Procrastination is described as putting off a task until a later date. Everyone procrastinates but when it gets out of control it can cause a cycle of stress, wasted time and feelings of shame. Though the logical part of your brain knows you need to study, the emotional part would rather seek instant gratification by looking at social media, texting a friend, or even cleaning the bathroom.
Our days are filled with electronics and apps designed to grab our attention and encourage us to multitask. Add to that feelings of overwhelm, fear and lack of motivation and you can see how procrastination becomes a problem. I’m here to tell you to stop feeling guilty about procrastinating.
Procrastinators Should Forgive Themselves
Psychology Professor Michael Wohn discovered that students who forgave themselves for procrastination in the past were less likely to procrastinate in the future. Just because you’ve fallen behind schedule, or watched 3 episodes of Orange is the New Black instead of essay writing, there’s no need to waste the day. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, take 10 minutes to prepare yourself and your space then get down to some work. You need to work out why you’re procrastinating then choose the techniques best suited to help you control it.
Procrastination is an addiction that willpower alone cannot fix
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Breaking Procrastination Improves Your Mood
You can’t get much done in life if you only work on the days you feel good – Jerry West
You shouldn’t wait to do something until motivation strikes. People don’t want to sit down and study for hours, to look over bills, or to get out bed when they’re feeling stressed out. Whenever I don’t want to work, I find myself staring into space or scrolling through my phone. Sound familiar?
The solution is to start the work so motivation can follow. This idea is backed up by research conducted by the Harvard Business School. Over 4 months they collected daily diary entries around motivation, mood and completed work from 238 individuals working in 27 project teams. On days where progress was made, participants reported higher intrinsic motivation – interest and enjoyment in the work itself.
You need to tell yourself the task just needs doing and that you’re going to have a go now, even if you don’t complete it. Once you make progress (even a tiny amount) you’ll start to feel motivated to continue working.
Techniques To Overcome Procrastination
How to Tackle Feeling Overwhelmed
Sometimes a task seems so big you don’t know where to start. So you procrastinate instead. You have a large writing assignment for a course, you want to start a blog, or you want to organize your house; it’s easier to put it off and seek instant gratification instead.
- Pick out quick and easy tasks to complete first so you can achieve some wins and gain momentum.
- Write down your reasons for doing a task and stick them somewhere prominent. Every time you lack motivation look at the list to spur you on.
- Break down a big task into smaller parts. Work out what small tasks you can complete first and focus on those.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I used to look at my essay topic 2 weeks before it was due then email my tutor with initial questions.
Fear of Mistakes
Have you ever procrastinated fixing something: revising a piece of writing, repairing something around the house, or redoing that cross stitch you messed up? Do you ever sit and stare wondering what you should do? This fear and perfectionism could be holding you back.
- Accept you are a work in progress and try to stop this negative-self talk. We learn only by doing and mistakes are a part of that.
- Author Jodi Piccoult advocates for banishing perfectionism: ‘you can edit a bad page but you can’t edit a blank page’.
Small Steps Lead To Big Change
Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out – Robert Collier
You come home from work and it’s only an hour until dinner so you decide to relax rather than study. This all-or-nothing thinking could be wasting opportunities to make progress. Studying in 30 minute bursts every day can be more effective than studying for hours 1 day a week.
For the last few years I’ve been saving every £2 coin I come across. The problem with this savings plan is it takes time to make big progress. Every time I add a few coins to my tin the level seems to barely rise. But…after a few months the amount of coins increases and it’s not long until it’s turned into a significant sum I can take to the bank.Saving £2 coins is like studying. Slow and steady progress is vital. Every day you study, every hour, every 10 minutes – you’re making progress.
- Write an achievements list. Note all your completed tasks so you can look back and feel proud of what you’ve achieved
- Use the Pomodoro technique to achieve lots in a short time. Study for 25 minutes with no distractions and no breaks. After, take a 5 minute break to stretch, move around or get new snacks. This is 1 completed Pomodoro. Repeat 3 times before having a longer 15-30 minute break.
Don’t Let Panic Drive Your Work
You may be one of those people who feels they can only stop procrastinating when there’s a deadline looming. I’m guilty of this too as I used to submit essays with minutes to spare. But, this mindset is damaging for two reasons:
- If you leave your work until a day before it’s due, something could happen (e.g. an illness or family emergency) and you might not be able to submit anything
- Not all tasks in life will have an external deadline, so relying on adrenaline-fueled panic will not always save you.
- Track your deadlines, like assignment due dates, so deadlines don’t creep up on you. Then work backwards from the deadline to plan when tasks need completing.
- Set fake deadlines a few days early to pressure you into working, giving you time for editing or if tasks take longer than expected.
3 Additional Anti-Procrastination Techniques
1. Remove distractions
Distractions will tempt you to procrastinate so put your phone in another room or turn it on silent or airplane mode. Disable your Wi-Fi when you’re studying or use a free programme such as Cold Turkey to block the Internet or certain websites temporarily. Turn the television or radio off if it’s likely to distract you.
2. Keep a procrastination list
Keep a sticky note next to you and add any non-task related ideas or obligations that pop into your mind. Then carry on with your work. You can then look at the list during a break.
3. Reward yourself
Whether you have 2 minutes or 2 hours, plan a reward at the start of each session to enjoy once your session is completed.
Your immediate procrastination action steps
- Forgive yourself for procrastinating
- Work out your reasons for procrastinating and find tailored techniques to control it
- Set yourself up for success
To put these tips into practice, grab my free printable study planner to help you control procrastination and be more productive.