Procrastination: The action of delaying or postponing something.
Procrastination is more common than you think. It sometimes seems easier for us to put-off doing something until later. However, this is almost always a myth, especially when you have a number of competing deadlines.
Yes, breaking a bad habit can be difficult and can take some time. As you grow as a student you will realise that you can't expect to go from champion procrastinator to model student overnight. You will have to find the strategies that work best for you and practice them. Notice and reward small improvements in your procrastinating behaviour.
Unfortunately there is no easy, quick fix for procrastination; it takes time and effort and, sadly, no one else can fix it for you. We have put together some tips for you though to help you on your way.
1. Break it down
If your task seems too big or overwhelming, break it down into a series of smaller, more achievable, tasks or steps that you have to take in order to complete the task. For example, for a big essay, the small steps might be:
- Step 1 - Decide on a topic
- Step 2 - Find 10 relevant articles
- Step 3 - Read and summarise each article
- Step 4 - Plan the structure of your essay
- Step 5 - Write the introduction
- Step 6 - Write 200 words of the main body
- Step 7 - Review what you’ve done and check you’re on the right track
- Step 8 - Write another 200 words and so on.
Concentrate on taking the first step, then the next until you complete the full journey. Sometimes you might need a lot of steps, other times, only a few.
This is only an example. Please contact a skills adviser (The Hub / Student Link) for more specific advice on breaking down assessment tasks.
2. Five minute plan
Sit down and work on something for just five minutes. At the end of five minutes, move onto something else if you want, or set yourself another five minutes on the original task. Chances are you’ll already be involved enough to keep going. Getting started is often the hardest step to take.
3. Reward yourself
Set up a system where you use pleasurable activities (even small ones) as a means of rewarding yourself when you’ve done the work you planned to do, rather than using those pleasurable activities as a way of avoiding that work.
For example, make sitting down and watching your favourite TV show a reward for doing an hour of work on that assignment, rather than the thing that delays your start on the work.
4. Ask for help
If you get stuck for any reason, ask someone for help (e.g. a friend, class mate, tutor or lecturer) rather than abandoning the task all together. If you can’t access who you need straight away, make a definite plan as to when you will speak to them and try tackling another aspect of the task that you don’t need help with.
5. Pick your times
Schedule the task or activity you’ve been putting off at a time when you are most alert, rested and energised, and therefore more likely to do it - and put it in your diary.
Planning to tackle a difficult assignment when you are tired is not likely to result in you actually doing it.
6. Establish your priorities
There are always going to be a lot of competing demands for your time. Think about what they are, set some priorities and stick to them! Use your weekly planner to help sort out time management
7. Manage your time
Use weekly planners and diaries to organise your time. Set specific dates and times to begin, and continue, your work. ‘Later’ is a really hard time to pin down!
8. Change your environment
Make whatever changes you need to increase the likelihood that you will get your work done. If you can’t study at home, find a place where you can. Remember you can come into University to study, during the day, evening and weekends.
9. Visible reminders
Put up notes or signs in prominent places (e.g. fridge, mirror, phone, computer) to remind you that there is something that needs to be done.
10. Set some goals
Think about what you want to achieve in the short, medium and long term. Write them down. Map out how the task that you are avoiding fits into achieving those goals.
If you can see that the task has some useful purpose it may help you to get started. And remember, all assignments, exams and study periods have an important role to play if one of your goals is “pass my modules” or “get my degree”!