Forget fear. Toss out time constraints. When you put things off, it’s rarely about these things.
You’re much more likely to procrastinate when your assignment isn’t interesting, when it’s limited in scope, and when you don’t have clear instructions.
Even group work changes your attitude. You’re more likely to stall for time over collaborative tasks compared with working on your own.
Procrastination isn’t a simple beast. There are many reasons behind it. Even when you know you’re doing it, the way to recover from procrastination isn’t always obvious.
But don’t panic, there is hope! Check out these ten tips to turn procrastination into productivity. Don’t take any more risks, act now!
- Find an angle to suit you – There were times when I was trudging through the most boring texts, so I tried to find ways to make it more exciting. True, that can be difficult at times and I didn’t always manage it. But when I did, I was much happier putting the work in. If you can pull something out the bag, do it and watch everything fall into place more easily.
- Beat the bore – When you simply can’t find an interesting angle, move past the yawn by forcing yourself to work for a really short time.
Promise yourself 10 – 15 minutes. Just get started and see where it takes you. When you begin, it’s easier to keep going. You never know, you may even find something that takes your interest by then!
- Don’t look at what is necessary. Look at what is possible! – Working out the bare minimum you can get away with is actually a recipe for procrastination. The moment you artificially restrict yourself, you’re telling yourself to work less. No wonder it feels easier to put things off.
Instead of closing down your options, stretch yourself further. By framing the task this way, you’ll do yourself a massive favour.
- Keep trying to understand the task until you really do – We’ve all had that moment of doom when we don’t have a clue what’s expected of us. The temptation to put it off is strong, because it’s easier to bury your head in the sand than to attempt what you don’t understand.
Better than either tactic, however, is to ask for clarification. If nobody on your course is sure (or you don’t understand/trust their explanations), explain to your tutor what you’re struggling with. Don’t leave it at “I don’t understand what you want”, but try to explain what you think is expected and ask them to clarify where you’re uncertain. The sooner you know where you’re headed, the sooner you’re likely to move in that direction.
- Clear your head – With too much going on around you, it’s not the best environment to work in. Even locked in your own room, a smart phone is a gateway to the world and untold treasures. An Internet connection takes you wherever you want. Music can consume you.
Sometimes you just need to breathe.
Short bursts of meditation can help you work on tasks with more focus and clarity of mind. If you set aside an hour to work and find the hour slips away with nothing done, schedule another hour and meditate for 20 minutes first. Work for the remaining 40 minutes. Do this meditation two or three times a week. A smart phone may be a gateway to the world, but meditation may be a gateway to your mind.
- Clear your social calendar – Some deadlines may feel reasonable, but they are very rarely unworkable. If time is strapped to the point that you even cannot schedule time to study, you’re doing too much. This isn’t procrastination (unless you deliberately over-scheduled!). This is trying to do too many things.
You’re at uni for many reasons. One of those reasons is to complete your degree. If you’re not in the right position to do that, you may have to change your position and give up on some of your other commitments.
- Be wary of ‘unequal’ task setting in long-term assignments – O’Donoghue and Rabin argue:
“When the costs of completing different stages [of a project] are more unequal, procrastination is more likely, and it is when later stages are more costly that people start but don’t finish projects.”
Dissertations have unequal elements, because some areas will require more time than others. However, by boxing those elements as if they are a ‘task’ to complete, you may dread the time when longer ‘tasks’ arrive. Instead, set time out differently.
Break things down further. Find an equality to the tasks you are dishing out within the overall project. You may need to write Chapter 3, but it’s not helpful putting ‘Write Chapter 3’ on your to-do list. Keep breaking it down until you can visualise the tasks at hand and have a grasp on what you need to do to complete them.
- See the difference between team assignments and individual projects – Gafni and Geri studied 160 MBA students and found that individual deadlines were more likely to be less problematic than group deadlines. Even when an individual task was voluntary, students were punctual. With group deadlines, tasks were more likely to be left until much nearer the last minute. If the group task was voluntary, it was often not completed at all.
Is collective procrastination easier to fall into? Next time you’re faced with a group assignment, take individual responsibility. Make it about you first and make it about the group once you get into gear.
- Set your own deadlines – Your assignment may not be due for a couple of months. The procrastinator in you may tell you, “Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time to do that. Forget about it. Even when there’s just a fortnight left, you’ll have enough time. Go on, you already have enough on your plate”.
Simply leaving everything until later is not best practice for effective work. And you can manage your time far better than that.
Keep a rough schedule diary for the semester/term at the very least. Then give yourself your own deadlines for work, much earlier than that official date.
- Ask “Why am I doing this?” – When the work becomes a blur of pointlessness, you’re likely to procrastinate just the same as when you’re bored. Find a reference point to help you hold on to why you’re working on this assignment. It may be a long-term reason, it may be a short-term reason, but whatever you make of it, your aim is to give clear reason behind your study.
“If the process isn’t getting you the outcome you want, you need to change the process.” – Mike Reeves-McMillan
Want to look a bit further into combating procrastination? Here are a couple more related links: