We’ve all been there: a deadline is looming but all we can seem to do is watch youtube videos or scroll through Instagram.
It’s easy to beat yourself up when you’re not at maximum productivity, but the fact is, procrastination is a psychological symptom. The reasons for procrastination are many. Often, it can be attributed to anxiety due to feeling overwhelmed. This is especially true if you’re avoiding your work even when you know it’s bad for you.
I’m all too familiar with the woes of procrastination. I found it easier to avoid my work until I was so stressed at crunch time that I’d rush to get something done. Naturally, it caused me a lot of stress—not very healthy! So I looked into how to remedy my chronic procrastination and minimize my stress levels. These are my top tips for how to stop procrastinating as a student and plan ahead for deadlines.
7 Strategies to Stop Procrastinating and Meet Deadlines
There are myriad ways to plan ahead—productivity hacks abound on social media, and every life coach seems to be telling you they have the way to break the procrastination habit.
At the end of the day, however, it comes down to a few simple actions and slowly building these good habits to avoid the consequences of procrastination. Consistency is key to stopping chronic procrastination, so I’ve focused on simple, actionable tips that you can apply to your daily life over and over. These are some of my favorite straightforward strategies you can use to tackle any project—whether a school assignment, getting that essay written, or preparing for tests.
1. Break your project down into smaller steps
Tackling a big project can seem overwhelming and daunting. But if you break it down into smaller steps, suddenly a huge looming deadline becomes much more manageable.
By creating smaller steps for yourself along the way, you’ll be able to visualize how to get from point A to point B. You’ll be able to manage your deadlines for each of these smaller tasks, whether on a daily or weekly basis.
Say you have a persuasive essay due in a couple of months. Break down each of the steps that you need to complete in order to finish the essay. That might look like this:
- Pick a topic
- Research the topic and take notes that will help you
- Write a loose outline of your essay
- Identify any gaps in your research based on the outline
- Write your first draft
- Edit your first draft
- Revise your second draft
- Make sure all citations and bibliographies are finished
- Submit your final draft by the deadline
2. Set reasonable goals and deadlines
Don’t get carried away with lofty expectations! The best thing you can do for yourself is to be realistic about your goals and deadlines. Plus, it’s always better to underpromise and over-deliver.
For example, setting a goal to run a successful business sounds good on paper, but in reality, it’s too vague. You’ll need to identify what business you’d like to run and what success would look like to you. When do you want to achieve this by?
If you set out to build a million-dollar business in a year, your odds of succeeding are slim. Instead, set yourself up for success by creating reasonable, measurable goals. If you do exceed them, great! It’ll feel like an even bigger achievement.
Consider some of the following to set reasonable goals and deadlines for yourself:
- How much time do you need to complete a certain task? Be generous and add on extra time as a buffer.
- Will you need additional support to achieve your goals? Figure out what this might look like, and then be willing to ask for help or adjust to accommodate.
- Is your goal vague? Be specific about what you want to achieve, focusing on goals for the year ahead.
By setting realistic goals and deadlines, it’s easier to increase your time management skills as a college student and achieve what you’ve set out to do.
3. Organize your tasks
Staying organized while you work towards a deadline will minimize stress and maximize productivity. This doesn’t only refer to organizing your time well, but also how you prioritize your tasks.
Ask yourself which are the essential tasks that need to get done first. Are there some tasks you can’t do until you’ve completed another? Take time to look at each task and then set out a plan for how you’ll tackle it. If you can stick to this, you’ll find meeting deadlines is much easier.
There are several methods to get your tasks organized. One useful method—particularly when dealing with a complex project for one of your classes—is to work backward. Start at the end goal, then think about what the step before that is and slot in your task. This way, you’ll be able to map your way through the project, organizing tasks along the way to be as efficient as possible.
4. Set time aside for breaks
Slogging away hour after hour doesn’t mean you’ll be more productive. So make sure to set aside time for regular breaks. Studies show that taking regular breaks actually boosts your productivity. Stepping away, recharging, and allowing your mind to rest means you’ll be able to come back to your tasks with more energy.
