Dealing with Procrastination in Your Coursework (Part 2)

Jun 17, 2019 | Blog Archive

Procrastination is a habit driven by personal decisions about what is important to you. Not doing something is a voluntary action and a personal choice that you can control. Though you may let your peers down by procrastinating, 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.  It is much easier to procrastinate when you think of studying as a long session or try to tackle an entire project in one sitting.

Replace Old Study Habits with New Ones

1. Break your assignments down into specific measurable tasks.  Instead of thinking of studying for an exam as a single all-day event, schedule smaller chunks of time.  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 or notes you have over class 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.

2. 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.

3. If you are distracted during a study session or are finding reasons not to start a session, 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.

4. Support yourself in your journal.  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.

Identify the Cause of Your Procrastination

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.

1. Keep a study journal. 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.

2. What are you really avoiding?  When you are having a bout of procrastination, 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 of your time.

  • 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. Review the what students say sections above 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, and 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 overcome, so it is important to keep working at it.  Don’t let a small setback negatively overwhelm you or break your progress toward your new habits. 

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