All throughout high school and right into college, I was a chronic procrastinator. I spent the days leading up to due dates for big essay projects worry-free, and the night before, I would stare at my computer until the wee hours of the morning, bleary-eyed and delusional from lack of sleep while trying to finish something I was given a week or more to complete.
I used to say, “Oh, I just work well under pressure. That’s why I wait until the last second to start projects.” But I always knew this wasn’t the case. I had the ability to crank out an assignment in a couple of hours before it was due, but it was never my best work, and I didn’t feel a sense of pride putting my name on it. This was a problem that I desperately wanted to fix, but with unlimited distractions available, I could come up with endless reasons to put off getting started for another hour or two, until I taught myself these techniques to boost my productivity.
1. Just Start Somewhere.
Start with the absolute easiest task. It doesn’t matter if that’s just creating a document, titling it, and saving it. Do this ASAP after receiving any kind of project with a deadline. I have to force myself to do this because it seems so simple, almost like it’s not going to make a difference. I promise you, it does!
2. Hold Yourself Accountable
Commit yourself by telling others around you what you’re up to. If the clock is ticking and someone is expecting your work by a certain date, tell your best friend, your mom, and your partner exactly what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it. Even if it’s just a personal project, having someone to hold you accountable is a valuable tool.
3. Write It Down Where You’ll See It
I like to keep track of tasks the old-fashioned way. Make sure you have a badass planner or a cute little notebook, and put everything that matters in it as soon as you commit. You can also add deadlines to the calendar on your phone or laptop, but there’s something that makes it click for me when I put pen to paper and write it all down.
4. Skip the Snooze Button
Wake. up. early. Seriously, this was advice I ignored for far too long because, well, I’m lazy, and I like to lay in bed until I feel ready to start my day. But I’ve recently been forcing myself to get out of bed to shut off my alarm that’s blaring from across the room, and those are my most productive days. I also shower as soon as I wake up, even if I think I don’t need to. And when I get out, I put on some real pants (especially important if I’m planning to work at home). Getting the basics out of the way in the early hours of the morning puts me in the perfect spot to start grindin’ before the sun has fully risen. I’m not saying you have to wake up at 4 a.m. to be productive, but start small and try to wake up 30 to 45 minutes before your usual wakeup call. I remain amazed at how much more I’m able to achieve with that extra chunk of time.
5. Switch Up Your Workspace
Relocate to a chill space to work when you hit a productivity rut. Sometimes all it takes for me to have a breakthrough moment in a project is to move to a different spot in the house and find a cozy corner to work at. The act of physically moving myself from one place to another and being in a new space with different scenery can boost my motivation to get the job done.
6. Dump It All Out
I’m a big fan of brain dumps. I usually start a new project by taking every relevant thought that’s in my head and spewing it on a page or typing it all out. I try not to worry about grammar or spelling when I’m doing this exercise, because the goal is to get every thought out until a solid starting point comes to mind. If the lack of organization in brain dumping stresses you out, a mind map or more traditional outline is also a great way to get started.
7. Reward Yourself Along the Way
In the early stages of your project, take some time to break down your task into smaller sections or goals, and reward yourself upon completion of each section. Taking the time to give yourself a pat on the back and stimulating your brain with something that makes you happy is all the more reason to get back to work. Examples of some powerful incentives include: a snack break, an episode of whatever you’re currently binge-watching, or a quick power nap.