If I am being entirely honest I never used to be the kind of person that would put things off until the next day. During High School I was the annoying person in class who handed her work in early. Yes that’s right I struggled maintaining friends with this very annoying habit of mine. When I got to my undergraduate days I again started work early. Organised a study schedule to ensure I would have enough time to do my work. Whilst my grades were not that great I could at least say I was organised. Towards the end of my degree I found it more difficult to start work early. There were the competing demands of work, study, family, friends, cooking and cleaning. Yes that’s right ‘life’ was getting in the way of my assignments and study preparation.
By the time I started my postgraduate studies all hell had broken lose and my assessments were started the week they were due. I found it difficult to balance my time and keep up with classes let alone try and start things early. It wasn’t until I allowed myself just 4 hours to complete an entire case study worth 60% of my final mark that I realised I had become that person who puts off today what they can do tomorrow. Whilst I got away with it and I’ve managed to complete my studies I look back and reflect on when it changed? And most importantly how could I have changed my approach. Why would I do this, I mean I’m finished, What do I care now? Well for two reasons, the first is that maybe if I understand how it all went pear shape for me I can share that with others and try and help them with their own struggles. The second reason is purely selfish – I still do it. I’m working now, still trying the balance the demands from different domains of my life and still put off tasks that I can do today until tomorrow.
In reflecting on my own experience and in the research I’ve done I have diagnosed myself as a procrastinator. I would and still do make lists of the tasks ahead of me. I break it down into the immediate, short term and long term tasks. I make lists of the thing I would like to do, should do, have to do and can’t possible not do. Essentially I make lists for lists even. Why? It’s a way of avoiding doing the actual tasks. I could run off on a tangent here and I could start telling you about why I avoid the tasks and how my fear of failure and desire to be seen as successful plays a role but that’s a whole other post. What I want to share with you are some of the thoughts I have, from reading and trying out some strategies myself, of how to stop procrastinating.
Don’t wait for the perfect time to do something because it doesn’t exist. There is no magical time to start reviewing your lecture notes or writing an assignment. Magic only happens in the world of Walt Disney, or as created by J K Rowling in the magical world of Harry Potter.
The saying ‘no strain no gain’ is rubbish. It could be that the reason we feel like we work better under stress, working hard against a deadline is that we seriously haven’t tried it any other way. I recall my earlier days of education as far less stressful than the later and I was still completing subjects and a degree.
It’s a time of great accomplishment in other areas of your life. Well yes I can’t really deny that when I was writing my thesis my house hadn’t been cleaner. I baked more, did more socialising with my friends (because they needed me – well that’s what I told myself), went to the gym regularly and lost weight. I did all of these highly important things to put off writing my thesis. In doing them I prolonged my anguish over writing the thesis and looking back I realise that they were not accomplishments at all.
Minimise the distractions in your environment. This one is a little dangerous because you could get so preoccupied with organising the perfect environment to study in and procrastinate on the study itself. Use your common sense though. Move away from TV’s, turn your phone off, and if there is loud music coming from the room next to you then try heading to the library to study.
Break down the larger goals into smaller more achievable goals. Instead of looking at the year, look at the month, week or day if you need to. Set yourself smaller goals that contribute to the bigger goals. If you are writing an essay start typing up your cover sheet, make your footer and page numbers as a way of starting. If you are writing a lab report think of it in sections, introduction, methodology, results, discussion. Tick them off one by one across time so you feel you are working toward the large goal of a lab report. If you are studying for an exam focus on just one area of revision as a time. If you can forward plan then spend an hour of each week making one sheet of key points that you learned from each subject in a separate notebook and use this to revise at the end of the semester.
Reward your hard work and use the promise of the reward to motivate you in completing your goal. Think about setting different rewards for different levels of achievement. When you finish a reading or reviewing a lecture then reward yourself with a small chocolate, a quick walk or watching a TV show. When you complete the essay then take the night of and socialise with friends. When you finish the semester go on a holiday. Make sure the reward matches the effort that you gave when completing the goal.
My final recommendation is to ask for help. This could be help from a friend in joining forces and studying together, or it could be asking someone from your class to explain something you missed. You could ask your lecturer or tutor for help with an assignment. Or if you are really struggling ask a counsellor or someone from the Learning and Development team to help you with your study skills. It’s also harder to procrastinate if you have let someone know your plans and what you are aiming to achieve so sharing your goals with someone makes it harder for you to get distracted and put things off.
I’m not saying that these are the only things to help with procrastination, or that they will all be true for everyone. Maybe you will try one approach and it won’t work. Don’t give up, try another approach. Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s better to have tried and failed then to regret never having tried.