Procrastination is defined as, ‘the act of postponing or delaying something’. Or, as Tim Urban puts it, ‘the action of ruining your life for no apparent reason’.
Do you ever sit down to study and tell yourself today will be different?
You’re got a long to do list and you’re determined.
Then an hour or so later you realise you haven’t achieved much as you HAD to text your friend back…then you noticed your split ends so called your hairdresser for an appointment…then the washing machine finished its cycle and the beeping was too annoying to leave…
Does this sound familiar?
Read on to learn the 3 reasons why we procrastinate and 15 methods to overcome it and be more productive.
What causes procrastination?
We live in a world of distraction where electronics and apps are designed to grab our attention and encourage us to multitask.
The logical part of your brain knows you need to study but the emotional part doesn’t care. Tim Urban refers to this emotional part as the Instant Gratification Monkey. It wants fun and procrastination instead of hours of hard work so will jump around in front of your face to try to get you to stop working.
But why do we procrastinate?
Here’s 3 common reasons for procrastination
1) Unpleasant tasks
You need to accept that some tasks are just crap.
No one wants to take notes on a long and dry academic reading. But putting it off can make the unpleasant task seem scarier and may distract you as the guilt sits in your mind. If you procrastinate while you’re studying you’re just prolonging the pain.
If I don’t want to do something, I’ll stop every few minutes to scroll through my phone or stare into space. But that’s silly as I’m just making the crap task take longer!!
Do you put off starting a task because you’re afraid you won’t be good enough?
Do you put off starting your revision because you’re scared of realising you might not remember anything?
Have you ever added ‘write my essay’ to your to do list and then ignored it to do something with a quicker reward?
Sometimes a task seems so big you’re not sure where to start. So you engage in procrastination instead.
I’m telling you all this so you can stop feeling guilty. Willpower is not enough.
Overcoming procrastination is not possible just by increasing your willpower as your ‘monkey brain’ will work against you. You need to get sneaky and outsmart this lack of focus and desire to put off the unpleasant.
Procrastination is a muscle that becomes stronger the more you flex it. Therefore, focus can also be strengthened through training and building positive habits.
I’m improving but that doesn’t mean I’m cured.
I still decide halfway through an essay sentence that I want to plan a new gym workout regime.
I still panic about my workload and choose to lie down instead of tackle it.
I flip my mattress or clean the bathroom instead of tackling my to do list.
But now I recognise my triggers for procrastination and I have of methods to stop it controlling me.
So read on to find 15 techniques to eliminate procrastination so you can achieve your goals and relax guilt free.
1. Adapt and use the Pomodoro technique
This method should feature in all your study sessions in some form.
Study for 25 minutes with no distractions and no breaks. No checking your phone or looking at a non-study related website. 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. You can simply set a timer or there’s plenty of free Pomodoro apps you can download.
• Adapt the timings if they don’t suit you. For essay writing, you may want to work for 45 minutes then have a 10-minute break. For note-taking, 25/5 may be the most effective
• At first you won’t want to focus at all. But stick with it and it’ll get easier
• Focus on 1 task for each Pomodoro if possible – don’t multitask
• If you finish your task with a few minutes spare, have a look around and tidy up or put a load of washing on until the timer goes off
• Use this method for studying in short time periods. Try to fit 1 Pomodoro into your lunch break or maybe even before you leave for work.
I’m using the Pomodoro technique right now to write this blog post!
2. Set up external support
Tell someone your goal and when you will complete it e.g. I will complete the first draft of my essay by December 5th. Sometimes, just writing a goal down can make it seem more real. Sending it to another person can add a sense of accountability. Ask that person to check on you on your due date.
3. Allow for planned procrastination
When you’re in the middle of studying, random thoughts will pop into your mind. Your brain is looking for more exciting things to do than take notes or revise so, most of the time, your mind will drift away from studying.
Ignoring these distractions may break your focus, so record these distractions instead. Keep a sticky note next to you and every time a non-study related task pops into your mind, add it to the list then carry on with your work.
When you take a break you can do the things on your list. Over time you should notice you’re distracted less.
4. Create a fun dedicated study space
Make sure your desk has everything you need BEFORE you start studying to reduce distractions.
• Tidy your desk and remove things you won’t need
• Make sure you have the textbooks, notes and stationery you need
• Grab snacks, water and a hot drink
• Make sure you’re warm enough with extra layers or a blanket if you get cold easily
• Select a great playlist to help you focus – film and video game soundtracks always help me.
If possible, try to only use your desk for studying. Don’t read, watch films or eat at your desk. When you sit down at your desk you’ll find it easier to get focused.
5. Remove distractions
Your brain finds studying difficult so will find excuses to stop. If your phone buzzes or an email notification appears on your laptop your attention will switch and you’ll likely stop studying.
Why spend 2 hours studying if you could get the same tasks done in 1 hour by removing all distractions?
