How to be productive

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Published by Vida
on 12/02/2020

Notes on productivity from a master procrastinator

2020 is our year, friends! We are growing, staying hydrated, surrounding ourselves with positivity and good vibes, and working wholeheartedly on our goals. To that end, I’d like to share with you a few tips on dealing with distractions and staying productive, to make sure we make the most of this new year and decade.

I am honestly THE BEST at procrastinating.

I may have three essays to do, but I just need to do a deep-dive on the Instagram explore page, or tidy, or watch YouTube videos or… you get the gist. So, if you are stuck in the same cycle and need advice on how to get out of it, keep reading!

I would like to begin by reflecting on the term productivity. In my opinion, I am not productive if all I do is work all day and forget to take care of myself. Instead, I consider myself productive if I have had a balanced day in which I have done my academic work, but I have also cooked myself a meal, chatted to my mum or my friends, painted my nails, read a book or any of the other little things that make up my life. Most importantly, I am productive if I have allowed myself to rest. However, this is different to the idea of productivity we get fed through social media…

Being productive according to social media…

We are constantly told we have to “hustle” and be “on the grind” and whatever other term people come up with for overworking themselves in the name of success. For a very long time, I internalised this message, and measured my productivity solely by how much I was doing at work and for uni. I would feel really guilty if I didn’t finish everything on my to-do list or didn’t do as much work as I thought I should in a day. This guilt then lead to procrastination and me doing even less work.

For me, a big reason for procrastination is the fear of failure. I didn’t want to fail by doing less work than I thought I should, and I didn’t want to fail at being my “best self” that I thought I should be, so I put everything off. If I don’t try, I won’t fail. At the same time, I wanted to do a hundred things per day. I wanted to read, cook, do yoga, do uni work, go out with friends, catch up on Netflix etc. So, I would write ambitious to-do lists which I obviously wouldn’t complete, then feel guilty, and the cycle started all over again.

I am not saying you shouldn’t be ambitious – you absolutely should be! If you are procrastinating, it could mean that you are anxious or worried about the tasks you have to do. This could either be because they are difficult and you don’t know how to do them, or because there are a lot of them. Procrastination becomes a habit and you start putting off tasks even if they are relatively easy to do. So, how do you break the cycle?

1 – Start small

There is a saying, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. We will make 2020 our year, but we need to start small. You’re not going to become your best self overnight, so what can you do to get where you want to be? The most important thing is to just begin. Have an essay? Read over the assignment brief, brainstorm a few ideas, or read over lecture notes relevant to the topic. Want to work out more? Stretch a bit, go for a walk, do some squats. Starting is the hardest part, but once you make these small steps a habit, you will notice you are procrastinating less, and it becomes easier for you to do your work.

2 – Be ambitious, but realistic

How much can you really get done in a day? This is different for everyone – some people read quicker so they can get through a reading list faster than others. There isn’t a universal target that you have to hit to be allowed to say you are productive. When you are setting out what you need to do that day, be realistic about how much you have time for. You should also learn to prioritise tasks that are actually important – just make sure your well-being is considered a priority as well!

3 – Beat FOMO

Let’s be honest, the internet and smartphones have caused a lot of FOMO (fear of missing out). If it isn’t social media, it’s Netflix or your friends texting you. My saving grace has been the app “Self-Control”. It lets you block distracting apps for a specific period of time, and keeps working even if you turn off your device. This means that once you block a site, it stays blocked. It is available on laptops and smartphones.

Another nice app is “Forest”. You plant a tree and have to stay off your phone if you want it to grow. Another lifesaver is the “Do Not Disturb” mode, which is a built-in feature that most phones have. This will stop you compulsively checking your phone as soon as a notification comes in.

I would say this is especially important in the morning. Turn on “Do Not Disturb” or Airplane mode so you don’t wake up to notifications. You’ll be less likely to go on social media first thing in the morning. I notice a huge difference in my productivity if I don’t start my day with social media, and I am in a much better state of mind.

Thanks for reading! I hope you found these tips useful!