If you ask any student what prevents him/her from achieving the academic success he/she wants, most will probably put the blame on procrastination. It is hard to argue with it – numerous studies show that many students fail to submit their assignments, complete their reading, or do their academic work poorly not because they lack ability, but because they sabotage their own work by constantly procrastinating when performing crucial tasks. Chances are, you have done so yourself at least on some occasions.
There is no consensus on why we procrastinate, yet the influence of this phenomenon is unmistakable. However, can something be done about it, or is it something beyond our control? Some writers suggest that we can try to move in the right direction – all you need is the right strategy.
One of the main reasons why we procrastinate is because there is a gap between intention and action. You may have decided to do something, but you are not sure yet. If you think that maybe you will work on this assignment at 5 PM, you leave some space for doubt. When 5 PM comes, you may be much less eager to do it. If, however, you do not leave yourself any wiggle room and know with absolute certainty that you do a particular type of work (e.g., write a dissertation for two hours) at 5 PM every day, you are much less likely to start doubting whether you should do it today. You simply go and do it, because it is already an ingrained habit. It may take some time to teach yourself to do it, but it works.
People often procrastinate because their plans are unrealistic in the first place. If you’ve decided that you have to write an essay, gather 15 reliable sources for a research paper, read 50 pages for a class and spend three hours revising for a test in a single afternoon, you will probably subconsciously feel that it is impossible to manage it all in time, and won’t even try. Meanwhile, if your goals are realistic, you are much more likely to put real effort into achieving them.
One of the common causes of procrastination is having too much on your plate. When you have a dozen deadlines looming over you over the next few days and feel that you have to do all these things at once, right now, without delay, it is very easy to start procrastinating. You cannot choose what is more important right now, you delay, you don’t know where to start. In such a situation, choose something, anything. It does not matter what task it is. Tell yourself that this is what you are going to put all your time, attention, and effort into until you deal with it. Perhaps you will not make some of the assignments in time, but this way you will still achieve more than if you simply spend the same amount of time paralyzed by indecision. Alternatively, you may try hiring someone to help you out with some of the outstanding tasks so that you can calmly concentrate on a single job. These days, it is rather easy to hire writers for essay (writing) and other academic tasks – you can find services doing this kind of work all over the Internet.
If you feel disgusted by the thought of doing a particular task but are not yet ready to hire a writer to help you deal with it, try the Five-Minute Technique. Before you start doing whatever you do when you procrastinate, ask yourself, “What action can I do to proceed with the current job right now that will fit within five minutes”? It does not matter how small and insignificant it is – if it helps you achieve even a minuscule amount of progress, you are good. Set a timer for five minutes and start performing this task, giving yourself full freedom to stop after five minutes. It is more than likely that when five minutes pass, you will find yourself reluctant to stop: you have already started, and the most difficult thing when dealing with procrastination is the first step.
If you find yourself regularly procrastinating on the same task, it may be a good idea to spend some time trying to understand why you do it. Ask yourself, “Why do I keep avoiding this job? What am I afraid of? What do I get out of procrastinating on it?” If you understand the reasons why you keep putting something off, you may be better prepared to deal with the problem.
Most people do not treat their commitments to themselves nearly as seriously as they treat their commitments to others. If you want to make yourself more likely to complete a certain task by a certain date, make yourself accountable. Tell somebody (preferably a friend or a relative you are close with) about your intentions to finish the job by a particular time. In this case, you may be motivated to act upon your intention because you do not want your friend/relative to perceive you as lazy or undependable. For extra motivation, you may make a bet with this person: you either complete the task on time or pay him/her a certain sum of money (treat him/her to coffee, take him/her to lunch, etc.).
Beating procrastination, especially if it has been a part of your life for a long time, is not easy by any measure. However, the first step is to believe that you can influence and control your own behavior. Follow these tips, try them out on small and simple things, and you will gradually notice changes in yourself. It may be difficult at first, but every success will help you feel more and more in control over your own life.