Three students studying in the Heritage room of the Hillsdale College Library..

Top 10 Hacks to Beat Procrastination

by Victoria Nuñez

We’ve all been there. Your book is on the table, unopened (kudos to you for putting it on the table with full intention to read), your laptop’s screensaver has been going for the past 20 minutes, and you’ve already dived deep into the seven levels of social media (let’s be honest: you’re stalking the profile of the cute librarian who helped you find the book you still haven’t opened yet). Somehow, you just can’t make yourself start that five-page essay or begin the assigned reading for the day.

Sound familiar? Luckily for you, we’ve compiled a list of proven ways to crush that procrastination monster and boost your productivity, especially when you’re running low on motivation. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

1. Make a plan.

Studying in college requires more self-motivation and assessment than it did in high school. With no one to check on you, you have the freedom to use your time however you wish. But if you want to reap the rewards, then it’s time to buckle down and make a game plan. Without a list, you can easily forget an assignment due or chapters to read. However, those who write their goals down have a 42 percent better chance of achieving them, according to this study. Write down what you need to do and when you need to do it. Then commit.

2. Baby steps

Once you have your goals, take small tasks and go from there. A task that looked daunting can actually be broken up into smaller tasks that are more manageable. The key to crushing those tasks? Repetition. Keep going. Is it hard work? Absolutely, but you’re no stranger to that. You’re here, after all. The best part about taking baby steps is looking back once you’ve reached your goal. You see how faithfulness in the little things results in big rewards.

3. Reward yourself with completion

The converse is true. If you are feeling stuck in the nitty-gritty, don’t forget to look ahead to the outcome you will score when you are done. Tell yourself you need to finish this essay before you can go to the party later, or hold the game on Saturday as the reward for a hard night’s work. Maybe all the motivation you need is the simple fact that your 8:00 a.m. class will be a struggle the following morning if you don’t finish your work. Whatever the case, you are more likely to work harder if you can anticipate the sweet reward. Check out this article for ideas for rewards.

4. Get in the zone

The library can get loud, especially when people have just come out of their classes and can finally talk to their friends. Normally, you’d talk with them too, but like the good student you are, you have to focus. Sometimes you need a set of tracks to drown out the ambient noise (or lack of it) around you. This article shows some of the benefits of listening to music. Don’t know what music to listen to? Try out Top 10 Music Playlists by Hillsdale College Students to get yourself started!

5. Set a timer and take breaks

Before you get a case of the numb bum, make sure to let yourself take breaks: a snowball fight behind Central Hall, a coffee run to AJ’s, or a conversation with your friend who looks in need of a distraction as well. Not only can breaks help keep you awake (in the case of late-night studying), but they also serve as a mental reset. That comes in handy, especially if you have been staring at the same word for three hours and can no longer form a coherent sentence without questioning its spelling.

6. Drink water

You’d be surprised how simple this trick is and how well it works. Along the lines of taking breaks and rewarding yourself, this tip accomplishes both while keeping you hydrated and abating that strange study-munchy drive that makes you crazy for anything you can grind your teeth on: apples, chips, pencils, glasses, the bones of your enemies, the usual. Either way, it’s a win-win. For more details on how drinking water helps you, read this article. Off the record: Drinking a lot of water will also force you to run to the restroom more often—another manifestation of a study break.

7. Turn off the phone

This tip nips the study paralysis in the bud. Turn the phone off, and you have just shut the door to infinity and beyond. Is it foolproof? Not exactly, but it’s more the thought behind it that counts. No notifications, no scrolling on social media. Installing an app or browser extension like these ones can help you prevent the Internet from sucking you in one more time.

8. Sleep

Ever read and reread a page in the textbook, trying not to let your eyes glaze over? Sure, who ever said Nichomachean Ethics is a page turner? But maybe it wouldn’t drag quite so much if you had slept more than two hours last night. The all-nighters of high school are over. Don’t try to be a hero and exhaust yourself to a mere wisp of a human for the sake of a marginally better paper. Studies have shown that the effects of a lack of sleep for 24 hours is equivalent to being drunk. Your mind is more than just your intellect. It is also a muscle that wears down when exercised without rest. Ergo, you need seven to eight hours of sleep.

9. Learn how you work

In many ways, college is a journey of self-discovery. You find your passions, your hobbies (those that last outside of the homework pile anyway), your group of friends, and your study habits. Use your study sessions to find out what works and what doesn’t. Do you need to be in complete silence? Then AJs cafe probably isn’t your best bet. Do you need to be sitting at a desk? Opt out of the study couches and opt in to the desks in the second floor of the library. Do you prefer multi-tasking multiple homework assignments or finishing an entire class of homework before going to the next? Whatever the case, learn what helps YOU study and disregard tips that detract from your focus.

10. Remember why you’re here

Sometimes we procrastinate because we lose sight of our dreams. You didn’t get to this college for nothing. You came here to grow and become the person you’ve wanted to be all your life—even if you don’t know who that is yet. The perseverance that got you this far will get you through the rest. Don’t discount your victories of the past, but don’t forget that you’re still forging ahead, fighting new battles. You will absolutely run into obstacles—everyone does—but what matters is how you deal with them. Lack of motivation is lack of vision. Think about where you want to be in four years, and subtract what it will take to get there. The difference between the two is your plan of action. So let’s get started.

Victoria NuñezVictoria Nuñez, ’22, has a deep love for connecting people to people and is always up for an adventure. She writes because she has to, but she enjoys it more than she lets on. In her free time, you can catch her laughing, dancing, or people watching.

Published in July 2019