Procrastination is the act of putting things off or choosing to do one thing instead of another that you feel or know you should be doing.  Procrastination is a common challenge for college students; about 80-95% of students report procrastinating (Steel, 2003).  This challenge is important to address because procrastination can develop into a habit that can seriously impact your ability to be productive. This in turn can negatively affect your academic performance (Steel, 2003). Research shows there are lots of reasons why we procrastinate including self-doubt about performance (Burns, 1993), low-frustration tolerance--a tendency to give up if the work feels too difficult (Ellis & Knaus, 1977), and believing myths like "I work better under pressure" (Cuseo, Fecas & Thompson, 2007). Developing a few techniques to help counteract procrastination or dedicating time early on to counteracting procrastination can not only help you to achieve academic success, but also help you develop tools you’ll use well beyond college.

Some of the possible impacts of procrastinating include producing lower quality work at the last minute, completing and turning in work late, and increasing your levels of stress.  Procrastination can also take away time you need for sleep, exercise, relaxation, family, relationships, and other elements that contribute to life balance.  Finally, when you leave tasks until the last minute, there is no buffer zone for unexpected issues that might require your time and attention.  Remember the advice in Murphy’s Laws: “(1) Nothing is as easy as it looks. (2) Everything takes longer than you think. (3) Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

There are many strategies for overcoming procrastination. Ultimately, procrastination comes down to the decisions you make.  Consider that moment when you decide between picking up your textbook to start reading and picking up the remote control (or video game controller, or phone to check Facebook, etc.).  At that moment, you might be telling yourself that "it's just for a few minutes" or that "it will help me relax before I study."  By recognizing these moments and taking an active stance against procrastination, you can choose to be in charge of how you spend your time.

TIPS

  • Have a plan. Set goals and make use of a weekly schedule and a to-do list.  These can keep you organized and help you stay committed to completing your tasks.
  • Find motivation. Think of 1-2 good reasons for getting tasks done early, and write those reasons down. We often allow ourselves to procrastinate because we think “I can do this later." When that thought comes up, make sure you have an answer for why it’s important to complete the task now.
  • Make it easy to get started. Schedule a date and time for starting your task, be specific about what you will accomplish, and find a location that is conducive to accomplishing your task.  
  • Identify your procrastination tendencies and your excuses. If you know that cleaning is a technique you use to procrastinate from homework, plan ahead for this.  Set aside time for each task, pay attention when you get distracted, and redirect yourself to the reasons you want to complete the task now.
  • Learn to say "no" when distractions arise. There will always be things that threaten to interrupt your productivity.  Saying "no" to interruptions or distractions can keep you on track as you complete your task.
  • Be patient. Procrastination is something you work to overcome over time by developing better habits.  There will be areas of your life and times during the term when it will be harder to overcome this challenge. Recognize when you are making positive choices, and reward your successes.

TOOLS