You get up early, planning to start that 3,000-word research paper that is due tomorrow night, yet you immediately get overwhelmed by other tasks (by the way, why don’t have a peek at our website and get an outstanding academic help?). You need to walk your dog, and it is high time you did your laundry. You get a reminder in your email that you need to continue learning to play the guitar, so you decide to watch the first five lectures.
You know what comes next:
It gets worse:
The next day, you frantically type 3,000 words in less than five hours, and submit a mediocre paper just so you don’t fail on your assignment.
So what’s it all about?
The good news is that you are not alone. As many as 80% to 95% of all students admit they are guilty of putting off work, and about a fifth of all people consider themselves to be chronic procrastinators.
You might be wondering:
Then why do people still procrastinate?
Contrary to what many people think, procrastination is not just an indicator of poor time management and study skills, or even of laziness. The psychology behind this behavior is much more complex and intricate.
The psychology of procrastination and postponement
- The human brain is wired to seek instant gratification. To put it simply, it is difficult for people to choose long-term benefits over immediate results. Think about it: If you won the lottery, would you choose to get the money now, accepting that the total amount will then be reduced; or would you prefer to receive it in small payments over time? Chances are, you’ll take it now.
Here you can watch the famous marshmallow experience when little children had to choose between eating one marshmallow right away, or waiting ten minutes to get two – and the struggle is adorable.
- The second major cause of procrastination is, paradoxically, perfectionism. You may think that this is illogical, since perfectionism is all about getting the best results, right? Well, not exactly. The desire to get everything perfect can actually be paralyzing. Since you can never achieve perfection, you prepare yourself to fail from the very beginning. If you can’t win, then why try?
So what’s the bottom line?
Do not despair just yet! You can – and you should – beat procrastination. So, without further ado, here are the 11 ultimate tips that will help you stop procrastinating for good.
- Dig deeper.
In order to solve a problem, you first need to know what that problem is. According to Dr. Ferrari, a psychology professor at the DePaul University, there are three basic types of procrastinators:
Thrill-seekers, who are looking to get the pre-deadline rush that makes them especially productive in the last minute;
Avoiders, who are afraid to fail or succeed, and who would prefer to be perceived as underachievers rather than failures; and
Decisional procrastinators, who avoid making a decision in an effort to avert responsibility.
What’s the bottom line?
If you know what causes you to procrastinate, you can make sure to target the right problem and come up with the appropriate strategies to develop good study habits.
- Break it down.
3,000 words sound like an awful lot to write, especially if you are not particularly excited about the topic. You may trick your brain into perceiving this task as less difficult by breaking it down into several smaller tasks – and let the simple math do the job.
Use these writing tips:
Always start by making an outline or a plan. For instance, according to the instructions your paper needs to have 10 sections, plus an introduction and a conclusion. Now, let’s say you write 150 words each to introduce the topic and to summarize the main ideas – that’s 300 words down, only 2,700 more to go. Divide that by 10 – and you only need to write 270 words, or two small paragraphs per section. Organization is everything.
That sounds much more doable, right?
- One word, but it’s still a sentence.
You might be thinking:
“That sounds great, but I have two more projects and three papers due soon; I work two part-time jobs; and I also sing in the choir. Good luck to me trying to find the time to do everything.”
I get it – people are, perhaps, leading busier lifestyles than ever before.
What’s the bottom line?
The key to success is learning to prioritize – the projects aren’t due for another month, are they? That’s not to say that you need to procrastinate until then to start them, but they should not consume the largest portion of your time right now. There are plenty of apps that can help you put your tasks in perspective. My all-time favorite is Finish. It’s only available on iTunes, but there are other great options for Android users too.
- Make a schedule.
- Effective study techniques are often connected with the organization of information.
Schedules and agendas may sound pretty boring, but they don’t have to be, and they are great for you to sort and prioritize your tasks.
Then, start by filling out those time slots when you are definitely not available – say, when you are in class or at work. This will help you see how much free time you have at your disposal each day, so you can fill it up with other tasks.
The trick here is to mix and mingle. Remember how you have a series of smaller tasks now?
Check your schedule to see where you can fit writing that 150-word introduction – you don’t have to finish the entire paper in one take.
- Create visual reminders.
