How to Overcome Procrastination

The festive season is coming to an end. The Bountys’ lie dejected in the Celebrations box. The fairy lights will soon be neatly packed away, waiting to reemerge next year in an inconceivable tangle. A sense of foreboding returns as work, school and university responsibilities shake us rudely awake from our Betwixtmas slumber. I have once again taken to idly scrolling Instagram for others’ New Year’s resolutions; such are the traditions of January.

January, for me at least, is an entire month of that anxiousness you feel before public speaking or an interview. You are stressed because of an upcoming event – in January’s case, the entire year – but bored because nothing is happening right now. It is precisely this feeling which drives me to procrasti-baking. Whilst in school, I was a procrastination connoisseur. I would miss deadline after deadline, often because I was terrified that my work would not be up to scratch, the solution to which was simply not doing the work in the first place (or so my therapist said). It is a blessing and  a curse; I am now excellent at deep cleaning my room and bullet journalling, but I do have to keep a check on it. Unfortunately, university is not so forgiving when you hand in a piece of work four weeks late alongside a beautifully crafted story about how your laptop broke and the printer ran out and your dog ate the essay entitled ‘Is Heathcliff misunderstood in Wuthering Heights?” (Spoiler: no.)

Jokes aside, procrastination is not as fun as it appears. I was frequently filled with an appalling sense of dread as deadlines approached, and my procrastination was often simply  trying to bring myself down from the edge of a panic attack in the school toilets. It was not that I did not want to do the work, but that I wanted to do it perfectly and the thought of not doing so was paralysing. But you simply cannot procrastinate at a professional level and succeed in other areas; it is a full-time job.I am not exaggerating about the therapist. It was a major talking point in our chats about eating disorders, anxiety and depression – I tried hypnosis, Cognitive Behavioural, Therapy Dialectical Behavioural Therapy,…procrastination was always in there somewhere. And from all these fun, joyous sessions I picked up a couple of tips which have made my procrastination manageable, however tempting blissful ignorance might be.

1.Write a list

I’m not going to tell you how to do it. Some people say biggest thing first; some say easiest. Some say write a ‘To Do’ list and then a ‘Done’ list; some say write one every day, week or month. However you write your list, it really does help. My dad would often describe my stress and anxiety as a wall. As one, solid, towering object it was insurmountable, but if I broke it down into individual bricks, it became scaleable. Of course, I frequently use list writing as productive procrastination – advanced procrastination where you do small ‘productive’ things to avoid a looming deadline, but lists tend not to be infinite and so this only works for a limited period of time. You really can break tasks down to the minute level if you need. Essay To Do lists , for example, often included:

  • 1. Title
  • 2. Introduction
  • 3. Google (insert complicated term)

etc, etc.

2. Do SOMETHING

It’s all fine well writing the list – now start it. It doesn’t need to be the first bullet point. It doesn’t need to be the most important task, the most terrifying one, the most urgent one. Once you make a start on the list, it seems less scary. After you’ve crossed off ‘write title and date’ you can start on ‘make bed’ and before you know it, you’ve crossed off ‘hand in history coursework.’

3. Buy the Forest app

Or any app, but this one worked for me. Each time you want to focus on a task, but your phone keeps telling you that Urban Outfitters have a sale, or that your mum has texted, or that your group whatsapp has imploded in a discussion conducted entirely though Kardashian gifs, simply tap on the app and viola. A little tree will be planted, and the longer you ignore notifications (or better yet, turn them off) the more intricate and beautiful your tree will be. If you do succumb to the call of technology before the tree is fully grown however, it will perish and you will be forced to live with the guilt of killing such a divine being. As an added bonus, as you are growing your adorable forest of lemon trees and cacti, you can also plant a real tree in a real forest, and cross ‘help the environment’ off your ‘To Do’ list as well.

4. Procrastinate efficiently 

If you can’t go cold turkey, there are some things you can do to reign your procrastination in. Find a thing that is still ‘productive’ and has a limited time period to distract yourself before you face up to the main task. My favourite is procrasti-baking, but it has to be something relatively quick, like cookies or brownies – no Bake Off showstoppers for me. At university, I’ll go for a walk or listen to a podcast. Most people have some admin shoved in a drawer that could be filed away. As long as what you are doing is at least pretending to be productive and has a short time frame – thirty minutes at most – you can start to ween yourself off the thrill of endless hours pointlessly and pointedly avoiding eye contact with that essay.

Shake Your Woolly Pom-poms: Winter’s Coming

As Noddy Holder once nearly said, ‘Its WIINNTTEERRR.’ I am, according to one friend, ‘a bit weird about winter.’ But although  I might be in a minority when it comes to the cold, as a nation, we can get quite emotional about the changing seasons. One in fifteen of us are affected by Seasonal Affected Depression, and the excitement that consumes us (and can grind us to a halt) during a surprise heatwave or snowstorm, although often mocked, is genuine nonetheless. We are obsessed with weather and the rituals that comes with the changing of the seasons, such as my family’s refusal to eat porridge before September 1st. My family in particular has quite visceral reactions to the shift in seasons. There are already complaints about the chilly mornings, the early nights and the mounds of leaves along the pavement – I truly believe that my mum in particular is only in England as a result of some terrible mix-up. Somewhere in Southern France, there is a sunburnt woman who dreams of the persistent drizzle of Manchester and a good stew.