The Pomodoro method (pictured above) is a popular way of scheduling breaks to maximize productivity. This technique uses 25-minute bursts of work, followed by a five-minute break. After four cycles, you’ll take a longer, 15-to-30-minute break.
5. Adjust your schedule
We’re all different when it comes to how and when we work best, and it’s important to notice and interpret your natural rhythms.
Focus on maximizing what works for you. Do you work better in the evenings or mornings? Do you get a post-lunch dip? Pay attention to your work patterns and adjust your work accordingly.
If you’re a productive morning person, prioritize the most difficult or important tasks first thing, reserving easier tasks for after lunch when you’re feeling more lethargic. If you work better at night, then you may want to schedule a block of work after dinner.
There’s no right or wrong way to schedule your time, so test out different methods and find one that works for you. When trying a new scheduling strategy, be sure to follow it for long enough to find out if it’s helpful.
6. Remove easy procrastination pit stops
If you’re easily distracted, identify if you’re drawn to certain websites, apps, or other ways of procrastinating. Be honest with yourself when identifying your patterns. If you find yourself scrolling through Instagram to avoid working, for example, then it’s a good idea to find ways to make it harder to access.
You may want to set a screen time limiter on your phone or hide the apps you’re more likely to fall back on in less-accessible folders.
Try Freedom to block access to certain websites at certain times across all of your devices. Or try Forest, a lock-screen app that sets a timer on your device so that you can’t access it. The best part? While you work, a forest grows on your screen—helpful and soothing.
If you’re unsure where your procrastination pit-stops are, the Rescue Time app can help by tracking your productivity and giving you insight into how you tend to procrastinate.
If you find yourself getting distracted because you’re stuck at a specific point in your writing, try Wordtune to break writer’s block and keep your momentum going. With the Spices menu, you can highlight your text and our AI assistant can expand upon your work, look for statistics to back up your point, or create an example.
Finally, for those who really struggle, there are even lockable cases for your phones that are set on a timer!
Adding these hurdles can help you eliminate procrastination pit-stops. Putting in the work and committing to eliminating these distractions will pay dividends in more productivity and focused work.
7. Get an Accountability Buddy
We can be our own worst enemies sometimes. Having someone you can rely on to give you an extra push toward your goals when you need it — and to celebrate with when you succeed — can be very motivating. Here are a few steps you can take to make it happen.
Plan It Out
Help each other by creating an initial plan of what you each want to achieve. Grab a coffee together and spend the afternoon mapping out your goals. Working together means your buddy could identify some helpful steps for your project or provide advice from their own experience.
Keep in mind that your plan may change over time. This exercise will help you to get an idea of how to achieve your goals, and you can adjust as necessary.
Schedule Your Time
Once you’ve both made a plan, set a schedule. When do you want to achieve your goals? Are there any deadlines you need to meet along the way? Meet regularly and support each other in keeping to your schedules. For example, meeting once a week at the same time will keep you motivated and accountable while breaking down the work into manageable chunks.
Support Each Other
When the going gets tough, reach out. Your accountability buddy is there to support you, as you are for them. When you face a roadblock — which will happen — call on them for support. Just remember to be available to support your buddy when they need you in return. You’re there to motivate one another and smash those goals!
Celebrate Your Achievements
Celebrate your successes! You’ve been there for each other and you’ve finally achieved your goals. You’ll be invested in one another’s successes, so make sure to mark the milestone and reap the rewards of your hard work. You could celebrate by going out for a meal together, heading to the bowling alley, or trying out a new activity together.
Time to get to it
Procrastination is often used for short-term enjoyment at the expense of long-term satisfaction. It can add stress to your life, affect your productivity, and reduce the quality of your work. The good news is, slowly building up good habits can help change your relationship to deadlines.
Planning ahead, getting organized, setting smaller goals, taking breaks, blocking distractions, and working with an accountability partner will support your long-term success. Don’t forget to celebrate milestones along the way!
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.