Procrastination

By Vanessa Rawson

Do you procrastinate, start doing your assignment the night before it is due, delay handing something in, put off chores or tasks? If so, you are not alone. It is more common than you think. Everyone procrastinates from time to time. In fact 85% of school students say they procrastinate. However, it can be problematic and interfere with school performance and other life tasks. So, the following is some information about procrastination and what we can do about it.

Procrastination is often misconstrued and labelled as ‘laziness.’ This is inaccurate, and also unhelpful. Procrastination is in fact, a verb, a doing word! It is actively not doing something that would have likely benefited us in the future in favour of doing something of lesser importance at the time, with very likely negative consequences. It is intentional and therefore, not laziness at all.

Procrastination can be very frustrating and stressful, not least because some of the time, we know when we are doing it! Here are some tell-tale signs that we are procrastinating:

  1. We tend to get busy. e.g. tidying our room, starting on a less urgent assignment, helping hang out the washing, creating a birthday message for a friend, doing anything but the task at hand.
  2. We are easily distracted. e.g. if the dog comes in, we play with him; if we receive a notification on our phone, we read it immediately.
  3. “I’ll do it later/I have to be in the right mood/It’s not the right time.” These are frequent phrases associated with procrastination. We know when our mind is saying these statements, it has drifted into unhelpful territory.
  4. We set ourselves goals that are unrealistic. e.g. “I’ll be able to get an A on that report even if I start it the night before and pull an all-nighter.”
  5. We spend more time worrying about the task than actually doing it!
  6. The pressure of the deadline becomes the only motivator.

So how do we reduce procrastination? Here are some procrastination stoppers to try out when trying to study or get schoolwork done.

  1. Remove distractions from the workspace. e.g. phone, food, pets.
  2. Make the workspace pleasant and inviting. e.g. have a clear desk, have study notes and learning materials ready and pens nearby.
  3. Think about the benefits to doing the task set. e.g. “I’ll know more about Japan by the end of this.” or “This is going to help me get my SACE.”
  4. List advantages to getting the task done. e.g. “I’ll get to watch a movie with the family or Zoom with friends” and then list the disadvantages to not getting it done - e.g. “I won’t be able to relax tonight.”
  5. Talk about the task with a family member or friend. Share ideas about it with them. e.g. “I’m going to choose women in Australian politics as my topic because…”
  6. Break the task into steps so it feels more manageable and start with the first one.
  7. Set a timeframe for doing the task. e.g. “I plan to write two pages of my History essay in the next two hours.”
  8. When tempted to give up, stop and take a minute to check what has caused a loss of focus then remove this if it is a distraction or find another way of approaching the task. Stick with the task for another five to ten minutes before taking a break. This disrupts the procrastination cycle!
  9. Work alongside someone who generally finds it easier to get started on tasks.
  10. Plan to share the outcome of the task with a family member or friend at the end of the time limit.
  11. Set a reward for completion of the task. e.g. help cook a favourite meal, watching a preferred TV show.

Finally, get to know your own habits of procrastination a little better as it is easier to tackle it once you know what you are dealing with.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I procrastinate about? Write a list. e.g. starting on assignments, studying for exams, emailing people back, exercising, cleaning my room, tidying up after cooking.
  • How do I procrastinate? What do I find myself doing instead of doing what I set out to do? e.g. surfing the internet, playing video games, checking Instagram/Facebook, texting friends, scrolling through emails, watching Netflix, sleeping, making a cup of tea, working on something easier, going for a walk.

You also may wish to check out Tim Urban’s entertaining Ted Talk Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinatorclick here to view.

Vanessa Rawson
College Psychologist