Procrastination and Time Management
COMMON CAUSES OF PROCRASTINATION
- Being Overextended: determine whether it is humanly possible to meet all the obligations you currently
have. Omit or reschedule some of these obligations so you have more flexibility in
- Low Motivation: You may not see a reason for a task, which may lead to low motivation to complete
the task. You may not see the task being personally relevant. You may be working towards
another person's goal rather than your own. Try to find some personal reward or relevance
for completion of the task. Determine if you are really interested in the project
and if not find a way to make it interesting or let it go.
- Lack of Training: If you’re unclear about what to do when the task is unfamiliar, or unprepared or incapable
of completing the task, or if you find the expectations ambiguous it may be difficult
to get motivated. You may want to ask for guidance, support, or a new perspective
from someone who is more familiar with the process or skilled in the area.
- Faulty Assumptions: You might assume that if you ignore the task long enough it will disappear. You might
also underestimate how much time and effort the job will take or over-estimate the
difficulty of getting the task done. Create a plan of action. Sit down and write out
each step of the job, how long each step will take, and then tackle the job one step
at a time.
- Perfectionism: You may set your standards so high they are unobtainable. If you fear doing a less
than perfect job it may be interfering with your productivity. Remember perfection
is unobtainable. Often it will feel worse to not do a job at all instead of doing
it in a less than perfect manner. Try to assess how important the task is, and what
level of performance really matters in relation to the task. Ask yourself "what level
of performance on this task would I expect from a friend?" Your choice: unrealistic
expectations or perfectionism. Adjust your expectations and set realistic goals.
- Fear of Evaluation: If you over-concern yourself with another individual's response to your performance
you may be giving someone else way too much power over your life. Evaluate how much
total impact upon your life this one reaction will have. Keep in mind; no one performs
highly all the time, or in every area. Focus on completing the task with a goal of
lessening your workload and anxiety, regardless of the evaluation.
- Avoidance of Negative Experience: If you just HATE DOING THIS TASK and it rates up there with dental visits or cleaning out the refrigerator you may
be dodging your responsibilities. You need to find a way to make it more pleasurable
or enjoyable. If you can’t (or won’t), try doing the dreaded task first, while you
still have energy. Often it can be helpful to have a friend nearby for encouragement
(and to keep you on task!).
- Fear and Anxiety.You may be overwhelmed with the task and afraid of getting a failing grade. Instead
of completing papers, projects, and exams, you spend time worrying about them. Negative
beliefs and self-talk such as "I can’t do anything right" may influence you not to
do the work. Giving yourself permission to make mistakes and to ask for help when
you need it become important skills for success. If fear and anxiety is really getting
you down, contact the Counseling Center, 591-5968.
- Poor Time Management.Procrastination may result from not managing time wisely. Being unclear about your
priorities, goals, and objectives can result in putting off academic assignments to
hang out with friends or other activities. Working on time management gives you the
power and control to take care of your obligations and to have time for fun.
- Lack of Interest in Subject.You may find the subject boring or difficult or not something you would ever choose
to take, but oftentimes you will come across those things you have to do rather than what you want to do. Develop the necessary skills now. Open your mind to new ideas. Read actively,
converse mentally with the author, question his/her viewpoint, anticipate his/her
conclusions, and attempt to disprove his /her ideas.
- Lack of Goals for Each Study Session.You may have no idea how much time and energy you are going to spend on any one subject,
let alone your entire study session. Plan ahead exactly what you expect to accomplish
in a study session, how long you are willing to devote to each subject and how you
will know when you are done studying. When you finish plan an enjoyable activity as
a reward for a job well done.
- Poor Reading and Study Skills.You may have found high school to be a breeze but now you’re finding the expectations
in college to be daunting, especially when it comes to reading and to instilling good
study habits. Go to the Academic Support Center for referral in developing these skills.
Learn an effective approach to textbook study. Learn to use an effective method of
study. Surveying and raising questions about the material arouses interest in what
is to be read. Be alert to ways in which your course relates to your life and your
- Trouble Getting Started. Just the idea of starting, keeps you from starting. Have a definite place to study
and be properly equipped with pencils, paper, dictionary, etc. Have a definite starting
time that you enforce. The sooner you begin, the sooner you will be free to do other
things. A brief review is helpful in getting started.
- Daydreaming (an escape from work). Your body may be here but your mind is a million miles away,
especially when you start to look at everything you have to complete. Have only one
course's material on your desk at one time. Keep a scratch pad on your desk. Jot down
your irrelevant thoughts and come back to them later.
- Worry About Personal Problems. Personal problems such as financial difficulties or problems with your boyfriend/girlfriend.