Here’s some methods:
• If you live with family, housemates or a partner – tell them when you’re studying and ask them not to distract you or tempt you with other activities
• If you don’t need the Internet disable the Wi-Fi on your computer while you’re studying. Or you could even remove the network from your settings so you have to re-enter the password to connect
• Use free software such as Cold Turkey to temporarily block certain websites or the entire Internet
• Put your phone on airplane mode or at least turn your data and Wi-Fi off if you still need to be contacted in an emergency
• Put your phone in another room or even give it to someone else (if you live with others).
6. Small wins
For most goals, momentum is key. When you start seeing results at the gym you’re more likely to keep going. This is the same with studying. If you see 3 tasks checked off your to do list you’re more likely to keep working.
Start a study session with some quick and easy tasks to complete:
• Email your tutor with questions about the next assignment
• Tidy your desk
• File your notes
• Set up your essay document.
7. Reward yourself
At times it feels like all you do is study, work, eat, sleep and study some more. You might not think you have time to eat a proper meal or wash your hair, let alone relax. But it’s important to find a little time for yourself every day.
Reward your hard work with:
• An episode of your favourite TV show (I’m addicted to Designated Survivor)
• A hot bubble bath
• A phone call to a friend
• Your favourite chocolate bar
• Or if you’re really struggling for time… just have a 2 minute solo dance party around the room to lift your spirits.
Knowing there’s a reward later will help you stay focused and reduce procrastination.
8. Focus on slow and steady progress.
Don’t expect to become an overnight productive genius who’s conquered procrastination. Aim to complete 1 Pomodoro without procrastination. Then 2. Then try for a full study session.
As Charles Duhigg explains in The Power of Habit, habits take time to change. It takes time to replace bad habits with good ones.
9. Don’t beat yourself up
A study by Psychology Professor Michael Wohl found students who forgave themselves for instances of procrastination were less likely to procrastinate in the future.
Yesterday you told yourself you would wake up early and study all day. But, today you woke up late, ate biscuits for breakfast and accidentally kinda watched 3 episodes of Orange is the New Black.
Just because you’ve fallen off your plan a little, there’s no need to waste the day. Don’t beat yourself up or feel guilty about having a relaxing start to the day. Put some music on and give yourself 30 minutes to get washed and dressed, prepare some snacks and get ready for studying.
10. Don’t wait until you want to study
Successful students don’t wait until they want to study. It’s not that likely you jump out of bed each morning wanting to study all day. So it’s important to get in the habit of studying even when you don’t want to.
Just because you don’t feel like studying it doesn’t mean your studying will be worse. It just means you might need to bribe yourself or work a bit harder at avoiding procrastination.
Here’s a link to a blog post that can help - 15 things to do when you don’t feel like studying
11. Break the task up into smaller tasks
Don’t just add, ‘write essay’ to your to do list. This is too big a task to tackle at once. No one ‘runs a marathon’. They run 1 mile, then another, then another until they’ve ran 26.2 of the them.
If you’re anything like me you find it satisfying to check tasks off your to do list. Break down large tasks into smaller elements so you can achieve a few quickly and gain momentum.
12. Celebrate progress
When you have mountains of studying to do it can be easy to forget to congratulate yourself when you’ve worked hard. Your workload may seem never-ending but reflecting on a day of great study can motivate you to keep going and do more.
Keep a notebook nearby and list each task as you complete it e.g. notes on Chapter 8, completed practice questions...etc.
Feel proud of what you achieved and remember, success comes from taking small steps now. Every step in the right direction counts.
13. Banish perfectionism
I often need to take this advice myself. I am an advocate for planning your essay well before you start writing. But sometimes we don’t start an essay or our revision because we’re scared.
Scared the task will take longer or be harder than we thought.
Scared we’ll realise we’re not capable.
Author Jodi Piccoult sums up the perils of perfectionism: ‘You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.’
If you’ve been putting off a task for awhile, just do it! Work out the first sub-task and get started.
14. Break your addiction to adrenaline-fuelled panic
Some people get a rush from leaving things to the last minute and some believe panic gives them better results.
This is a damaging mindset for two reasons:
• something could happen, stopping you from doing the work at all e.g. an illness, family emergency …etc.
• not everything in life has a deadline. It’s bad practice to only be able to work to a serious deadline
Wouldn’t you prefer to relax after submitting an essay knowing you submitted a few days early, than procrastinate with the sense of guilt hanging over you?
15. Don’t be afraid to change your methods
Add a review date in your calendar for a few weeks from now. On that date reflect on your studying habits and look at what’s working and what’s not.
There are so many different study tips, methods and hacks available don’t get stuck using the same techniques. Trial 1 or 2 new ones each month to see what works for you and your current module.
Pick some of these methods to try in your next study session and see if you can beat procrastination and complete your study tasks.