10 ways to stop procrastinating and improve focus

Every student faces the brunt of procrastination, some more than others. You always know exactly what you should be doing but you never want to do it. Undesirable assignments get put off until the last minute and every single time you are forced to pull off an all-nighter. Endless cups of coffee later we turn in an assignment, usually hurriedly checked or sometimes not at all and which hardly showcases our best work. And as expected, the marks we get reflect this. How great would it be to have the time to check our work thoroughly and improve it before submitting it? Here are 10 ways to get rid of procrastination and improve focus.

1. Know when you are procrastinating.

The first step is to recognize that you are procrastinating. There is a difference between putting off a task and re-prioritizing it. If you are delaying your work for a genuinely good reason it is acceptable. However, the moment you start to put off things indefinitely or shift your focus because you don’t like doing a particular work, then you are procrastinating. Here are few other ways when you know you are putting off work:

Wait for the ‘right mood’ or the ‘right time’ to start.
Fill your time with unimportant tasks instead of focussing on the important tasks.
Leave something on your to-do lists for a long time without attending to it.
Start on an important task and then get up for a short break.

2. Know why you are procrastinating.

There are many reasons to why we procrastinate. We might delay doing something because it is unpleasant or boring. In this case the solution might be to tackle it quickly and get it out of the way. Another reason is poor organisational skills. Organised people can get tasks done quickly because they create to-do lists and create effective schedules.
Then there are others who are cannot seem to get anything done despite being organised because they are afraid of failure. They focus on easier tasks they can do easily and which are more fun. Poor decision making is also another factor why people put off doing any work in case they make a wrong decision.

3. Choose one task.

The key to being productive is to focus. Often we get overwhelmed by giving ourselves too many things to do. We all have this tendency as human beings to put off work when it seems insurmountable. We need to start with one task that we need to do and then move to the next when it is finished. Let’s say you have to complete two assignments, write a book report, make a presentation for class and think up ten different ideas for the extempore speech competition for the annual day competition. This might seem like too much work to complete in a week or less. Pick up one task, any one, and just start. When you have finished task in your hands, you will feel much better about completing the others.

4. Perform the ‘Five Minute Miracle’

A psychotherapist, Tara Springett, came up with one of the most effective techniques for people who struggle with procrastination. The Five Minute Miracle involves asking yourself, “Is there any action I can perform for just 5 mins today that lets me make the tiniest amount of progress?” Once you identify the task you want to do, set a timer and finish the task. According to research, once you start a task, you are more likely to finish it. This is because unfinished tasks get stuck in our memory more often than finished tasks. The purpose of the exercise is to start doing. Even a small action is still action. Five minutes can make all the difference.

5. Make a routine

High achieving students do not rely on willpower to complete their work. They rely on systems and routines instead. In this way, they get their work done even on days they do not feel motivated. When we maintain a rough schedule of working every day, our brain gets accustomed to working around that time and out of habit, we can focus on the task before us.

6. Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.

You might be thinking with the routine you already have this might be impossible to manage but that is not true. You just need to make it a priority and not something to be done only after you get all important tasks out of the way. This is an important task too. A good night’s sleep can have astounding benefits on your productivity. Sleep affects memory, focus and brain function. If you are not sleeping 8 hours every night, this is probably a major reason why you lack focus and procrastinate.

7. Meditation and deep breathing exercises

With just a couple of minutes a day of deep breathing exercises can change your outlook for the day. Studies have shown that deep breathing can reduce stress and increase our willpower and energy to do things. To do this exercise, once a day, close your eyes and inhale three times and exhale three times. Repeat this process 8 to 10 times and feel the difference. After a few weeks, you will feel calmer and more focussed.

8. Have a power hour to hit the ground running

Power hour is a great way to complete big chunks of work by attacking it in short intervals. If you have never tried doing this before, I would suggest starting with 20 minute intervals first. Work furiously for 20 minutes and get as much done as you can. Rest a few minutes afterwards and again start on the next 20 minutes. This process works because our brain naturally goes through cycles of high performance and low performance. To tune in to this natural rhythm of the body, working in intervals with frequent breaks can help optimise your performance.

9. Avoid multitasking

Watching a person multitask effortlessly can be impressive. Doing two to three things at the same time and managing to complete them all can sound amazing but in reality they are not really multitasking. When people do multiple things at once, they are merely switching from one task to another. In the process, their productivity and focus decreases.
As a student, I would not recommend you multitask. Instead, focus on one task at a time and do it thoroughly. For harder tasks, it is better to take more frequent breaks and work in shorter focussed bursts.

10. Tell a friend. Make a bet. Make it fun.

It makes it easier to accomplish goals we set when you involve another person in our journey. It’s like having an accountability partner who reminds you to complete tasks when you fall behind. Moreover, the process of completing tasks can be fun as well. Place a bet with your friend. It can be anything like, “if I cannot complete the environment assignment by Wednesday 10 am, you can have my play station for a week.” Or, “If I do not manage to finish both reports by tomorrow evening 5 pm, I will have to treat you to chai and samosas.” Tell your buddy to check in with you at the appointed time and if you lose the bet, you pay the price! If bets are not your style, you can choose to reward yourself for a job well done every time you complete a task. The human brain responds well to stimulus and this can be a good way to create good habits.

Even though I have laid out 10 of the best ways to improve focus and procrastination, the onus lies on you at the end to make the first move. As mentioned in No.10, the human brain responds well to stimulus and depends on it to create habits. This means that after you make the first move to improve, it will get easier from there on to keep making progress every day.

About The Author

A Gen-Z parent, study skill and Habit coach for students and author of “Toppers’ study hacks”, “Success blueprint for competitive exams” and “How to raise a topper”, Avinash Agarwal has been working in the area of mentoring for over 15 years. Interviews with hundreds of toppers who have cracked different competitive exams have led him to understand the topper mindset. He believes that every child can be a topper and through his sessions aims to teach powerful study strategies and techniques to students so that they can pursue their dreams. 

My Books

Snow Useful for Board/JEE/NEET Aspirants
Forest Useful for SSC, Banking, Railways, Defence
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