Posted on: February 10, 2020
Procrastination is simply the act of delaying something, putting a task off until later because right now, you just can’t face doing it. Procrastination is often misunderstood as laziness, which it isn’t. Often procrastination comes from a place of anxiety, an underlying belief that we won’t be able to do a task successfully or as well as we would like; that we will let people down or not be ‘good enough’. We put off doing something until we can’t avoid it any more.
There is a clear link between procrastination, perfectionism and anxiety. Every student wants to do their best, wants to achieve as much as they can, and this can lead us to putting too much pressure on ourselves. This pressure leads to procrastination.
We can make ourselves feel guilty or ashamed for not doing the things we need to do, for avoiding things, for admitting that we haven’t done what we said we would do. And if we do something well, we worry that our success will lead to us being asked to do more, and that we won’t cope with the added pressure, leading us to let people down.
So how do you tackle procrastination? The first thing is to recognise the areas where you procrastinate and to be really honest with yourself why you do it. Is it specific tasks? Do you struggle to deal with coursework but are fine coping with tasks in your part time job? Once you have identified your problem areas you can begin to tackle them.
Ask yourself what it is about the task that makes you worry about it? Is it the scale of the task? Are you unsure of what you are being asked to do? Do you have all the resources you need to complete the task, or do you know how to get them?
Turn your anxiety into a positive, use the energy it creates to kick-start yourself into beginning. Challenge your self-talk and change it from ‘I won’t’ to ‘I will’, from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’. Every time you hear yourself saying or thinking one of those things, stop and think about how you can change it to a positive. It’s not an easy thing to do, but with time you’ll become more and more conscious of your negative thinking and you will be able to beat it faster.
Now make a plan. Prioritise each task, by deadline, by how long each thing will take, by importance. You may find our blog on time management helpful here. Setting yourself time goals, e.g. this morning I will revise topic X, or, I’ll do my reading for Thursday’s class at 2pm, enables you to frame your day around the tasks you need to achieve.
It is important to be realistic. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself and commit to writing an essay in one day. You are unlikely to do your best work and the stress you create will make you more likely to procrastinate further. Set goals that are achievable.
Break each task down into small, manageable chunks. Focus on whichever piece you’re working on and don’t think about the next part until you have to. When tackling an essay, think about the question and how you want to approach your answer. Create an outline of your essay, covering the key points of your argument. Once you’ve done that, move on to thinking about your research, which materials you want to reference to back up your discussion. Then get down to the writing, breaking this up into smaller chunks if you need to. Finally, make sure your referencing is correct. Any task can be broken up into smaller pieces and doing so will make your goal much more achievable.
It's too easy to let things pile up, to procrastinate to the point where you have so much to do that you simply can’t cope with the anxiety of facing any task. Challenge yourself to tackle small tasks as they arise instead of letting them build up. Or, set aside half an hour every morning where you simply get through the little things, such as sending an email or visiting the library. Achieving little tasks can make a big difference in helping you deal with the bigger things.
It is far too easy to allow distractions to refocus our attention elsewhere. To let that text notification win out, to just answer that email you spotted arrive in your inbox. If it’s read then it’s done, out of your head? Do your best to avoid distractions. It’s not always possible to ignore your notifications, sometimes you’re waiting to hear about something important, but whenever possible ignore notifications, turn them off if you can.
The most important thing to remember is to be kind to yourself. Everyone procrastinates about something. When you find yourself putting off a task, learn to forgive yourself rather than beat yourself up about it. There is no need to be perfect, simply do the best you can. And when you do finish something reward yourself. Binge a few episodes of your favourite boxset, go out with your friends, find a way to relax and enjoy yourself for a while.