Conquering Procrastination

Avoid Procrastination; Be Proactive

We recommend two ways to address procrastination when it becomes a problem. Ask yourself:

Why am I procrastinating?

How am I procrastinating?

Your answers may help you find anti-procrastination techniques that work for you.

Why are you Procrastinating?

Anxiety and the solutions to anxiety are very personal. If anxiety prevents you from completing a task, do what you normally do to process or challenge anxiety. This might include: 

  • Positive self-talk

Example: “I’ve done difficult things before; I can do this.” 

  • Fact checking

Example: “If I don’t do well on this assignment, I’ll probably still get a C in the class and I’ll still complete my program. I don’t need to be perfect to be successful.” 

  • Grounding activities

Examples: Measured breathing, stretching, finding 3 out-of-the-ordinary things in the room, running your hands under cool water, visualization exercises, etc. 

  • Processing your anxiety 

Example: Talk through your anxiety with someone

Example: Go for a walk or jog 

  • Learning more about anxiety 

Example: Talk to your school’s Wellness Centre (here’s a link to Lethbridge College’s) or your doctor to get advice, resources, and support. 

Example: Download the Mindshift app, which teaches Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) skills in an easy and accessible way. 

 

Try not to avoid, ignore, or belittle your anxiety. Instead, try to process and challenge your anxiety. Our Stress Management page might be helpful if this is something you struggle with.

Nobody is perfect; that includes you. Nothing you ever do or say will be perfect; there will always be a flaw. You are still an amazing, valuable, and capable person. If perfectionism is preventing you from starting a task, consider the following techniques: 

  • Do something poorly the first time and improve it later. 
  • Remind yourself that you and your work don’t have to be perfect to be good or accepted. 
  • Set boundaries around how much time and energy you can/should spend on an assignment. There is a “diminishing point of return” when working on an assignment. Initially, the more time you spend on the assignment, the better it gets, but after a certain point, the improvements you make don’t justify the time you spend on it. Get your assignment “good enough” and then submit it or put it aside. 

“Overwhelmed” is generally how someone feels when they’re getting too much sensory, cognitive, or emotional input. If an assignment or task makes you feel overwhelmed, it typically helps to step back or break things into smaller parts. Here are some tips for when you feel overwhelmed by an assignment: 

  • Be kind to yourself without avoiding the task. Take a slow pace. Work on it 5 minutes at a time if you need to. 
  • Use an assignment calculator, like the one offered by the University of Toronto, or make a checklist to help you space out and make sense of the components of a large assignment. 
    • And, even better yet, assign due dates to those components, so you don’t get stuck doing them all in one day. 
  • Talk to your instructor, tutor, peer, or a student support staff member to ensure you understand the assignment. Lethbridge College students can get help from the Library for research assignments or the Learning Café for other assignments. 
  • Start early in the semester so that you have time to take the process slowly. It might help to think of this as doing a favour for your future self. 

If you lack motivation to complete an assignment, it may be because the assignment’s apparent relevance or pay-off doesn’t seem to justify its difficulty for you. However, motivation (or the lack thereof) usually has internal roots as well, such as your values and executive function. Either way, here’s our advice: 

  • Use sensory cues; your brain is built to respond to your environment. 

Example: Get a “power song.” The deal is that you play the song, and by the time it’s done, you’ve started working. Or you could have a power playlist, music you listen to while you’re working. 

  • Plan rewards for yourself. 

Example: You set a goal to work on an assignment for 1 hour every day that week. You decide ahead of time that, if you work 4/7 days, you can get a treat on the last day and if you work 7/7 days, you can get that treat with your friend. 

  • Complete the assignment in manageable chunks. A lot of people like the Pomodoro Technique, where you work for 25 minutes and take a 5-minute break in between. 
  • Make the assignment relevant to your values or aspirations. 

Example: If you can’t motivate yourself to write a research paper because none of the suggested topics interest you, talk with your instructor or academic support staff to find a topic that does interest you. 

