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3 Ways to Fight Procrastination While Job Hunting

A chalkboard with words crossed out and 'Now' circled.

Procrastination, a time-honored tradition in college, is an unforgivable sin when it comes to the job search. Like the occasional hangover or Voldemort’s name, you must never mention it in professional settings.

But if we’re being honest, procrastination is something everyone does. Even the most dedicated job seeker may procrastinate, for a variety of reasons: to put off a painful task (writing a cover letter), to delay yet another rejection from a dream job, or to decide whether this particular application is worth sacrificing sleep or time with friends.

I even believe that small amounts of procrastination improve mental health and creativity for resumes & cover letters that stand out. The trick is not to let it get out of hand.

As a recovering procrastinator myself (I call it “deadline-oriented” in job interviews), I have had to come up with creative ways to keep myself on track and productive when churning applications into the digital abyss. From one procrastinator to another, here are three ways to make fake job search deadlines that feel real (well, most of the time):

Use the buddy system

Just like in first grade when you paired up with a classmate to go to the bathroom, buddy up to make sure you don’t get lost in cyberspace. Choose a fellow job seeker, a professional mentor, or a close friend to hold you accountable on soft deadlines to get your application in ahead of the curve.

When I’m struggling to finish a blog post, I sometimes ask another writer friend to proofread it for me. Once we agree on a time for me to send it to her, I suddenly have a solid reason to complete the post a few days early. Plus, I get invaluable free editing. Similarly, job seekers could ask their buddy to look over their customized resume or cover letter at a pre-determined time.

Although I am a huge proponent of peer-support systems, you may not want to choose another procrastinator to be your buddy. Instead, choose someone whose skills complement yours, like my friend’s editing skills complement my writing skills.

Volunteer strategically

Another way to make fake deadlines feel real is to actually make them real. If you’re interested in building a specific skill to make you a more attractive job candidate, consider volunteering for an odd job within or outside of your 9-5 job that utilizes that skill.

For example, I’ve always wanted to learn more about the nonprofit industry in Boston, but found the task daunting to a procrastination-worthy extent. But posting daily updates to the YNPN Boston Facebook page created an immediate need to actively learn more.

Similarly, you might volunteer to update your friend’s small company’s website to learn basic coding or volunteer on a local nonprofit’s development team to learn event planning. Think of it as team-wide anti-procrastination buddy system.

Set a calendar alert or pre-scheduled email

This is a simple but surprisingly effective way to encourage productivity. Set an alert on your Outlook or Google Calendar or pre-schedule an email to yourself reminding you when an application or outreach email needs to be completed.

Although it’s easy to ignore these alerts (think of it like “snoozing” your alarm clock in the morning), this tip takes the least effort and will, at the very least, plant a little bit of motivating guilt.

There is no such thing as a procrastination panacea, but these three tips have (mostly) helped this self-confessed procrastinator stay productive.

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About the Author | Alyson Weiss works for a career services nonprofit in Boston doing outreach and communications. She is deeply interested in translating complex social justice issues into accessible, actionable items; social media; Netflix marathons; and food trucks. Find her on LinkedIn or Twitter to start a conversation about social media marketing, professional development opportunities for young professionals, or why Twitter is like “Aaron's Party.”

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