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A Key Trick to Overcome Procrastination

Students at all stages of their academic careers deal with procrastination. Surveys indicate that 80 to 95 percent of college students procrastinate regularly while about 86 percent of high school students also struggle with procrastination. So, don’t fret if you find it challenging to buckle down and get to work on difficult tasks. You’re not the only one!

But how do you overcome procrastination? Are there ways to motivate yourself to work through your most dreaded assignments without waiting until the last moment? Read on to learn more about a key trick to beat procrastination and do your best work on all your tasks: the 25/5 Rule.

The 25/5 Rule

The 25/5 Rule is a strategy that boosts productivity by breaking down the amount of time you spend completing a difficult task into smaller, more palatable chunks. Essentially, you spend 25 minutes working on your task without any distractions. At the end of that 25 minutes, you can then take a 5 minute break to do anything you want, whether it’s grabbing a snack, texting friends back, or even checking social media. The cycle continues on just like that with 25 minute work sessions separated by 5 minute breaks until you finish your task.

This strategy should enable you to complete tasks more quickly without scrambling to finish right before a deadline. It is especially effective when you have an estimate of how long you think it will take for you to finish the task. 

For example, let’s say you have to write an English essay. Based on the assignment and how quickly you usually write, you approximate that you will need 3 hours to write the whole essay. With that estimate in mind, you can then block out 3 hours during which you can use the 25/5 Rule, helping you accomplish the task at an efficient pace without becoming overwhelmed by the large chunk of time you’ll have to spend working on it.

Why Study Breaks Work

So, why do strategies like the 25/5 Rule work? Studies have found that taking short breaks helps our brains in a number of ways. When it comes to learning a new skill, for instance, our brains need wakeful rest just as much as they need consistent practice. Researchers in the National Institutes of Health studied a group of volunteers who practiced typing a code with their non-dominant hands. During periods of rest, the volunteers’ brains would replay the brain activity seen during the action of typing the code repeatedly, with more replays leading to a stronger performance in subsequent testing periods.

The senior author of the study said, “Our results support the idea that wakeful rest plays just as important a role as practice in learning a new skill. It appears to be the period when our brains compress and consolidate memories of what we just practiced.” So, it seems that taking these small, frequent breaks while studying or practicing a new skill could actually help your brain retain information and perform better in the future.

Research indicates that study breaks may help refresh your brain and increase your ability to focus as well. When you spend time concentrating on one task, part of your brain (the prefrontal cortex) must exert energy to resist impulses and keep you focused. Eventually, your brain will start to feel fatigued from this exertion. The quality of work you produce when your brain is in this tired state may decline compared to the work you accomplish when working from a fresh brain. For this reason, regular breaks are needed to maintain productivity, especially when working on long tasks like studying for an important test or writing an essay.

Aside from all the scientific evidence that study breaks help our brain learn and re-energize, it’s also true that breaking down large tasks into smaller ones just makes those difficult tasks feel more manageable. When you get pizza for dinner, you don’t shove the whole pie in your mouth all at once. Not only would that be difficult to do, but it would also be unpleasant, ruining your experience of eating. Instead, you eat your pizza one slice at a time. Your smaller work sessions are like pizza slices, making it possible for you to finish your whole pizza without getting overwhelmed or fatigued.

Other Tips to Beat Procrastination

If you need a little extra help beating your procrastination habits, try out a few of these useful tips as well!

1. Reduce Decision-Making With a Schedule

For many of us, split-second decision-making often leads to procrastination. Think about it. If you weren’t already planning to start working on a task on a certain day, you would probably decide to put it off until the next day. It can be difficult to convince ourselves to start a task that will ultimately be more work than the alternatives, like watching a show or hanging out with friends.

One way to counteract these tendencies is to reduce the amount of decisions you make in your day by creating a schedule. Block out time on certain days to spend working on the difficult task you need to accomplish. That way, you head into your day already knowing that you will work on the task at a specific time rather than deciding in the moment whether or not you want to start right away or leave it until tomorrow.

2. Focus on Small Actions

When you sit down to start working on a big project, the last thing you want to do is think about the huge amount of work in front of you. Instead, focus your attention on completing one small task in the workload to get your momentum started. 

Let’s return to the example of writing your English essay. Rather than jumping straight into the daunting task of writing, take some time to organize your notes into an outline or research interesting facts about the subject. Once you finish one smaller, easier task that gets you thinking about your project, you will feel a sense of accomplishment that should help motivate you to keep working.

3. Switch Up Your Environment

Bring some excitement into working or studying by moving to a different place to do it. You can break up the monotony of working in your room and possibly even motivate yourself with the promise of picking up a coffee or a snack on the way to your new area. Plus, if you choose to work in a quiet place like the library, you won’t be able to access distractions like TV, social media, or conversations with friends. In that environment, you can either work or do nothing, and doing nothing is never appealing for more than a few minutes.

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