When I tell you I used to be a procrastinator, I mean I was probably the most “getting it done last minute is still getting it done” type of person to walk the planet. An assignment for school due at 11:59 PM on Friday night? You would find me hitting submit at 11:58 PM in the middle of the pregame. Need to get a present for someone’s birthday party? I’d convince myself I had time to pick something up on the way there, panic when I couldn’t find something I thought was good, and inevitably be late. Got a text? I’d swear I’d respond later, then accidentally leave you on read for two weeks. This is seriously how I operated for the first 20-ish years of my life. Even though I was somehow able to make it work for that long, it got to a point where it just wasn’t a sustainable lifestyle for how busy I was becoming as a “real adult.” I knew I needed to try something to get my terrifyingly horrible time management skills on track—and that’s where all of these tips come in.
At first, I tried daily planners, bigger monthly planners, religiously using Google Calendar, setting early reminders on my phone, and not letting myself do anything fun or social until I completed everything on my to-do list. But I was still finding myself pushing off tasks even with everything meticulously mapped out in front of me. Because of this, I eventually realized that my planning skills weren’t the issue at hand—it was my attention span and motivation. I pushed everything off until the very last second because it would quite literally force me to focus. I knew I was going to have to think a bit outside of the box with ways to become more on top of my sh*t (respectfully), and over time I figured out a few methods and tricks that I now absolutely swear by. Here’s how I completely kissed my chronic procrastination goodbye:
1. Keep your to-do list actually simple
One of the first things I learned was the value of keeping a to-do list as simple as possible. Instead of overwhelming myself with writing out every single little thing I need to do, I take the time to think about what I actually need to get done and only add on the smaller things after I get the big guns out of the way. I used to have over 15+ things on my daily agenda, which would kind of freak me out and cause me to shut down. But, when I only have a handful of to-do’s and I’m able to get through all of them, I feel more motivated to tackle more low-stakes tasks like laundry, doing the dishes, and so on. Keep it concise!
2. Have a productive morning routine
Mornings really do set the tone for your entire day, and I realized that a productive start was essential in keeping my procrastination at ease. You definitely don’t need to be up at 6 AM to do an intense workout, journal, meditate, and make a 5-star breakfast for yourself all before you clock into work—that just isn’t realistic for everyone. But, if you start your day in a way that makes you feel like the best version of yourself, chances are that your motivation to stay on top of things will carry on throughout. For me, this looks like getting up right when my alarm goes off, making my bed, drinking water, and going outside for a little hot girl walk if I can. If I find myself laying in bed for too long and rushing to get ready on days I need to get a lot done, my stress levels for the rest of the day are way higher than they need to be and my work gets pushed off, so try doing whatever makes you feel energized to set a positive tone for your day.
3. Make a “work” playlist
This one is a little unconventional, but I literally swear by it. I work best when I have music quietly playing in the background, whether that’s writing an article or organizing my closet. However, I noticed that if I listened to a random Spotify radio or had my music on shuffle, I constantly needed to change and skip songs which would prevent me from staying in a flow of focus. So, I took the time to make a playlist specifically for when I’m doing work filled with songs I love (that don’t distract me too much, of course), and it led to me sort of Pavlov-ing myself in the best way possible. Whenever I listen to the playlist, I associate it with being productive—almost like my little theme songs for the work day.
4. Don’t overwork yourself
Overworking can easily lead to burnout and, ironically, procrastination. I used to refuse to give myself breaks for fear of losing focus, but it actually made me super anxious and resentful towards all of my tasks at hand. If I get to the end of the day without getting as much work done as I hoped I would, I don’t force myself to stay up until 3 AM to catch up—I simply adjust my to-do list for the next day and let myself get an ample amount of rest. We are only human, and we need balance in order to keep our sanity.
5. Use the Pomodoro Technique
One of the most valuable tools in my procrastination-fighting arsenal is the Pomodoro Technique, which involves breaking work into focused, 25-minute intervals, followed by a short five-minute break. The structured approach helps me maintain a sense of urgency and focus without feeling too overwhelmed. By dedicating short bursts of time to tasks, I discovered that it was a lot easier for me to maintain my concentration and effectively manage my workload. My short attention span will probably never disappear, so I need a lot of breaks to feel in control of my productivity—and that’s so okay.
6. Get your most daunting task done first
I used to constantly pull the classic move of doing a million mundane tasks in order to feel productive even though that meant ignoring the things I genuinely needed to get done. I would get to the end of the day and tell myself, “Wow, I did so much, so it’s fine that I didn’t get to the literal one thing that needed to be completed today.” So, I got into the habit of doing my biggest and most important to-do’s at the beginning of my day if I could, and it made a world of a difference. The things I dread most are done with the entire day still ahead of me, giving me more time for other tasks, socializing, or relaxing.
7. Figure out if you’re a day or night worker
Understanding your chronotype (your natural productivity rhythms) is key to efficient time management. For most of my life, I would push off doing work until really late at night and would be fighting for my literal life to keep my eyes open, and would end up doing a not-so-great job on whatever assignment I was doing. I realized that I’m personally way more productive in the mornings, so I always aim for an earlier start rather than setting aside time at night to grind. Listen to yourself and your body to figure out which time of the day it’s the most realistic for you to get in the zone and go from there. If you’re not sure how to go about doing this, read this breakdown of how to identify and work with your chronotype.
8. Rotate between two tasks
While some days it is best for me to stay focused on one thing, there are others where bouncing between two tasks can keep me from getting bored and make tasks easier to take on. For example, I’ll use the Pomodoro Technique and dedicate one of my 25-minute work chunks to writing an article, then I’ll take my break and use the next work period to do the dishes, then I can come back to my article with a fresh perspective in the next round. I tend to do this on days when I’m really struggling to maintain focus, and it usually is pretty helpful in terms of maintaining productivity even when I feel like I can’t finish a task to save my life.
9. Delete distracting apps while working
At first, I tried putting my phone in a completely different room while working but eventually came to terms with the fact that this wasn’t realistic for me given how much I need my phone for work (looking at a photo of class notes I had taken a picture of, texting people to ask work questions or make plans, using the calculator, etc.). But I (of course) would always wander over to Instagram or TikTok whenever I needed to use my phone, killing my focus right then and there. So, I started temporarily deleting my social media apps off of my phone during my peak working hours, and this completely changed the game for me. When I’m done for the day or have a longer break, getting to check them again feels like a treat that I earned, which is also a very helpful motivator.
10. Keep yourself fueled
If you have a really busy schedule, it’s easy to lose track of time and stay on top of properly fueling your body with the right amounts of food and water. I would be running around trying to get things done last minute, realize it was 2 PM and I hadn’t eaten anything, start to crash, and inevitably lose all of the energy and focus that I needed for the rest of my work day. Now, I make sure to carve out time in my day for meals and snacks, and I keep my trusty gallon bottle of water on my desk at all times, which allows me to maintain consistent energy levels throughout the whole day.