IMG_1481

Frosty uni, toasty Lauren

Since the age of four, most of us have had our annual schedule set by school holidays, so it’s not surprising that as summer approaches, many of us are taken over by a child-like joy. We stroll around, happy in the knowledge that there is no maths homework looming, no presentations to prepare for. Instead we can wander aimlessly, spending our pocket money in Claire’s and slurping ice cream. Of course, the reality for anyone who has long since left education behind is that everything is exactly the same as it was two months ago, except that day drinking is now acceptable and it becomes clear that no jacket is the right weight for a British summer. But whilst we greet summer with open arms, winter is regarded with distinct distain. My mum has been campaigning for a christmas in the sun for years, and she’s not the only one who awaits the long nights and frosty mornings with a sense of impending doom.

I think its time, then, that somebody stood up for winter. The accepted rhetoric that November to February is a barren wasteland of drizzle and cynical christmas marketing means that you do have to search a little deeper for the joy of a cold day, but it is there. I find winter simply delicious. To be able to step outside onto a crunchy carpet of frost and see trails of mist rising off a river whilst wrapped up in an oversized jumper, or to cradle a hot cup of coffee and feel the warmth emanate through you; summer might be one long lazy dream, but winter is full of gorgeous snapshots like these. There is no better feeling than entering a warm building when your fingertips and nose are tickled pink by the cold, unless it is being curled up in front of Harry Potter with a toppling pile of lasagne perched on your knee.

IMG_9326

Winter bonus

Winter smells of gingerbread, pine trees and a the embers of a dying pub fire. Any and all clothing is allowed to be glittery, fluffy and knitted. The build up to Christmas is truly joyous – I dare anyone not to delight in a town sparkling with lights or the sincerity with which Father Christmas letters are written. And it’s not just the festive cheer that I adore. Winter brings people together. They check on their elderly neighbours, bake for the halloween/bonfire/christmas themed cake sale, meet up with far-flung family and friends. Like penguins in the Arctic, winter makes us huddle, sharing our warmth and protecting the vulnerable. Summer is fun, but winter is glorious, and it’s about time we donned a woolly jumper, grabbed a hot chocolate and embraced our inner penguin.

Freshers’ ain’t all that

Looking back over the first eight months of university, I can count on my fingers the number of times my experience as a fresher matched up with the stories I had been told. The archetypal first year – alternating between blackout drunk and hungover, scraping the 40% at the end of the year and having casual sex whilst making ‘friends for life’ with the girlies – is something I am sure lots of people experience, and more power to them. But I am equally sure that I am not the only person who stepped out of their last exam and felt an overwhelming sense of not having done first year ‘right’, or a distinct feeling of relief that it was all over.

IMG_2130

Revision break views

A quick google of the threads in Student forums shows that whilst you may think everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing, we’re all just fumbling through. ‘How to lose your virginity? How to deal with anxiety? What to do as a teetotaller? How to deal with binge drinking?’ Everyone is trying to conform to the university experience they have been sold for years by friends, family and the media. But I would say around a third of my friends have told me they cried almost daily during Freshers’ Week, and getting drunk with a group of strangers in a foreign place is rarely everyone’s idea of fun. There is much discussion about the sensibility of millennials. A 2017 Telegraph article  noted that 40% of under-25s are teetotal, quoting one student from Kings London who commented that he only really goes out once every 2-3 weeks. I don’t doubt that there are people who limit themselves and enjoy exercising self-control on a night out, but they were few and far between in my experience. There are two clashing images of a millennial university experience; it is either a raucous, drunken, rebellious three years, or a period dedicated to study and tutting at those who didn’t get the memo that we’re a ‘sensible’ generation. The last eight months were neither of these things. Some bits were hugely enjoyable, some bits were emotionally draining – to be honest, it was much like most of life.

There is an element of Fresher’s Week that is grin-and-bear-it. I had taken a gap year, and several of my friends from school had confided that Fresher’s Week was not all that, but that first year in general was a total blast. So I gritted my teeth for the first week, joined in the forced fun, dressed up as Harley Quinn, a pick-and-mix bag, a stuffed olive. I made some of my closest friends, and I also rang my parents probably twice a day. I had lovely nights out full of silent discos and dancing, and I had days where I felt hopelessly lost. But I felt comforted by the fact that several of my friends had experienced a similar first couple of weeks and that they had finished first year proclaiming that it was the best time of their lives. Instead, for much of first term I felt that I was learning constantly in every part of my life and it was exhausting. Constantly being open, friendly and enthusiastic was draining when sometimes all I wanted to do was spend the evening curled up with Netflix.

Like 1 in 4 people, I struggle with my mental health, which undoubtably didn’t help. Being prone to anxiety is unhelpful on a night out; depressive tendencies are never fun, but I have friends who have never dealt with either and who also found first year hard work. It isn’t that its more challenging than the rest of life, but it is sold as the time of your life – free from parents, no real academic pressure, surrounded by other hedonistic, interesting people. All of these things are true, but there are also times when you are cramming for an exam, deep into an overdraft and scrolling through instagram seeing what seems to be the entirety of your timeline on one big night out. You might be homesick, you might be stressed, you might simply be a bit lonely. Freshers’ is not one big high, its not one big low – it is a middle ground, it is fine, it is sometimes even good, but it is not all that.