How To Stop Procrastinating Today… Rather Than Next Monday
You have an assignment due in a few days. You have had a lot going on and this one just kind of slipped through the cracks. We’ve all been there! (And if you have never experienced this, I’m totally jealous!). You promise yourself you are going to get on top of it now, as soon as possible, stat... You open your computer. It’s 8 am. You have at least 10 hours of writing time. The day passes and somehow you have written absolutely no words. Not one! Where did the day go!? You think back. Really, WHERE DID IT GO?! Whether you Youtubed “Playground Love” by Air which segued into listening to a 90s interview with Winona Ryder, or you needed to respond (at great length!) to emails that just kept swishing onto your computer. Procrastination happens. However, I’m convinced it’s not always easily recognised.
If you’re not writing succinctly (stick to the word count!) or acting with clear purpose, you are probably sneakily distracting yourself. Sometimes I swim around the research literature for hours but let myself take long winding detours into reading some irrelevant research. Over-scheduling commitments can also mean you are not prioritising your time around deadlines. Having a Goldilocks (my writing needs to be ‘just right’) approach to the process can also use up valuable drafting time. I’m getting better at recognising my own procrastination. Yet still, every now and then I find myself up at 3 am swapping sleep for coffee while I battle against a deadline.
In an effort to understand and reduce my own procrastination, I went in search of a solution. Luckily, Associate Professor of Psychology Dr John Malouff has recently been studying procrastination and has been kind enough to share some of his procrastination wisdom with all of us.
When is procrastinating a problem?
When it is maladaptive in that it interferes with achieving important personal goals or it causes marked stress.
Who procrastinates and what does their procrastination involve?
Procrastination is common in university students. They tend not to complete assigned readings prior to class sessions and thus do not learn as much at the sessions as they might. Many students start work on their assignments at the last moment, creating stress and ending up with not such a good mark. More extreme students submit their assignments late, incurring late-submission penalties. One student I knew well submitted every assignment in every unit on the last day before she would have received a 0. The late penalties cost her a chance at going on to 4th year. Another student I know failed out of the university due to not submitting assignments at all.
What creates procrastination?
There is usually a failure of self-regulation. Long-term goals lose out to short-term avoidance of tedious, anxiety-provoking work. Some individuals fear their work will not be perfect, so they put it off. Some individuals procrastinate as a sort of self-handicapping, to allow themselves to conclude later that they could have done much better if they had not procrastinated.
Some students probably also procrastinate because they are a high sensation seeker? Being ‘on the clock’ is quite thrilling… Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything…
Ha. Yes, some students like last-minute excitement.
Do you ever procrastinate?
I sometimes procrastinate at home with regard to cleaning. I don’t procrastinate to a problem level at work. I am fortunate to have a position where I enjoy almost all the work I do, in part because I choose the work.
What can students do to reduce their procrastinating?
I just completed a meta-analysis showing that many types of interventions help reduce procrastination.
What did the meta-analysis involve?
Statistically combining the results of 12 experiments that examined the effects of procrastination interventions. The interventions had big, positive effects.
What were the tasks in the studies and what interventions reduced procrastination on these tasks for students?
The usual task was completing a written assignment or preparing for an exam. For the most part, the interventions helped students identify what leads them to procrastinate, set short-term goals, make plans, keep track of their progress, solve problems, and decrease negative mood.
What else can students do to reduce their procrastinating?
Students could seek help at the UNE counselling centre: https://www.une.edu.au/current-students/support/student-support/counselling.
Short of that, they could read my blog entry on essay-writing phobia: https://blog.une.edu.au/usingpsychology/2011/09/30/do-you-have-essay-writing-phobia/comment-page-1/
Also, I recommend the suggestions in this article in Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/better-perfect/201703/11-ways-overcome-procrastination.