The other day when I was at a café with my friend, she said something that made me have an idea for a blog entry. “Back in high school it was so much easier to get started on your homework. Especially maths, because you had these concrete tasks you could cross off your task sheet, and feel like you’d accomplished something each time you made a cross.” We continued our conversation, agreeing that being presented with these huge tasks at the university, such as “read chapter 2, 3 and 4”, or “Write an essay on subject A, B and C” can sometimes seem as an insurmountable task, and oftentimes you can end up not doing them, because they seem so intimidating.
Therefore, I thought, why not make your own task sheet, and trick your brain into thinking the task is much smaller than it actually is? I know this is a very basic idea; break tasks into smaller entities, and I have mentioned this before, but I have not mentioned to what degree.
To give you an example, these last few weeks have been this year’s midterms at my university. As a part of these midterms, I had to write one essay, take one qualification exam and do one obligatory assignment. Although these tasks are hardly the most difficult midterm evaluations one could imagine, they did require some work, and they definitely required some willpower. My goal was to hand them in at least three days before they were due, therefore I could not rely on that last-minute panic that sets in just before the hand-in folder closes.
As I had a bit of a backlog to deal with in the subject I had the qualification exam in, I felt quite overwhelmed by the curriculum. I decided to face the backlog head on, and make new study habits for this class, as a lot of the required coursework is reading, and not task based. I think this is the case for many university courses, which is why I think this example is the most applicable for you guys.
So instead of telling myself “read 5 chapters”, I wrote this in my planner:
- Write down key words from chapter 3
- Explain the key words you found in chapter 3
- Give examples of the key words you found in chapter 3
I repeated this for all five chapters, and ended up with five word documents that looked like this:
In the end, I had done all the required reading, albeit not in the chronological order, and I had managed to take comprehensive notes on every chapter we were being tested on. How you perceive the difficulty of the task lies in the presentation. I do not mind sifting through the text, jumping back and forth trying to find out what is the essence of the chapter. I do however mind sitting for hours and hours without jotting down a few words, trying to gather my thoughts. The idea here is to present the task to yourself in the way you know will be most “palatable” for you, and will make it easier to start the task. If you are a perfectionist, as I’ve been called many times, you know the feeling of not wanting to start, because you do not want to hand in something that is less that “perfect”. As my father always says, sometimes good is good enough, everything does not need to be perfect in order for you to have accomplished something.
That is why I like this method so much. Not only do I think it makes the “barrier of entry” easier for most procrastinators, I think dissecting tasks in this way also makes you find your preferred way of learning. If you’re enjoying yourself while learning, I think you retain so much more of what you’ve read, so make the most of your study sessions. Make it fun, and remember to enjoy yourself! Hopefully, you were the one who chose the program you are currently enrolled in, so try to appreciate the chance you’ve been given!
In the end, I’ll just add a little “morsel of wisdom” for my fellow procrastinators out there;
Do not wait until the clock turns a round number, or until the next hour starts, just DO IT NOW. If only the planning stage of the task, you’ll feel so much better if you do just five minutes of work. Or you could always do it next week, eh?
Have a good weekend!