Procrastination; the Fine Art of Putting Things Off

'Procrastination; the fine art of putting things off', discusses the nature of procrastination within student life. Here, we cover the reasons behind why we procrastinate, and provide useful hints, tips and tricks that students can incorporate into their everyday lives to relieve some of the last-minute deadline stress.

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procrastination
[proh-kras-tuh-ney-shuhn]
noun
1. the act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention.

Exasperated woman standing in front of a brick wall holding a textbook in front of her face

Given that you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’re currently procrastinating, and you know it too.  We all do it.  Whether it’s down to pure fear of having to actually sit down and write that essay, distractions in your environment, or time-management skills (or lack thereof) – we’ve all been there.  We know we’re kidding ourselves when we pick up our phones for 5 minutes of TikTok scrolling…and suddenly it’s 5 hours later, dark outside, your camera roll is now filled with home craft videos, and you’ve made it to Buzzfeed because, whilst your deadline is tomorrow, you simply have to know what kind of bread you are based on your zodiac sign.  Don’t pretend, I know you’ve done it too.

Sometimes, it really does feel like the work on your to-do list is just too daunting, it might be a concept you haven’t quite grasped yet, and sitting down to do it probably seems a little too scary.  Sometimes, “I’ll do it later” is simply a lot less stressful to think.  Sometimes, we’re perfectionists, we get distracted, or we just fail to plan.

What’s more important is how we combat those feelings, by both working through them, and finding ways around them.  What can we do to actually get the work done (in plenty of time), feel good about it, and make more time for the other important stuff in our lives?  I hope you’re sitting comfortably, because here we’re going to dive in to some of the useful tips, tricks and hints to beat that procrastinator inside you.

  1. Remember the Goal

    Probably one of the most effective things to do is remind yourself of what you’re working towards.  What’s the bigger picture here?  Is it the degree you’re doing?  Is it the dream job it’s going to allow you to get?  Is it a new course that’s going to allow you to be where you want in a year’s time?  Take a minute to think about it.  Write it down.  Stick it on a post-it to the side of your laptop.  That way, you really can’t forget it, and it’ll put things in perspective.

  2. Plan It

    The most obvious tip I can give you, is get planning.  There is, however, a fine balance to strike between planning and being realistic – especially if it’s your first time introducing this habit.  Make sure you really allow adequate time for a task you’re setting yourself, even over-estimate the time it will take – it’s much better to finish early and tick it off your to-do list, than take longer than you planned for, and get in to a negative spiral of feeling like you’re behind within your own plan.  Remember, it’s your plan, you set the limits.  It may be worth looking at your year’s content as a whole, determine the modules, figure out the smaller topics within it, and then even allocate chunks for smaller sub-topics.  For the first few days, you could even time how long it takes to do each task, which will make your planning a lot more accurate for the future.

  3. Environment

    Get rid of that procrastination station.  An environment filled with distractions isn’t going to help even the most focussed person in the world, so how can you optimise your study space? 

    Firstly, make yourself comfortable, wherever that may be.  Get that desk nice and organised – tidy space, tidy mind!

    This second tip is one for those of you who know you look at your phone a bit too much once you’ve sat down to do work.  Change that lock screen to something reminding you to get back to work.  If that’s not your cup of tea, try the Forest app – a personal fave.  Essentially, you start a work timer, and during that time, a virtual tree starts to grow – but if you leave the app screen or start doing other things, the forest will, uhm, die.  Not only do you get your own little sense of achievement from your virtual forest, you also earn coins, which are then reflected through the app’s partnership with Trees for the Future – to plant a real-life forest too.  Good for your workspace environment, and the one outside too.

    Finally, we have the ‘Pomodoro Technique’.  This works in a similar way to the Forest App above, where you repeat setting a timer for 25 minutes, then get a 5-minute break, with a longer break after the 4th ‘Pomodoro’!  This is great for really factoring in those well needed screen breaks, whilst also managing your time effectively.

  4. Be Accountable

    Something I find super helpful is finding a study pal to work with, where you can then hold each other accountable for getting stuff done.  If you message a friend in the morning to say you ARE going to get 200 words done of that essay in the next 2 hours, you will then feel compelled to update them on that, working in a similar way to a personal deadline.  However, this may not work for you!  Another approach is to join an online study group, it can certainly help focus if you’re surrounded by others doing work.  You may find that even having a video call where you sit in silence just doing work will help your productivity.  Both deadlines, and a supportive working environment can motivate.  Find a process that allows you to achieve the best you can.

  5. Reward Yourself

    Finally, make sure to give yourself a pat on the back when you’ve ticked something off that list for the day.  You did it!  Time for an episode of that show that you would have watched to procrastinate before (we’re all re-watching Grey’s Anatomy secretly) – but now it’s a reward!  Reverse the behaviour, and remind yourself that you got what you needed done.  Scheduling in time for yourself to take a breather is a  given.  Make sure not to confuse a well-needed break with a reward.  You need breaks.  You can reward yourself with the old procrastination habits.

Take what resonates and works for you.  And remember, Rome wasn’t built in day.  There is still time to incorporate these tips before exam time, so there’s no need to try and do them all tomorrow morning!  Maybe try one a day, see if it works.  If it does – great!  Keep going and try another.  If it doesn’t – that’s okay too.  Not everything works for everyone, we all work differently and our minds are even more diverse.  What works for your housemate might not work for you, so give yourself time to find what clicks!  It’s easier said than done, but above all else be kind to your mind. 

Some Final Thoughts…

All of this said, I do know it’s not always just procrastination that gets in the way.  Sometimes your personal circumstances can influence your ability to focus on your studies, and we can’t deny how difficult this year has been, particularly for students.  If you are struggling at the moment and this is preventing you from revising or finishing that coursework, you are not alone.  If you think your mental health may be affecting your studying capacity, do check our Mental Health support page for some super helpful resources.  Also, take a look at the Student Advice webpage; you might find that you are eligible for Extenuating Circumstances or reasonable adjustments for your upcoming assessments.  There is loads of support available from the University should you need it.  If you have any questions, or you want to know more about the support available, or how these policies and procedures could be applied to you, you can contact Student Advice using the contact details at the bottom of this page.

Now, go smash it.

The arm of someone writing a word document on a wooden desk, with a white coffee mug in the background.

If you want to learn some more about why we procrastinate - and tips to beat it, head to:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/procrastination

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/better-perfect/201703/11-ways-overcome-procrastination

https://www.verywellmind.com/tips-for-overcoming-procrastination-2795714

 

The Forest App

https://apps.apple.com/gb/app/forest-stay-focused/id866450515

 

The Pomodoro Technique

https://todoist.com/productivity-methods/pomodoro-technique

 

For revision hints and tips:

https://www.cardiffstudents.com/advice/academic/revision/

 

This blog has been written by Charlie Mallinson from the Student Advice Team in the Students’ Union. If you would like further help and support with the issues raised in this blog, or any aspect of your student experience, please get in touch using the following links:

Contact Student Advice

Advice@cardiff.ac.uk  

+44 (0)2920 781410

 

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