Procrastination is a habit driven by decisions you make about what is important to you. You decide watching one more episode on Netflix is more important than studying for your Econ test. That taking a day trip to the beach is more important than finishing your paper.
Choosing one task over another is a voluntary action and a personal choice that you can control. When it comes to procrastination and your coursework, you may let others down by missing agreed-upon deadlines. But the true victim is your future self.
The first step toward beating procrastination is to focus on breaking the habit itself and replacing it with new, more productive study habits. The impulse to procrastinate is a lot stronger when you think of prepping for a test as a five-hour cram session or try to tackle an entire 15-page paper in one sitting. Create a process to be more intentional with your time and your study habits, and you will find the urge to procrastinate fades.
The first step is to break the old study habits that encourage procrastination and create new habits that are more sustainable.
Instead of thinking of studying for an exam as a single all-day event, schedule smaller chunks of time over a couple days. For example:
- Take 30 minutes to re-read the chapters, and quiz yourself to identify content that you know and content that needs deeper review.
- Take 30 minutes to study your notes from class and from course materials.
- Take one hour to focus on the content you identified for deeper review.
- Take 30 minutes for a self-quiz over the content.
- Take one hour for a final review, even of the content that you know, and address any content that is still challenging.
- Personalize this schedule to your study approach.
Schedule specific days and times to complete your list of tasks, and put them on a calendar. Ideally, use an online calendar, and set reminders for each study session. Celebrate your achievements, and mark positive study sessions on your calendar with a designated color or emoji as a visual reminder of your accomplishments.
If you are distracted during a study session or are finding reasons not to start, write those distractions down, and promise yourself you will get to them when the session is over. If the distraction is a feeling or just an, “I don’t like studying,” write that down as well to acknowledge that feeling. You may also try writing down a promise to your future self that you are going to do this now, and not put it off for later.
When a paper goes well, document that victory so you can see the outcomes of your process. If you are having trouble getting started, look at your other successful accomplishments. Knowing that you have done well on exams in the past will help you do well on the approaching one.
The next step is to identify the underlying causes of your procrastination. It is important to know what is keeping you from achieving the learning goals you have created for yourself. Having a deeper understanding of your procrastination patterns will help you overcome them. When you procrastinate, recognize that you are only delaying an activity; it is not going away. Identify the root causes of the procrastination, address the causes, make a plan to overcome them, and start the task.
Here are some steps to address the underlying causes of procrastination.
This does not have to be a formal written journal. You can add notes to your study schedule or calendar for each study session or write them down in a notebook. You can document the activities or urges that are interrupting or stopping your study sessions, though what you are tempted to do is not as important as why you are looking for something else to do.
What are you really avoiding? When you are having a bout of procrastination and before you walk away from what you have planned to do, reflect on what you are avoiding and why. This should only take five minutes, and even less time as you get into the habit.
- Write down specifically what you are avoiding. “I am not studying for an exam,” or “I am not researching my paper.” Be specific if you have made a schedule, “I am not taking 30 minutes to review my notes for the exam.”
- Then, write down the reasons you have for putting off your work. Review your reasons, and think about what they really mean. Check out the common excuses in this blog post to see if any of your excuses are tied to an underlying cause. What actions can you take to address that cause?
- Write down a good argument against each reason you listed above to try to convince yourself to complete the task.
- If this process is difficult, imagine you are giving advice to a friend who is procrastinating. Or, imagine you are having a discussion with your future-self who is helping you overcome the urge to procrastinate. What would future-you say to convince you to complete this activity? Remind yourself that future-you is the one who is going to suffer if you avoid your work now.
Overcoming procrastination is a process. Somedays, the impulse to avoid will be too much to resist, so it is important to keep working at it. Don’t let a small setback overwhelm you or break your progress toward your new habits.