What's Hiding Behind Procrastination?
Tips and tricks on how you can overcome procrastination
Written by Halle Elder
Papers are piling up, exams are around the corner and studying never seems to end. With so much to do, you feel as though you should be working all hours of the day to accomplish your academic goals, but instead, you scroll through your phone in bed.
Some may call this laziness, apathy or an unwillingness to try, but for many, the scenario above is an act of procrastination.
Dr. Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, has explained procrastination as a "form of self-regulation failure characterized by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.”
This essentially means that you delay a task despite knowing that it needs to be completed. Most people are aware that they are procrastinating, which is why it is so difficult to address. You know that you need to do something, but you simply cannot. According to Dr. Ferrari, chronic procrastinators make up roughly 20% of U.S. adults.
Causes of Procrastination
Procrastination is frequently attributed to laziness, but these two concepts are drastically different. The truth behind procrastination requires a more in-depth understanding of our brains and how different people approach tasks.
Princeton University’s Nic Voge explains that “Procrastination is not a matter, solely, of having poor time management skills, either, but rather can be traced to underlying and more complex psychological reasons.”
Voge goes on to explain that many of the reasons for delaying task completion are rooted around fear and anxiety of poor performance. This could mean that someone is afraid of receiving a bad grade, looking stupid or feeling unworthy.
“We avoid doing work to avoid our abilities being judged,” said Voge.
We all face fears, but procrastination becomes a problem when that fear interferes with our ability to complete tasks.
Lack of motivation can be another contributing factor of procrastination. Procrastinators have a tendency to wait until they are “in the right frame of mind” to start a task, but many times, that right frame of mind never comes. In these instances, it is important to just take that first step and start, even if you only do a small part of the necessary work.
This phenomenon of human behavior has been said to be one of the many underlying causes of procrastination. Present bias is the desire to complete a small task in order for our brains to receive instant gratification. Essentially, people are more motivated to feel instantly gratified than to accomplish a long-term goal.
This bias is the reason that behavioral psychologists often suggest that in order to complete long-term goals, you should create short-term goals that lead to the completion of the end goal. The gratification that you receive from the completion of the smaller goals will motivate you to continue working towards the long-term goal.
These same concepts can be used as a tool to decrease procrastination. Instead of your instant gratification being scrolling through your phone, you can create a small, easily accomplishable goal which gives you that same gratification, while motivating yourself to begin working on a project or assignment.
The Impact on Students
Students are some of the most heavily affected by procrastination. Around 80-95% of students in college are regularly affected by procrastination, according to Psychological Bulletin.
School is full of external pressures that can cause a fear of poor performance. Constant evaluation of one’s abilities can lead to heavy amounts of procrastination in order to have an excuse for possible poor performance. Voge explains this as “ a self-protection strategy for students” in which they procrastinate as a means of not having enough time to complete an assignment, rather than not having the ability.
Students can also be affected by the concept of abstract goals, which means they plan to study or complete an assignment, but never set aside the time or set in motion a plan. The idea is there, but they still do not complete the work. It can be helpful to those in this situation to set a specific day and time to start an assignment. This way, they will not get stuck in the loop of saying they have a plan of completing the work without ever enacting that plan.
Tips and Tricks
Do you face the dilemma of procrastination like many of your peers? If so, the following tips and tricks may help you achieve your dreams of not turning in every assignment at 11:59 p.m on the dot. (The following are based on tips provided by Princeton’s McGraw Learning Center for Teaching and Learning.)
Recognize the Issue
You likely have heard that “the first step is recognition" and this is no different. You probably already know you procrastinate, but you might not know the underlying meanings behind why you do. Try to examine what your reasons for procrastination may be and go from there.
Large projects are incredibly intimidating. It may be helpful to break a project down into smaller pieces and take it one step at a time.
Set Reasonable Goals
These smaller projects should be manageable and you should have goals about how much you complete in a given time frame.
Alter Your Perspective
Look at the work in a different light. This could mean that you focus on the knowledge you are gaining from this assignment rather than the work itself. Or you could focus on the end goal of checking this item off your to-do list.
Create a Flexible Schedule
Planners can be amazing for staying on top of scheduling, but for those of us who procrastinate, they can also be really overwhelming. Try creating slots of time for work that are more freeform in nature and allow flexibility.
Take time to celebrate the goals you have achieved already, in order to motivate you to achieve more.
In the end, procrastination is not an unbeatable foe. While these tips are not a solve-all for the obstacles that procrastinators face, they are a good place to start. The best thing to do is find what works well for you and remember you are not alone in your struggle. Good luck with the rest of the semester!