8 Strategies to Help You Stop Procrastinating
How to stop procrastinating? is a question many high schoolers find themselves asking. After all, between classes, extracurricular activities, social commitments, and family obligations, there isn’t a moment to lose. Fortunately, for busy high schoolers with a penchant for procrastination, there are some simple strategies they can employ to stop stalling and improve their productivity.
1. Figure out Why You’re Procrastinating
Scrambling to finish a research paper late, or cramming for a big test in the hallway are common moments that procrastinators experience. But, how they’ve ended up in these positions is often different. Common causes of procrastination include:
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Poor time management
- Lack of discipline
- Lack of organization
It is as important to identify why you’re procrastinating so you can know how to stop procrastinating. Once you’ve determined the reasons why you put off projects, you can take steps to make the best use of your valuable time.
2. Eliminate Distractions
You sit down to study and a notification pops up on your phone, a new email arrives in your inbox, something interesting comes on the television in the background, or your favorite song starts playing on your music stream—the possibilities for distraction are endless, even for the most disciplined people.
Depending on how digitally distracted you are, there are a number of measures you can take to eliminate them, from slight to severe. Simple steps include:
- Turning push notifications off
- Powering your phone down
- Removing tempting bookmarks from your computer
- Downloading an app like Freedom or AppDetox to block distracting websites and apps from your computer and phone
For many people, the lure of their phone is extremely strong and even shutting it off isn’t enough to remove the distraction. Research has shown that simply having your phone close at hand is distracting—try leaving it in another room or at home while you work on that important paper or prepare for your big exam.
Find a study area with limited distractions that works for you. For example, if you can’t sit down in your bedroom to read the novel you need to finish for English class without flipping on the television or turning on your computer, try studying in the dining room. Is the dining room too noisy? Consider studying at the library or a coffee shop.
If you like to listen to music while you work, choose something without lyrics. Classical music is a long-time favorite for creating a calm environment to study in.
The super-busy schedules of some high schoolers force them to make choices about what to do and what not to do—there just isn’t enough time in the day for everything. The most successful students are able to pick the most important tasks, like studying for the SAT, and complete them while jettisoning less valuable activities like binge-watching The Office on Netflix.
While prioritization comes naturally to some students, it’s a struggle for others. If you need help prioritizing tasks, try one of these proven methods:
- Eisenhower Matrix: Developed by the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, this method makes it easy to see what needs to get done and what is a time-waster by dividing tasks into four categories: urgent and important, urgent and not important, not urgent and important, and not urgent and not important.
- Ivy Lee Method: For more than a century, people have been using this simple strategy to focus their energy on the most important tasks facing them: at the end of the day, simply write down the five or six things you want to accomplish tomorrow ranked in order of importance.
- Eat the Frog: Mark Twain wrote, “If you have to eat a live frog, it does not pay to sit and look at it for a very long time!” In other words, spend your time on your biggest, most important thing before tackling other items on your to-do list.
4. Set Small Goals
Big tasks like writing a 10-page paper or studying for the SAT can seem daunting and leave you feeling overwhelmed. Rather than thinking about the enormity of a project, break it down into smaller, more palatable parts.
For example, instead of stressing over that mammoth 10-page paper you need to write, break it down into a bunch of smaller, more easily accomplished steps:
- Pick a topic
- Research the topic
- Organize your notes
- Choose a thesis or theme
- Create an outline
- Write a draft
- Review and revise
- Proofread and submit
This strategy also works great on smaller tasks, such as preparing for a biology test the next day:
- Go over the chapters in your textbook the exam will cover
- Practice answering questions you think will show up on the test
- Work on vocabulary or concepts you’re struggling with
- Review the material you’re comfortable with
- Have a friend or parent quiz you on the material
5. Get an Accountability Partner
An accountability partner is someone who will check in on your actions and results and, as the name suggests, hold you accountable. Different types of students have different needs in an accountability partner—some work best with a study buddy with similar goals and plans, others are better suited to an accountability partner who’s more detached, like a parent. Either way, a good accountability partner will:
- Track your goals: Build a calendar and share it with your accountability partner—for example, an SAT study schedule complete with study sessions, practice tests, and score goals—so they can follow your progress.
- Allow no excuses: A good accountability partner will call you out for actions like missing your study group because you were “busy.”
- Mirror: It’s hard to see what you’re doing and an accountability partner will show you what you’re missing—for example, the day you were so “busy” you found time to scroll through Instagram for an hour.
- Act as a stop sign: Studying in a bad environment, hitting the books with your phone on, tackling inconsequential tasks and ignoring important ones—an accountability partner can help keep you on track to success by nipping poor study habits in the bud.
- Provide enjoyment: Not just a taskmaster, an accountability partner is someone to celebrate your success with. Set up rewards for meeting certain benchmarks, like going out to a movie after achieving a benchmark score on a practice SAT.
Research has shown that the probability of completing a goal when you’ve committed to someone that you will do something is 65%. When you have specific accountability to someone for a goal, the probability of completing the goal is raised to 95%.
6. Schedule Breaks
It’s important to periodically take breaks and allow your mind to reboot. Try to make the most of these mental breathers by stepping away from your computer or phone; instead, take a short walk, meditate, or grab a snack from the kitchen—anything that gets you away from your work and screens.
The Pomodoro Technique
If you’re interested in a more structured method of breaks, consider a specific technique like Pomodoro. The Pomodoro technique is very straightforward:
- Work for 25 minutes uninterrupted on a task
- Make a checkmark on a piece of paper
- Reward yourself with a short (three- to five-minute) break
- After every four checkmarks, reward yourself with a longer, more restorative 20- to 30-minute break
The Pomodoro technique is awesome for instilling urgency in big and little projects alike and helping avoid procrastinating precious time away. It also has a way of making big projects, like writing a research paper, feel smaller and more easily accomplished.
7. Understand That Your Work Won’t Be Perfect, but You Can Always Improve It
Perfectionism is a demotivating factor and can lead to procrastination. For instance, you’re never able to start writing your college essay because you’re worried it won’t end up perfect, or you never get past the introductory paragraph of your research paper because you keep revising your thesis statement.
The easiest way to deal with perfectionism is to stop holding yourself to an impossibly high standard. Instead of trying to create “great” work, aim for “good enough.” If there is time to spare at the end of what you’re working on, you can always go back and make it better.
The desire to produce flawless work is admirable, but if you’re never able to get started, you’ll have bigger problems than typos and grammatical errors.
8. Create Long-Term Plans
Breaking down long-term goals—like getting into an Ivy League School or becoming a doctor—help make them easier to accomplish. This is because you’re able to view how your short-term actions will affect your future goals. For example, blowing off studying for the SAT tonight can lead to an underwhelming score on the exam, which in turn can hurt your odds of acceptance at your dream college.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett has an interesting approach to long-term planning called the two-list strategy. To implement the two-list strategy:
- Write down your 25 biggest goals
- Circle the top five goals on the list
- Any goal that didn’t get circled goes on an “avoid at all costs” list
The two-list strategy is great for understanding what your long-term goals are and prioritizing the tasks that help you move toward them. For example, a high school student with hopes of attending Harvard could have goals that looked like this:
- Get accepted into Harvard
- Score toward the top of the middle 50% of students accepted at Harvard on the SAT
- Graduate at the top of my high school class
- Become president of my high school’s debate club
- Participate in meaningful volunteer work in my local community
With a clear eye toward the future, smaller goals like studying for a Chemistry quiz or spending a Saturday at the local food bank are more easily viewed in the bigger picture.
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