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I swear I have to be the strangest student ever because I hate procrastinating. I know, I know, it’s the college student’s solemn oath that they are much more productive when there is a looming deadline. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work for me. The second I realize I need to have something done by a certain point and it’s not done . . . well I panic. Completely freak out and run around like a chicken with my head cut off.
As you can imagine, I am usually pretty unproductive in that state.
Unfortunately, what with an unpaid internship, a job, this blog and being a full time grad student, I have way too many things to do each day and not enough time to do it all. Not long after I started this crazy train of busy, I realized I was spending half my time in freak out mode trying to get it all done. And it wasn’t working for me. At all.
I finally (after wayyyyy too long) figured out a system to keep me on track so I could avoid the panic and get more done.
The sound of done is the sound of bliss right?
How To Get More Done When You Have Too Much To Do
Guess what? If you are reading this, you are probably a human. (and if you’re not, please comment and let me know how on earth you found my blog and how you’re reading this.) And being a human means there is only so much you can do. Sometimes it is due to unexpected emergencies, sometimes due to poor time management or procrastination, and sometimes there isn’t a reason. You just have too much to do and can’t figure out a way to fit it all into your schedule. It will be okay. It happens to everyone at some point and virtually always, they survive. You will too.
As I mentioned above, running around in freak out mode is not effective. So stop. Take a minute to yourself and just breathe. You’ll feel better and you’ll be more productive in the long run. Do whatever you need to do to calm down. Walk the dog, take a shower, cuddle with your significant other. It’s hard to take a moment to yourself when you have something looming but it helps to center yourself before the storm.
Plan Your Attack
Write down everything you need to do. Yes, everything. Including daily tasks like showering, eating etc. You need a list of everything that will be taking up your time, not just the things with due dates. And by writing it down, you don’t need to try and keep track of everything while you’re stressed out.
Rank the things you need to do by both the deadline and the importance. Sometimes these two things match up but sometimes they do not. Maybe for one item, there is a deadline of tomorrow but there really won’t be any repercussions if you need to push it back a day. Feel free to rank that lower in order to finish a project that will cause serious issues if you do not complete it on time. Some things are simply more important than others,
I personally love an old fashioned planner for this but everyone has their own preferences. Use a planner, post it notes, a sheet of paper or a computer screen. However you do it, break down what you will do and when, into realistic and easy to digest tasks. This will probably mean that you will need to break bigger tasks into smaller ones but that also helps keep your motivation up anyway. Win/win. The goal here is to be realistic so that if the schedule doesn’t make sense, you can move things around before it’s too late.
Sometimes I don’t know how long something will take or I underestimate how much work it is. When that happens, I pull my schedule back out and figure out what can go. Usually, that means I make Jesse order pizza and I skip showering for a day. Not the most fun but eh, you do what you gotta do.
Although it is necessary to stop and take a few minutes to calm yourself down and plan your attack, you don’t want to forget that planning how to get things done isn’t … actually getting the things done. I personally am the worst at this. Planning how to start is usually more fun to me than actually doing it so I need to force myself to stop the planning and just . . . start. Planning is the appetizer, not the main course!
I like to make my first to-do item either fun or quick. This gives me a reason to start and helps me feel accomplished once I can cross that first item off as done!
Follow Your Plan Until You’re Done:
Here’s the bit that isn’t much fun. You need to go step by step and task by task until you hit that glorious place where the crisis is over and you are done. Sometimes it takes a day or so and other times it may takes weeks. However, at some point, you will accomplish what once seemed impossible.
I tend to use my schedule to hold myself accountable and cross off the things I finish to keep me motivated. There is just something about seeing a long line of things I have accomplished to keep me interested. If that doesn’t work for you, then figure out something else to keep you going! I once saw a classmate motivate herself to finish a particular grueling tax reading by laying out Reese’s Pieces on every paragraph. As she got to the next paragraph, she could eat the candy. I’m pretty sure she stole the idea from Pinterest but it was genius all the same.
Although a one time all-nighter can help you get more accomplished, you can’t rely on them too often because it will backfire spectacularly. Ask me how I know. When you have a long to-do list that will take you many days, it is important to get regular sleep (even if it’s a bit less than usual) and eat more than just pizza and cheetos. I also try to be a bit better at taking a multivitamin when I’m under a lot of stress. Keep your immune system in top shape and maybe it won’t let you down when you need it most! (Pro-tip, I trick myself by taking Gummies vitamins for adults. I may not be a four year old but I hate multivitamins and this helps.)
Finish and Take A Break:
You did it!! You got through the crisis and now your life is back to the normal level of busy. YAY. Take a well deserved break and pamper yourself a little. Read a book, enjoy a Netflix binge, or go on a hike. Just do something fun! Sure, you’re behind on laundry and your fridge is empty but those are all problems that can be fixed tomorrow. For today, just enjoy the peace of knowing nothing terrible will happen if you just take the day off.
Try To Minimize This Happening Again
Yeah, yeah, yeah. The crisis is over now so we all have a tendency to try and forget all about it. Unfortunately, that tendency leads to a never ending cycle of Crisis Mode —> Recovery Mode —> Crisis Mode. Sure, some crunch times can’t be completely avoided (like finals or work deadlines) but you can certainly minimize the panic by planning ahead as much as possible.
Right now, I am stuck in the middle of what is affectionately known as finals h*ll. I have assignments to finish, exams to study for, an internship that has gone completely insane, planning for my trip to the Caymans AND I just got a new job . . . that starts two days before my last final.
It would be really easy to freak out right now but I got this under control. In just a few short weeks, half of those things will be a distant memory and I can get back to the fun stuff. Until then, I’ll just go step by step and day by day.
Wish me luck!