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Defeating Procrastination

It’s still early in the season, and you may be thinking that you can wait a couple more weeks on that speech or case. But I’m sure you know that the more time you have to perfect it and get feedback in club, the more prepared you’ll be when tournaments roll around. It’s funny that we find procrastination so alluring, even though we generally view it negatively. By careful planning and discipline, you can defeat procrastination. Here are a couple of tips that I’ve used to deal with it.

1. Divide Projects into Smaller Tasks

It can be overwhelming to look at your to-do list, and struggle to find where to start. The solution will seem a bit counterintuitive: divide larger tasks into smaller ones. Even though it will make your list longer, each project will seem less intimidating. For example, “write a ten page essay” sounds daunting, but if you break it up into steps (find topic, establish a structure, find resources, write point one, etc.), you are basically giving yourself an instruction manual. In my experience, the shorter and easier a project is on my to-do list, the more likely it will be completed quickly. Here is a sample division of an LD case: 1) do philosophical and contextual research on the resolution, 2) brainstorm values, 3) research applications, 4) consolidate applications into contentions, 5) finalize value definition and resolutional definitions, and 6) complete writing the introduction, applications, and conclusion. Now you have a clear starting point to your project and a guideline to complete it.

2. Set Deadlines

Once you’ve arranged your assignments into smaller steps, get the ball rolling by setting some deadlines for yourself. Set your deadlines well in advance of when your work is due and in order of priority. Now that you already have a bunch of smaller, simpler tasks, you can set deadlines for each of those components and you have your work schedule laid out. Each completion will give you a sense of success and energy to keep going, instead of making you feel bogged down by so much work. I have a recent personal example of this. I was home for a month between when my summer job ended and when I went back to Cal Poly, and I had a lot of things to do that had accumulated over the last year I had been at school. But, I have to confess, for the first two weeks or so I hardly got anything done. Fun things like playing piano or hanging out with friends took priority. So I sat down with my to-do list, and turned it into a calendar. Things that I had put off for weeks (like buying a car) got done in just a few days. By setting individual deadlines for each of my projects, I rose to the occasion and get everything done…well, almost. I did about 18 of my 25 projects. But still, I did way more work than the first half of my time at home. By giving yourself a time frame to get your things done, you are far more likely to actually do them.

3. Eliminate Distractions

It’s pretty tempting to pull up a YouTube tab or check your email or Facebook while you’re working, even though you know it only slows you down. When we start getting bored with our work, our brains start seeking out distraction. It’s all too easy to slip into the warm embrace of denial by entertaining ourselves with worthless activities. The best way to deal with this is to leave your phone far away from you when you study. The farther your phone is from you, the easier it will be to ignore it. Also, keeping as few tabs open as possible will save time and eliminate other distractions.

With these tricks in hand, I’m sure you can defeat procrastination and work efficiently. I wish you well on your speaking and debating this year!

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