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Defeat Procrastination with an “Unschedule”

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Defeat Procrastination with an “Unschedule”

Throughout my high school and early college years, I was a compulsive procrastinator. I was also a perfectionist. Weird combination, right?

Actually, no. As it turns out, one of the main reasons why people procrastinate is that they are afraid of producing imperfect work. Needless to say, I was up late all the time trying to perfect work that I hadn't started until the last minute.

Then I was introduced to Dr. Neil Fiore’s “The Now Habit.” This book completely changed the way I tried to battle against procrastination. Before, I would just tell myself, “You gotta work harder! Stop being lazy!” Instead, I learned that this kind of thinking actually causes more procrastination; you just get more stressed about the mountain of work in front of you.

Instead, the key to ending procrastination is planning leisure time. Sounds crazy, right?

What we usually do is plan the time we would like to work. Then, we get stressed about the work we’ve planned. We procrastinate to avoid the work by having unplanned leisure time. This leisure never feels great, though, because in the back of our minds, the work looms large. After period of procrastination, we feel guilty about not working as much as we planned, which causes more stress and more procrastination. Not good.

Enter Fiore’s “Unschedule.” Let’s face it- realistically, we all need leisure. Either you plan your leisure and enjoy it guilt free, or you get it by procrastinating. The unschedule chooses the former. Interested? It’s actually quite simple. Follow the steps below and you’ll be procrastination free in no time!

1. Schedule your "non-work".

This is the heart of the Unschedule. Go buy a weekly planner or just print out some Sunday - Saturday weekly grids. First, block off out the necessities in your schedule: bed times, meal times, class/work schedules, etc. You need to do these things, so you can’t do your work during these times. Then, block off the time that you think you’ll need for personal free time and recreation each day. Be realistic but don’t be stingy with yourself! As Fiore notes, “It is basic to… unscheduling that first you fill in your Unschedule with as many nonwork activities as possible. This will help you overcome the fantasy that you have 24 hours a day… to work on your projects.”

After you’ve scheduled your free time, make sure you actually spend that free time on yourself! Read, exercise, hang out with your friends. Intriguingly, as you spend your free time, you will actually slowly start wanting to do your work as you feel the day ticking away.

2. Start Small.

Now let’s talk about the actual work. The key to getting started on work without procrastinating is to start small. Don’t think about the entire 20 hours you need to put into a project. You’ll only get overwhelmed.

When you’re ready to start working, commit mentally to 30 minute chunks of uninterrupted work. Just 30 minutes. Not bad, right? This will help you overcome procrastination because your brain knows that 30 minutes is really not that bad. The cool thing is, once you get into the flow of your work, you’ll probably end up working for more than 30 minutes. You just have to trick yourself into thinking that you’re only going to do 30 minutes!

3. Track and reward your work.

The final step is to keep track of how much work you do. Every time you finish a 30-minute chunk of work, give yourself a tally mark or a gold star on your Unschedule. Actually do this, even if it seems silly. You’ll notice that each extra tally you give yourself will motivate you to do more work. After each tally, you can even give yourself an extra reward by taking a break or eating a snack. Or, you could keep working. As you get into the habit of tracking your work, you’ll be more and more internally motivated to work without rewards. But early on, it’s OK if you can only go for 30-minute spurts.

At the end of each week, count up how many tallies you have. Keep track of how much work you did over the week. Does this number surprise you? If it’s high, congratulate yourself! It it’s low, just try to get a few more tallies the next week.The most important thing is, be realistic and start small. You’d be surprised at just how much you can accomplish one 30-minute chunk at a time.

[Looking for more info? Here's how to encourage a lazy teen.]

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Written by John Cho

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John Cho is a recent graduate of Amherst College. Upon graduating, John entered the world of education as a resident tutor/teacher in the Match Teacher Residency in Boston, MA. He now teaches GRE test preparation through Manhattan Prep and lives in Boston with his wife, who is also a teacher. Needless to say, the two spend all their days debating best teacher practices and ed policy.

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