It’s 6:30 in the morning. You’ve just woken up and you feel so sleepy you think to yourself “A few more minutes can’t hurt.” And so you drift on to sleep under your warm comforter. The sounds of kids playing outside, mixed with the sunlight and birds chirping at your window wakes you up three hours later. You realize now you only have 15 minutes to study for your biochemistry final. Despite having four weeks to prepare, the most you could study was for 15 minutes before you had to leave for school.
Grades come back and despite the sense of regret, you feel a sense of relief wash over you since you weren’t excommunicated from academia. Next time, you tell yourself, you’ll prepare much better.
So is the problem one of self-deception? Organization? Finding sources for motivation? It’s really all of the above and it’s called procrastination. With procrastination in the way, no amount of organization, motivation, or any other type of prodding will help one complete a task or tasks without understanding the tricky way the brain works.
Okay. So if it’s so tricky, how then do we solve the problem that afflicts so many of us? You really want to outshine the others eh? Well here is the plan. Learn exactly what procrastination is, and hope that in knowing what it is, you are able to recognize it each time you exhibit it so as to then dismiss it as you reach with a hearty laugh to your textbooks and smile, knowing that winning this battle will make you stronger for the next battle in a series that accumulates in a war.
Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of figuring out the thought processes behind the solution to this powerful beast.
There are two kinds of procrastination.
The key is to figure out which category you belong to. The first category is that of the anxious procrastinator. This accounts for around 40% of students at any given college at any given time. The anxiety of something having to be turned in eats so much as the person’s consciousness, the person will seek to displace the anxiety by other means, say sleeping, playing video games, going out and having fun with friends, or reading books or comics about things completely unrelated to the task at hand. I remember finishing a whole book entitled “The Evolution of Cooperation” which dealt with dense abstract methods on mathematical probabilities when I was supposed to be studying for a law school final exam. The time it took to finish reading it could have been allocated for a much better use had I sat down and forced myself to study rather read that particular book.
The other kind of procrastination is reward procrastination, where a person thinks he can do something so easily and quicly that he will reward himself early on as if he had finished the task. This will be despite never even having gotten down to doing what he or she intended to do. You may be online reading this article when you have uncompleted tasks looming behind you. Are you sure there isn’t something else you should be doing right now? Sometimes I might reward myself by my going out and saying to myself, “this task is easy, I’ll get back to it when I come back and it won’t take long at all.” It would be surprising if I finished at all after coming home tired and/or completely uninterested in the task at hand.
Which type are you? Don’t be surprised if you are a mix of the two.
So what methods can we use to overcome procrastination?
1) Make sure to begin something within 2 minutes of thinking about it. That way you will be able to say “I started it, might as well finish it now.”
2) If you are working on a paper for school, make sure to begin working in small incremental bits. This way you’ll have more work to show over over time rather than having to produce an exceedingly large amount in the few hours before it is due.
3) Make a commitment to change your study habits. This information will not do you any good if you know all about procrastination but do not take affirmative steps to quelch it. This may mean you have to feign interest in the subject you are studying. If you are seeking self improvement through reading this article, you have already shown enough interest in improving yourself to affirmatively find a way to make the subject matter interesting.
4) Realize it’s okay to mess up once in a while but keep steadfast and log your mistake or otherwise the demons of procrastination will win everytime!
5) Do NOT reward yourself for projects which you have not yet completed. Make sure you’re done with at least a sizable portion of the task before going to Taco bell or hanging out with friends.
6) Understand that with time results will come. You are in essence exercising your will so it will be a few weeks before muscles start to become defined. Your grades will improve as will your health when you find yourself with more time to schedule your day properly for sleep, play and study.
7) Start small, and when you see that you can accomplish the small tasks, your subconscious levels of confidence will grow to where you’ll automatically do what you have to do in time. You will have gained a clear understanding of what needs to be done, when and how, and most importantly why it has to be done. In other words, you will be more adept at lying to yourself to get something done. It sounds creepy, but you may have to force a lie into your mind to get something you really don’t want to do done.
8) It follows you will have to justify doing your tasks which means you will evolve from lying to yourself into actually finding some use for what you are planning on doing. For example, putting up X-MAS lights makes my mom happy, or doing that paper is actually good practice for my writing skills.
When you start applying these principles into your daily life, you will see change almost immediately. With a little fortitude, your application of these principles will go a long way and serve you well into professional and family life. Good luck!
I have a BS in Information Sciences from UW-Milwaukee. I’ve helped manage Physics Forums for over 17 years. I enjoy learning and discussing new science developments. STEM communication and policy are big interests as well. I have a lovely wife and a cat named Mason.