Squashing procrastination DEAD

By admin
Category: Personal | Date: Thu 16 Oct, 2008

I’m lucky that I’ve never had major problems with procrastination – but a lot of people mentioned it as one of their biggest issues when I took a self-development course as a third year undergrad. Students everywhere suffer from procrastination, because – with flexible schedules, challenging work, a tendency towards perfectionism and all the distractions of uni life – it’s so tempting to just put off anything hard until later on.

But procrastination leads to feeling guilty, fed-up, and even bored: when you’re faffing around to put off doing that essay outline, you’re probably not engaged in the most thrilling activities known to mankind. (Browser-based flash games, Facebook stalking and narcissistic googling sound familiar to anyone?)

Here’s how to squash procrastination DEAD and get on with the stuff you need to do – so that you have more time to enjoy the best that uni life has to offer.

1. Work in the library or computer lab

One of the simplest and most effective ways to beat procrastination is to work in a library or computer lab, not in your bedroom. Much as I love libraries, I’d be the first to admit that they’re not the most distracting and diverting places on the planet. There’s probably not a huge amount to do in your uni library except get on with some work – and having lots of other people around you working also helps you to feel in a productive mood.

The computers in your library and computer lab also have the advantage of lacking all your saved bookmarks and favourite time-wasting games. Even if you take your own laptop along, you’ll probably feel more like studying than surfing the net (if only because you want to look like you’re working virtuously hard if someone from your course wanders past). If free broadband is available and you don’t genuinely need it for your studying, switch off your wireless card.

If you have a laptop computer, try going someplace where you can’t connect to the Internet (e-mail and the Web are the bane of the procrastinator’s existence—as you probably already know). If you are a procrastinator, then chances are you are already pretty exasperated; don’t risk frustrating yourself even more by trying to write in an environment that doesn’t meet your needs.

Procrastination handout from the University of North Carolina

2. Tackle the thing you’re resisting most FIRST

My second most effective way to stomp procrastination’s ugly little head is to do the thing you least want to do first. Okay, maybe that chapter on postmodernism is the driest, dullest, densest piece of prose ever … but if you get it read early on, it won’t be hanging over you for the rest of the day.

You’ll also get a real mood boost from tackling something hard at the beginning of a study session: it’s all downhill coasting from there…

3. Tell yourself you’ll “just do ten minutes”

If you’ve got a big project that you’re constantly dragging your feet on, or a particular type of work that you always delay starting, try telling yourself you’ll “just do ten minutes”. However hard or unpleasant the task, ten minutes is do-able. Whether it means finally starting on planning your dissertation, or opening that huge novel you’re supposed to read by next week, just making a start can be enough to break the procrastination spell.

Of course, if you find that you’re getting quite into it after ten minutes, there’s no need to stop… keep going until you run out of energy for it. I find this technique particularly effective when writing fiction, which I know I enjoy once I’m in the flow, but struggle to get started on.

If you need to learn about something from scratch, try reading Research anything in ten minutes – seven easy steps here on Alpha Student to learn how to blitz through initial researching.

4. Work in short bursts of time

Have you noticed how much you can get done when you only have half an hour before your lecture and you realise you’ve failed to prepare any of the questions set the previous week? Or have you’ve ever stormed through an essay because you want to join your friends down the pub in a couple of hours?

Study in small blocks instead of long time periods. For example, you will accomplish more if you study/work in 60 minute blocks and take frequent 10 minute breaks in between, than if you study/work for 2-3 hours straight, with no breaks.

Overcoming Procrastination – Counselling services handout from the University of Buffalo

Most of us focus best when we have a short period of time in which to work. Rather than scheduling mammoth study sessions, work in hour-long bursts, ideally before a set appointment such as a class or lecture. You might be surprised how much you can get done when you know you’ve only got a few minutes left.

5. Plan to reward yourself

If, like me, you find treats and goodies somewhat more motivating than the mere thrill of finally finishing that sodding essay, then try planning a reward for yourself. Maybe you want to get your assignment out of the way before lunch so you can take the afternoon off and go shopping. Perhaps you’re going to finish annotating that chapter after dinner, before you have dessert. The carrot is often more motivating than the stick….

Give yourself rewards when you accomplish something.

Cambridge University Counselling Service


Punishing yourself every time you realize you have put something off won’t help you change. Rewarding yourself when you make progress will.

Procrastination handout from the University of North Carolina


No matter how unpleasant the task, there’s virtually nothing you can’t endure for just 30 minutes if you have a big enough reward waiting for you.

Overcoming procrastination – article by Steve Pavlina

Over to you

Further reading:

  • Procrastination – a great guide from the University of North Carolina, explaining why some people tend to be serial procrastinators, and giving practical suggestions on what you can do about it.
  • Overcoming Procrastination – useful, in-depth article by personal development guru Steve Pavlina, covering the time-boxing technique.
  • Overcome Procrastination with Checklists – a post from “time coach” Mark Forster, with a good method for dealing with procrastinating on big projects like essays and dissertations.

Do you have chronic procrastination problems, or do you whiz through all your set work without ever stopping “just to check email”? We’d love to hear your experiences and your tips in the comments…

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