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Control Procrastination

Why do we put things off?

Procrastination is the most common time management problem facing students, yet it can be difficult to understand why we decide to put things off, often to our own detriment.

Use the W5 framework - who, what, when, where, and why – to gain new understanding of your own procrastination habits.

This is an important first step to getting procrastination under control.

1. Who makes the decision to procrastinate?

Are you putting off a task because other people are putting pressure on you to do what they want you to? If you feel pressured to stop studying or delay getting down to work by others, learn to say "yes, but later." Use time with others -- whether it's online or in-person -- as a reward after doing some work. 

2. What kind of tasks do you avoid?

It’s common to put off difficult, frustrating, or overwhelming tasks.

If you’re postponing starting on a major project or difficult assignment, see Control Procrastination: 8 Ways to Get Started.

The most important strategy is to do a little bit at a time. Don't wait to be inspired, and don't wait until you have a big chunk of time to do your work. Think about what you can do in 5, 15, or 30 minutes. Perhaps just read the assignment description, jot down a few ideas, or find one or two research articles to support your ideas. Many people find that once they start, they can keep going on the project for a longer time.

3. When do you procrastinate most often?

An hour between classes, late afternoon, and right after lunch or supper are common times when you may be prone to procrastinating. For ideas on using these periods more effectively, see Time Management: Using Weekday Time Effectively.

If you're normally tired in the late afternoon or evening, save shopping, housework, or fitness activities for these times.

4. Where are you when you procrastinate?

Changing your study location can be one of the simplest, yet most effective, ways to improve your productivity.

See Study Effectively: 7 Strategies to Manage Distractions for ideas on finding a place to work that works for you.

5. Why do you procrastinate?

The most important part of understanding procrastination is also the most challenging - figuring out why you do it in the first place. Here are a few possible reasons:

  • Habit
    • Many university students did very well in high school even though they procrastinated a lot. If you’ve gotten into the habit of procrastinating, see our other guides on procrastination and time management for ideas on building more effective ways to work.
  • Overload
    • When there are too many tasks to do, or a big task that seems overwhelming, it’s easy to procrastinate.
  • Sense of control
    • Some people procrastinate because they feel that making decisions about when to study is one of the few areas over which they have control.
  • Perfectionism
    • If a perfectionist receives a low mark, procrastination creates an “emotional out” – the low mark does not reflect their true ability or potential, so there is no loss of self-esteem.

If you see yourself in any of these examples, book an appointment with a staff member from Learning Services for advice and strategies tailored to your needs.

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