  • You can experience motivation problems because the assignment doesn’t create the right amount of stress. A mild or moderate amount of stress tends to be motivating while no stress often indicates being disinterested or burnt out. This is why a lot of students aren’t motivated to complete an assignment until the day before it’s due. However, most students find that starting earlier is less stressful, produces better work, and helps them learn better. Consider using one of these techniques to create a motivational level of stress: 
    • Give yourself a false deadline with a reward for meeting the deadline or a consequence for not meeting the deadline.
    • Tell somebody that you intend to start or complete the assignment by a certain day. This tends to work better if you care about this person’s opinion or this person will follow-up with you.
    • Think back to the last time you completed an assignment at the last-minute. Did it feel good? Did you get the grade you wanted? Did you learn anything? 

How are you Procrastinating?

If you procrastinate using your phone or computer, consider:

  • Using phone apps or settings to limit screen time. Some devices have built-in screen time options.
  • Using an app like Forest, Productivity Owl, and Self Control to limit screen time.
  • Leaving your phone on silent, in your bag, or in a different room while you study/work.
  • Using screen time as a reward. Consider combining this with the Pomodoro method, in which you study for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute phone break, and repeat.

If you procrastinate because you get distracted by your surroundings, consider:

  • Removing sensory input. You can wear ear plugs, listen to white noise, or face a blank wall.
  • Change your surroundings. Create a workspace or go to a library.
  • Teach yourself learning-specific sensory cues. For example, if you smell peppermint every time you study, your brain will eventually learn that whenever it smells peppermint, it’s time to focus on studying. This can be especially useful when you don’t have much control over your surroundings. You can also listen to a specific playlist, wear a weighted blanket, a comfort item (fidget toy, stuffed animal), or use whatever sensory cue works for you!

If you find that friends, family, or other people are what cause your procrastination, try using socialization as a reward for completed work. For example, if you finish a draft of your essay by a certain date, you can go out with friends that evening.

But it’s often necessary to set boundaries or distance between you and the people helping you procrastinate. If possible, try to agree to these boundaries with people beforehand, make it clear that you value your education and don’t dis-value the relationship, and keep the boundaries as non-intrusive as possible. That can help maintain positive relationships. Unfortunately, not everybody is willing to hear or respect boundaries and you may have to choose between social and educational obligations.

Consider reading the “Establish Priorities and Set Boundaries” section on our Time Management page for more information, but here are some examples:

  • You have an essay due tomorrow but there’s drama in your friend group chat. You turn off notifications until a certain time so you can focus. It might be worth telling your friends you’re doing so, if you’re worried about your absence.
  • You ask your partner to watch your kids for an hour every (or most) weekday so that you can study.
  • Whenever you try to do schoolwork, you end up hanging out with your roommates instead, so you decide to stay at the library after class for two hours every Monday, Wednesday, Friday.

If you procrastinate by daydreaming or “spacing out,” consider the following:

  • Study at a standing desk or with a fidget or sensory toy nearby.
  • Set a timer when you begin a task. This can help you track time and limit how long you can daydream before “snapping out of it.”
  • Listen to music or white noise. Transitions within and between songs can often disrupt daydreaming. Or you can listen to a playlist of a certain length or set a timer, like the “sleep timer” on Spotify. And if you use Youtube, the ads can often keep your heads out of the clouds.

Additional Procrastination Resources

In episode 130 of the Ologies podcast, Dr. Joe Ferrari explains that there are two types of procrastinators. Some people are sporadic procrastinators, meaning they procrastinate occasionally, while others are chronic procrastinators, meaning that they usually procrastinate important tasks. Chronic procrastinators are more likely to benefit from professional guidance, which is often free to students through their student support centre or wellness centre. Lethbridge College students can contact the Learning Café, Accessibility Services, or Wellness Services for support with either sporadic or chronic procrastination. 

 

Tim Urban, a self-proclaimed master procrastinator, offers resources to address procrastination, like the following: 

 

And consider our Time Management page for more tips, tricks, and tools.

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