Most people have tasks in life that they sometimes delay or put off when they need to get started.
Procrastination commonly occurs when the task feels difficult, unclear or lengthy. Ask yourself, have you ever procrastinated over watching a movie? Probably not. It’s easy, straightforward and enjoyable! Procrastination can also be driven by "imposter syndrome", the belief that you aren't as good or as intelligent as others and no amount of evidence can shift it. Exploring the why behind our actions is often a useful first step in working out what action we can take.
Frequently suggested strategies
- Challenge your thoughts when they happen
- Recognise you are procrastinating and commit to address it now
- Work out why you are procrastinating so you can make a plan
- Forgive yourself rather than beating yourself up
- Promise yourself a reward for getting started
- Remind yourself that everyone is winging it most of the time
- Ask someone to check on you
- Get rid of distractions
- Make a list
- Break things into small chunks
- Set yourself some well defined goals
- Do hard things when you are most alert
- Do something to get started
- List what procrastination is costing you
Below you will find three common blocks (barriers and misconceptions) that slow down our progress when attempting strategies to overcome procrastination.
“I don’t need to start now as I work best under pressure”
We all work best under some pressure but leaving things until the last minute often limits our ability to perform well. The skill is recognising when procrastination is increasing the pressure beyond a helpful point and instead leading to more stress and worse grades. If I am avoiding something more than making plans to get started, I may be tipping into an unhelpful space.
“I just can’t get started”
Most tasks feel huge or overwhelming before we break them down into smaller chunks. When cooking for example, we often have a recipe that tells us what to do first. Making a specific plan with clear achievable steps is like having an “Assignment recipe”. When we know what step we need to take first, it becomes easier to make a start.
Self doubt or "imposter syndrome" can also manifest as comparing ourselves to others. "They have already started, that's because they're better than I am so what's the point in starting". Try to focus on the progress and accomplishments you have made in your own study journey. How are you going compared to yourself and the kind of person you want to be? University is really challenging so starting this journey is already taking a step outside your comfort zone.
“I’ll just do this first and then I will do it”, “I will start it tomorrow”
Waiting to feel ready = waiting for panic. Mostly, we respond well to rewards so plan to reward yourself by completing 1 step at a time. The first step might be simply reordering the tasks you have to do. A reward can then follow. For example, collect research papers for assignment (1 hour) then watch a 30 minute TV show.
Below are three things you can do to boost success.
Ask yourself why you’re putting the task off?
Do you need more information, perhaps you don’t understand the question, or are you worried about getting it wrong? When you know what the problem is, it is easier to take action and do something that will help.
Enlist the help of others
Studying with others, telling people your plans or having a helpful parent “check in” on you might help with staying accountable. This really helps us to make progress.
If self doubt is getting in the way, talking to your friends and family about your worries can also really help. Acknowledging your worries or fears out loud with people you trust puts the 'imposter' back where it belongs and can help you get started. Watch this vlog for a student perspective.
Plan your response to procrastination urges
Reducing or removing immediate distractions can be really helpful. Yes, that means moving your phone off the desk or deleting apps! Surf those urges so rather than grab your phone every few minutes, delay for 10 minutes and see if it passes naturally.
Need more info?
- Consider working through these modules on Procrastination from the Centre for Clinical Interventions.
- Tips for overcoming procrastination and stopping procrastination
- Inside the mind of a procrastinator
- Review a bit more detail from the following booklets: