Combat procrastination right now!

Up to 90% of us experience some form of procrastination, but why is this natural and how can we add new habits into our lives to increase our productivity? Emily looks at the science behind, and well-known techniques to combat, procrastination so you can keep motivated this exam season and beyond.

The average person spends 218 minutes procrastinating every day, that means every year you might spend 55 days putting off tasks you really need to do. It’s thought that 70-90% of Undergraduates may procrastinate.

Why do we procrastinate?

Humans delay difficult tasks because these tasks are unpleasant. Factors such as anxiety, impostor syndrome and fear of failure means that sometimes we may not want to complete tasks which are difficult and can make us feel inadequate.

This is in fact biological: the limbic system – one of the oldest parts of the brain – provides you with your survival instincts. You can thank your limbic system for instinctively pulling you away from a hot flame and telling you to flee from difficult, unpleasant tasks. Fighting against the Limbic system is a newer, smaller contender in this David and Goliath battle – the prefrontal cortex. It helps us consider and debate complex situations and produce rational decisions. Equipped with our prefrontal cortex, we are no longer controlled by our survival instinct.

If you listen to your limbic system you’ll do what makes you feel better now – to delay that task and do something more enjoyable. In a battle of strength against the pre-frontal cortex we would expect the limbic system to win, as it often does – leading to procrastination.

a piece of paper saying 'if you find some motivation lying on the ground please give it back, it's mine.'
Image credit: Annie Spratt

Am I a procrastinator?

There are many types of procrastinators. Because you procrastinate does not make you lazy, in fact if you procrastinate you are actively finding new things to do with your time to avoid difficult tasks. Perfectionists may delay tasks until there are perfect conditions to begin work instead of beginning the task within spare hours. Keeping busy might also be a sign, if you find that you don’t have time to study or complete tasks it might mean that you’re finding other tasks to fill your calendar so you can’t start what you really need to. This type of behaviour could be a sign of avoidance. Spontaneity might mean you start a lot of projects without finishing ones you really need to, as tasks might lose their novelty after a while so a new task might spark a new interest.

How can I stop procrastinating?

The 2 Minute rule

When it comes to beginning an assignment or even folding washing, the hardest part I find at least is to start. In an ideal situation you want to work on the task for a good length of time with a good focus. Of course, to have spent time on your task you must first begin it. Compared to thinking about the hours you want to spend in the library set a smaller goal, one you can do in 2 minutes. Your goal in fact is to get your shoes and coat on ready for the walk to the library. You’ll find that as soon as you have your coat on you’ll feel in a better place to leave the house and get started. Want to fold the laundry? Have the goal of folding your first T-Shirt. Want to start your reading for the term? Promise yourself that you’ll read the first page of your book.

The Ivy Lee Method

Use this method to prioritise the tasks you need to do for tomorrow. Ivy Lee was a productivity consultant who created a daily routine to maximise productivity in the early twentieth century. Every evening, you should write down six tasks you want to complete tomorrow and order them in importance. The next morning you should complete the tasks from most to least important, and do not start the new task until the last one is finished. This method forces you to break down your tasks into a manageable number, as you should no longer feel overwhelmed that you have so many tasks rushing around your head. You can start your tasks immediately when you wake up, you don’t need to think about what to begin first – you decided yesterday!

Eat an Elephant Beetle

Do your least desirable task first, the elephant beetle, which has been looking like the most unpleasant thing on your plate. After you’ve completed this task, you’ll have a sense of achievement for the rest of the day that the worse task is out of the way. Now compared to thinking about that horrible task you have coming up, it’ll all be finished early in the day and you can focus on nicer tasks.

A close-up image of an elephant beetle on a branch.
Image credit: Klub Boks

If you’d like to read more about having a more productive study life, take a look at our post on treating study like a 9-5 job, or have a look at our background music advice to help you concentrate.

Are you a seasoned procrastinator or a study pro? Let us know in the comments below, tweet us @warwicklibrary or email us at libraryblogs@warwick.ac.uk

Header image: freestocks.org

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