As we finish term and head into the Christmas holidays, are you keen to crack on with work but know all too well you’ll find yourself sipping mulled wine, eating a mince pie and watching Home Alone? If this sounds like you, read on. Iona discusses why so many students struggle with procrastination, how it works, and how you can beat it.
By Iona Craig
I told myself this time I would start the assignment earlier. I thought ‘on Tuesday I’ll do all the reading and by Friday I’ll have the draft up’. Today I couldn’t fit it in, but on Tuesday I would start the assignment and for once I wouldn’t be working right up to the deadline. But Tuesday came and even when I finally managed to sit down to start the assignment I got distracted and it never got started. After that I gave up and once again the deadline pressure was the only way I could get myself to do the work.
Procrastination is an avoidance mechanism where by an individual continually puts off a task by doing other tasks. Its not uncommon to experience as a student but can be extremely frustrating and mean you end up in a stressful position as assignment deadlines and busy periods occur. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like to use the Christmas period to catch up in time for the next term’s load of work to pile up but in order to do this, procrastination needs nipped in the bud.
“Why do I procrastinate?”
Procrastination happens as a way to avoid a situation we don’t want to be in. For example, an assignment may bring up feelings of being underqualified, stupid, confused, anxious, even down, due to perhaps the pressure to get a certain grade, perfectionism tendencies or imposter phenomenon. These feelings aren’t pleasant to experience and as such the human mind finds adaptive ways to avoid experiencing them: in many cases through procrastination. Procrastination does not happen because you are ‘lazy’ or ‘unmotivated’. In fact it is common in perfectionist individuals who strive to do well. More commonly today, procrastination is even talked about positively, as a mechanism that provides enough pressure in which work can otherwise not be completed. This may further encourage the use of procrastination unconsciously or be used as a conscious excuse to engage in it.
“How does procrastination work?”
By procrastination, it is possible to avoid the situation that is causing negative feelings and as such the body feels relief – in the short term. Through engaging in other tasks it is possible to distract yourself from the anxiety provoking situation (i.e., assessment) that needs done and as such the negative feelings are avoided. Hence, the body will associate the behaviour as leading to a positive outcome which encourages the behaviour to happen again.
“What can I do to stop procrastination?”
Step 1: Identify when you procrastinate.
Mark the behaviour by either saying to yourself ‘I am procrastinating’ or writing it down. In order to stop the behaviour you first need to identify when it is happening.
Step 2: Identify why you procrastinate.
What is it that makes you not want to do the assignment? Is it a huge feeling of anxiety over not being able to do it? Is it a never ending to do list that is so overwhelming you can’t even start anything? What is it that makes you not want to do the task. Ideally write these reasons down.
Step 3: Acknowledge these feelings are there and don’t expect motivation to just come along and replace them before getting going.
When we face up to the negative feelings and begin to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, we no longer need to use mechanisms to engage in avoidance technics.
Step 4: Start by doing a task you find easy.
Habits are a powerful tool when facing procrastination. Find a habit you do consistently everyday already – such as brushing your teeth/filling up your water bottle/having lunch – and start by doing this and then before stopping again start the task you have been avoiding through procrastination. Motivation comes from action so by starting with a task you are already comfortable doing each day it is possible to create the action needed to get motivation going.
Procrastination isn’t going to go over night but by continuously identifying it, acknowledging the feelings that come with it and engaging in a form of action, it is a thought pattern that is possible to break. Beating procrastination can allow time for rest and less stress over the Christmas period without the thought of another all night-er awaiting you at the end of the festive season.
If you’re looking to focus on study work during the Christmas holidays but still having time to enjoy the festive period, then take a look at our blog ‘Christmas and Uni: how to do both’ If you’d like to explore more of step three of combatting procrastination, take a look at ‘Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable’ which explores how to sit with negative emotions.