only. Give yourself a reward after spending the fixed time on the task. Also, focus on the process and not on the product. This would help you get going and you will find yourself making good progress.
In spite of applying all these techniques, you may still slip into procrastination. Be aware and watch yourself. Have a Plan B, should this happen.
Procrastination is like an endemic. It grows. It grows from your academic tasks to personal and professional tasks. It is quite common among many people. If you are a superstar like Rajiv, always prompt, always ready and always prepared, you don’t have a problem. You don’t have to read this blog and apply these techniques. You are able get everything quite easily by virtue of your good habits. If you are a rock-star like Ajay - casual, carefree and cool and have a devil-may-care attitude, you do not need this either. You don’t care if you get anything or not. But, this lesson on how to deal with procrastination is for the vast majority of mortals like me, who are somewhere in between the two extremes. We are the ones who always keep trying. Trying hard for everything. We are the ones who need to stop procrastinating. We need to do it as procrastination is the only thing which stands between us and our goals. It is like a bad habit that grows slowly. We may not realize it until we find ourselves in deep soup. Hence, we need to shake off the inertia and take action. We need to do it, NOW.