If you tend to forget about tasks, create visual reminders for yourself, be it on paper or in a digital format. The truth is, human brains are wired to respond to visual signals above all others; about 20% of our brain is designed specifically for vision. Choose the methods that work for you and stick to them:
- Print your schedule out.
- Post sticky notes all over your desk.
- Get a widget for your smartphone.
- Start anywhere.
This sounds like one of those easy-to-say, hard-to-do suggestions; but when I say anywhere, I mean anywhere.
Here’s the deal:
Feel like writing the fourth section of the paper because you have gathered the materials? Have some general ideas for the introduction but have not polished the wording yet? Then just go for it – you can always revise later.
The importance of starting to work on the assignment lies in the so-called Zeigarnik effect. Basically, it is yet another way for you to trick your brain: whenever people start doing something, they are far more likely to finish it because the task is already on their mind’s radar.
Have you ever started watching a TV show and stopped liking it midway through, yet still carried on with it? That’s the Zeigarnik effect in action.
- Condition yourself.
Psychology is truly a gold mine when it comes to dealing with procrastination. This tip had to do with the phenomenon of classical conditioning that you may have heard of via the expression “Pavlov’s dog.” What this researcher did was ring a bell every time his dog was about to get food. Soon, the dog’s mouth started producing saliva when the animal heard the bell, even if there was no food in sight.
Now, in the human world, we would usually call it “developing a habit” or something similar, but I like to think about it in simple and more basic terms. Every time you work, create a background that your brain will eventually learn to associate with being productive. I personally play one particular study playlist on 8tracks that is reserved only for those times when I need to work. The trick works magically for me.
- Block out distractions.
This is another classic productivity tip: Disconnect yourself from distractions – especially your browser and phone app notifications and instant messages.
There isn’t really much more to say here apart from “just do it.” I mean it. Unless you are the president of the United States and need to be constantly available, the world will not go down in flames if you won’t reply to your emails for another hour or two.
If you find yourself way too attached to the Internet and your phone, I highly recommend the StayFocused Chrome extension, which is also available on Google Play.
The reason I know about it? I, too, am one of the unfortunate folks struggling to put their phone down. This app lets you control your browser and phone usage, and it even has a “nuke” option that will cut you off from the Internet for a specified amount of time.
- Make technology your ally.
If there is one lesson you should take away from this post, it is that technology can and should become your ally in your fight against putting things off.
Here’s the deal:
There is a wide variety of apps, browser extensions, and websites that will help you enhance your productivity and studying at all stages, from the planning to the execution. Many of them are also available on all platforms, so the integration happens smoothly for you. Browse around and find the solutions that work best for you.
Equally importantly, tinker with those apps that you already have installed on your phone and computer. Many of them have the so-called night or mute settings that can help you disable them for specified periods of time.
- Assume accountability.
Get your friends and family and other people around you to support you in your endeavor. Studies show that accountability can be a powerful trigger to prompt people to commit to their plans and to act upon them. For instance, tell your friends that you will go out with them on Friday only if you finish half of your project by then. They will probably remind you about it, and you will be more likely to do the work if you have made such a promise.
- Treat yourself.
This is the most pleasant tip of them all – make sure to reward yourself for the hard work you do; but set significant, yet realistic, milestones for it. Writing a half of one page should not be rewarded with an opportunity to indulge in binge-watching of your favorite TV show for three hours. Make sure that the award is proportionate to the amount of work you have accomplished.
- Studies indicate that positive reinforcement – that is, a reward system – is much more effective than negative reinforcement at encouraging goal pursuit. It is the classic carrot-versus-stick scenario.
- Try to refrain from punishing yourself for not completing the work. For instance, instead of saying that if you don’t write your paper, you will not go to the movies, say that you will reward yourself by going if you finish your assignment. The difference is subtle, but it will help you not associate negative events (in this case missing the movie) with an already unpleasant task.
Hopefully, these study tips will help you overcome your habit of procrastinating. Before you leave to work on your assignments, here is one last bit of procrastination for you for today. Watch this fun animated video that will help you understand that although procrastination is a huge and ugly beast, you can still beat it.
Have your own great strategies for dealing with procrastination? Share your tips and tricks in the comment section below.