How Can Personal Workflow Help to Avoid Procrastination?

It’s 7PM on the day before you have to submit the paper your professor assigned to you three weeks ago. You try to recount what you were doing these past few weeks instead of writing said 1000 word paper. The blinking cursor on your blank document taunts you.

It’s one all-nighter.’  You say to yourself. Helplessly, you take a deep breath and brace yourself for the obscene amounts of caffeine you’re about to ingest. 

For the next twelve hours, you bite the bullet. Hard. Your head grows heavy and your legs go numb, but your fingers keep typing and your eyes keep reading. And by some miracle, twenty minutes before your deadline, you submit your assignment. With no proofreading and no properly formatted bibliography, you collapse onto your bed. You promise you’ll do better next time.

If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’ve all been here at some point in our college lives. We try to avoid it, but it seems inevitable. And as one of the many articles discussing the most effective way to avoid precisely this nightmare scenario, developing a personal workflow will be my contribution. Let me explain:

A workflow, in its most traditional context, is the ‘definition, execution and automation of business processes: where tasks, information and documents are passed from one person to another for action according to a set of procedural rules’. In its most rudimentary sense, it’s a multistep process where a project is completed using a set list of rules and processes. First, the needed outcome is established, then the tasks needed to achieve that outcome are noted. Next, each task is assigned to an employee with a time span for completion included. Finally, once the process is put to action, there are progress and quality checks on each task in daily/weekly time spans. The concept of workflow is meant to ensure that businesses have a ready-to-go method in accomplishing any task that is essential to running said business. In the same way, personal workflow is meant to do so in the daily tasks and goals you wish to accomplish. When adapting the workflow method into our student lives, it follows a basic four step method called ILAR:

  1. Identify the needed outcome (i.e. to finish studying a lecture)
  2. List the tasks that need to be completed for achieving said outcome. For example, pre-lecture work (such as finishing the secondary reading and making flashcards), attending the lecture, and post-lecture work (reviewing lecture notes, making a summary sheet, active recall etc.)
  3. Assign times and dates to work through those tasks 
  4. Refine and repeat (i.e. if you find that summary sheets are less effective in helping your retention of the lecture studied, you would switch to flashcards and review whether its better or worse than the initial method)

Finally, customising your personal workflow ensures your optimality in accomplishing the task you’ve set for yourself. Checklists, systems, workspaces or timetables, whatever your preference, maps out the things you need to do, nudging you in the right direction. So tying all of this back to the scenario we started with, how can personal workflow help avoid procrastination? 

Ideally, when the professor assigned the work, we would have identified the task as finishing the 1000 word paper (step 1). We would’ve then, considering the fact that we had three weeks to complete the paper, decided to divide up researching, essay planning and essay writing for weeks 1, 2 and 3 respectively (steps 2 & 3). Finally, we would’ve submitted the paper, with a few days to spare, and evaluated what went right and wrong when constructing the paper, noting down methods to alter for the next paper given out. Using the personal workflow process ILAR, we would’ve broken down the paper into manageable chunks – tricking our brains into thinking of one giant task (that is prone to procrastination) as smaller and simpler tasks that are easier to accomplish.

And voila! Another paper handed in, sans the unhealthy caffeination and sleep deprivation. 

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