This semester, I have had more free-time than ever before. I mean, I am working full-time and I'm taking two classes, but my evenings are free to do whatever I want. So what have I done? Nothing. I have looooong lists of things to do and goals I want to accomplish, but my laziness has gotten the better of me, and two months have gone by and I have nothing to show for it. I know I'm not alone in this. We all have goals and ideas and good intentions, but so often we come home after work and school and burn our brain cells watching Netflix instead of actually living the life we want to live. I'm really no expert on time management. But I've been doing a little research on productivity and efficiency as well as a little experimentation and I'm going to give you a step-by-step plan for avoiding procrastination, as well as some of my best advice. So read through my list, then close your computer and just DO WHAT YOU NEED TO DO.
Turn off your phone. You know why.
Get up. I don't know why we think we can be productive when we're lying down on the couch. Stand up, do some jumping jacks, and then get to work.
Just start. Do something. Anything. Don't make a master list of all your responsibilities in order of priority, don't clean your whole bedroom and buy a new Anthropologie candle, just tell yourself one thing you're going to do and then do it.
Split your one big thing into several smaller things. If the thing you're doing for step two is really big, split it up into 10 tiny baby steps. It might seem silly to write: "1. Google search "the middle east" 2. Read Wikipedia article 3. Find 3 citable sources" but I promise it will make the big task much more manageable.
Tell someone what you're going to do. Tell it to your husband, text it to your mom, post it on Facebook, it doesn't matter. Just tell someone what you're going to do so you feel accountable.
Take a break every 90 minutes. There's a lot of research that says you should take a break every 30-50 minutes and maybe that's true for some people, but that just does not work for me. I can focus well for 90 minutes before my brain starts to melt, but if I take a break after only 30 or even 60 minutes, I have trouble getting back into it.
Drink water. Again, obvious, but don't forget to do it.
Before you reward yourself for completing a task, make a list of what needs to happen for the next task. We waste a lot of time "getting ready" to do something, so if you can organize your thoughts while you're still in work mode, it will be that much easier to get moving tomorrow.
NOW you can reward yourself for working hard. I know it's not "good" to use food as a reward, but it works really well for me so I'm not going to fight it. Get in the habit of only rewarding yourself if you really deserve it.
Pay attention to what works for you and what doesn't. You might need breaks every 30 minutes and that's totally fine. Knowing how your brain works is half the battle in getting things done.
This list might seem too simple but that's the thing about getting stuff done. You just have to do it. There's no secret code, there's no magic switch, you just have to force yourself to MOVE. Below, I have some more general tips and other resources I've found for being productive and avoiding procrastination.
Smile. You're more productive when you're happy.
Stretch. The chances of your body being tight and tired by 5PM are like a million to one. Stand up and do some sun salutations, yo.
Turn on the light! Humans aren't nocturnal, so when you work in the dark you're confusing your brain. That's also why you shouldn't look at your phone before going to sleep but whatever.
Eat something. It's hard to work on an empty stomach.
Clean up your work space.
Work at the same time every day. I know there's a TON of research on the benefits of working in the early morning but let's be honest, we don't all have that luxury. My advice is to just work at the same time each day. Force yourself to put everything down at 7PM every day and do your homework (or whatever it is you need to do).
Make a brain dump. Take out a piece of paper and write down any task that pops into your head. Don't try and make it neat, just flush out your brain and worry about it later.
Go through your brain dump mumbo jumbo and make a to-do list. I like to organize my to do lists by category, but if all your tasks are in one area, it might work better to organize them by urgency.
Number your tasks. It's easy to see your progress when it's quantifiable.
Keep track of where you waste time. Is it when you come home from work or right before bed? When you know where you're wasting your time, you can schedule productive things to do in those times.
Don't multitask. You can't do it. Stop trying.
Do the hardest thing first. I am a big believer in this and the reason is because (a) the hardest thing usually takes the longest so you should do it first while there's still time and (b) nothing can be too bad after doing the bad thing, right?!?!
If you have to listen to music, listen to SOFT music WITHOUT WORDS. Another mental thing. You can't read or write well while lyrics are dancing through your brain.
Change your clothes. This goes both ways. If you're wearing your stiff work pants, you're not going to be able to concentrate. On the other hand, if you're wearing your old boyfriend's sweats with stains from the pizza you just ate, you're not going to be able to concentrate either.
Set a timer. If you have something really overwhelming you're trying to do, it can ease your anxiety to know that in 20 minutes, you can stop doing it.
Don't work in bed.
Don't work on your couch either unless you can honestly not fall asleep.
Work at a table, either in your kitchen or at a library or somewhere slightly uncomfortable with bright lights.
Turn down the heat. Being too warm can make you drowsy. Stay warm by wearing a pair of socks but don't get too cozy or you won't be able to concentrate.
Ask for help. If you're trying to do something big, the best thing you can do is get more people on your team. Look to professors, coaches, bishops, parents, and roommates for support!
Eliminate some of your to-do list. This might sound crazy on a blog about accomplishing your to do list, but maybe you're not "getting enough stuff done" because you just have too much to do! Simplify, simplify.
ACTUALLY CARE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO. This goes along with the tip above because if you don't care about what you do, you're not going to be able to do it for very long. If you can't get out of something, then FIND A WAY to get into it, because the number one way to get stuff done is to care about the stuff you're doing.
These are the articles I read about time management, avoiding procrastination, and being more productive, and I would highly recommend them. Watch out for LadyKay Md, she has some really foul language (Sorry LadyKay Md, I think your advice is amazing but could you cut down on the cussing??)
I hope this helps! I've honestly read EVERYTHING I can find about making a good to do list and managing your time and I think specific, concrete steps are the only things that really work. If anyone thinks there's something I missed I would love to know!