Time Management: Procrastination

Many of us feel anxious about doing a task that we expect to be unpleasant, and sometimes put off doing it to avoid the unpleasantness. But, when we constantly procrastinate, we set ourselves up for a cycle of last-minute rushing and stress, and generally don't do our best work.

  • Manage Anxiety: Learn to manage your anxiety around schoolwork. Use affirmative self-talk, repeating to yourself things like, "I am capable," and, "I can do this," which may increase your confidence and motivation over time. Also, be aware of the physical signs of your anxiety. When you think about writing that term paper, does your body tense up? Does your heart rate increase? You may not notice them, but even subtle unpleasant sensations can cause you to avoid situations that trigger them. It is important to remember that, although these feelings are uncomfortable, they do pass. If you want to stay on top of your work, you must learn to tolerate these temporary discomforts.
     
  • Break up your work: If a task feels overwhelming, break it up into smaller pieces. Writing a 12-page paper, for example, may seem more manageable if you think of it in terms of sections. You might divide the paper by its introduction, elements of the body, and conclusion, and make a commitment to focus on one section at a time.
     
  • Make a list: Write out a hierarchy of tasks from easiest to most difficult, then start at one end. Some people find that doing the most difficult task first alleviates pressure, and frees them up to take care of the other items on their agenda. Others prefer to knock out simpler tasks first, because they can then focus on the bigger job without distractions. Try both ways to see which works better for you.
     
  • Set deadlines: These are not the deadlines set by instructors to hand in assignments, but your own deadlines for making regular progress. If it is several weeks before an assignment is due, set weekly deadlines. For more immediate due dates, expect yourself to make daily progress.
     
  • Improve time management: Sometimes students procrastinate because they don't have a realistic concept of time, or how to organize activities to make the most of it. If this is true for you, take a look at our Wellness Tips page on time management.
     
  • Seize the moment: Take advantage of bursts of energy and motivation. Ever been sitting in front of the television when an ingenious idea comes to mind for a science project? When that happens, get going! Jot down main points, write up an outline, even start the project, itself. Don't let that moment pass, because you might not get it back, and the job may be harder to do later.
     
  • Arrange for follow-up: Tell someone about your plans, and ask them to check up on you. A support system can hold you accountable for the work, as well as offer encouragement and/or ideas to keep you motivated.
     
  • Reward yourself: Set up a reward system, and make each reward appropriate to the task. Smaller tasks, like reading a book chapter, might earn you 30 minutes of television, while bigger tasks, like writing a paper, might get you a night out with friends. Don't allow yourself the reward until the task is complete. You will enjoy the reward more if it is earned, and you will build tolerance for delayed gratification.
     
  • Be persistent: We develop skills by practicing them, and setbacks are a natural part of making progress. When you struggle, take inventory of the improvements you've made so far, and identify the strategies that have worked for you. Then, identify your obstacles, and plan new ways to get around them. If you think you've tried everything, ask others for ideas.
     
  • Know when to get help: Sometimes, procrastination is not just procrastination, but a sign of a bigger problem, like severe stress or even depression. If you suspect procrastination is a symptom of something more serious, contact Counseling & Psychological Services for an appointment.

 

For more information, check out these resources:

Hettich, P. (1998). Learning skills for college and career (2nd ed.). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Co.

Nist, S. L. & Holsehuh, J. P. (2003). College success strategies. New York: Longman Publishers.

 

About the author: Shannon Ulrike is a former member of the counselor faculty at San Francisco State University Counseling & Psychological Services. Shannon enjoys working with SFSU's multicultural student population to address a wide range of concerns. She has particular interest in helping students understand social-cultural influences on personal development, and in overcoming internalized oppression. Her expertise is in working with women as a marginalized group, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities, the disability community, and the deaf community. Shannon is fluent in American Sign Language.