Go to the appropriate student service agency for help - University Counseling Services,
Financial Aid, Health Center, etc. If you have trouble deciding on a major, go to
the Educational and Career Counseling Center, Starr 313. We will help you evaluate
your personality and interests.
- Resistance to Deadlines. Just the idea of being told you have to finish something on a particular date, at
a particular time throws you into a panic, or into a stubborn refusal the rules don’t
apply to you. Keep a calendar of assignment deadlines and appointments. Make a schedule
with definite times for studying and completing assignments.
- You Feel Isolated. You still haven’t met anyone in your classes. You go from class to class without engaging
with other students, your faculty or Meet with a classmate and get started. Go to
the Academic Support Center and work with a tutor. Visit the professor. Talk about
it to a significant other.
- Fear of Failure. Acknowledge your strengths and skills. Recall your previous successes. Work on your
areas of weaknesses. Take risks. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
- Fear of Success. Get an accurate perspective of what your success will mean to you. Focus on your
own needs and expectations rather than those of others.
- The Consistent Put-Down. If you consistently put yourself down or, in other words, have a negative tape going,
sit down sometime and write out the script as thoroughly as possible. Keep it in a
drawer. The next time the tape starts up in your mind, pull out the script and tell
yourself, "I have already written this out in great detail. I no longer need to go
through it all again. It's here on paper, so I can skip it and move on to the next
Time Management Strategies
- Study Where You Can Be the Most Effective. Create a work area for yourself free from distractions, and commit to staying there
for a one to two hour period. Minimize distractions while working. Organize your workspace.
Turn off the T.V. Restrict computer use to the task at hand (no Facebook!). Don’t
answer the phone or respond to the text message. Go to the library if you’re unable
to concentrate in your room.
- Look at Overall Assignment. Identify what is necessary to accomplish task in a given amount of time; Get a sense
of the entire project and what is required to complete it.
- Break it Down. Set goals for what is to be accomplished. Break goals into smaller sub-goals (e.g.,
concentrate on one section of a paper at a time) Break larger tasks, such as papers
or projects, into smaller goal steps. For example, most papers have at least five
stages: picking a topic, researching the topic, reading and taking notes on the articles,
organizing the information, and writing the paper.
- Schedule it. Break larger tasks into smaller goals, such as "library research for paper 2" and
select target dates for completion of the smaller goals. Plan out a weekly schedule
hour by hour. Remember to schedule time out every day for sleep, meals, social time,
and some exercise and/or relaxation time. It is important to create a realistic schedule
- Be sure to list all projects, exams, and papers with their due dates.
- Prioritize your tasks. Start with the task with the closet deadline or the one most
urgent to complete.
- If possible, have someone who knows you well look over your tentative schedule and
give you feedback.
- Try your new schedule. Remember, you're trying something new. It's okay to fine tune
it or adjust it after you give it a try for a week.
- Do the Work. Accept that there are no magical cures. There is no quick and easy way to learn the
material other than to actively do the work and study and use the material. All complaining
and whining does is waste time. Accept it is a part of education and put yourself
- Set Boundaries. Recognize your obligations and resulting stress are as important as other people's
needs, and set limits around being interrupted or rescheduling your work time.
- Know Your Energy. Identify what time of day you have the highest energy and what time of day is your
low energy period. Plan to schedule tasks that take your greater effort (concentration,
enthusiasm) during high energy periods and plan rest breaks and more mundane tasks
(such as laundry) during low energy periods.
- Schedule in Breaks so you don't burn out or work inefficiently because you are too tired to do your best.
Study no longer than one hour before taking a short break. Also be sure to schedule
regular down time for recreation, exercise, and socializing with friends.
- Reward Yourself for completing a task (catching a movie, buying something you want). Use small rewards
for intermediate goals and a larger reward for finishing a project or paper.
- Be Realistic and Don’t Expect Perfection. Write down the basic information needed for the task. Plan to revise and fine tune
- Use Positive Self Talk. Keep reminding yourself that you CAN do it! You’ve done it before successfully and
you can again. Think of strategies that worked before when you were successful and
use them now.
- Take Care of Yourself. Eat healthy foods and get enough sleep. Most adults function best on 7-8 hours of
sleep nightly. Getting less than 6.5 hours nightly impairs your memory and ability
- Keep Your Eye on the Prize. If an assignment doesn’t seem relevant to you, remember your life goals. They can
provide motivation and help us to prioritize.
- Don’t Wait Until You Are "In the Mood". There is no perfect time, so stop waiting for it.
- Accept the Challenge. Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.
PROCRASTINATION: It's Never Too Late to Defeat Fear and Anxiety.
- Make an Un-Schedule. Fill in a week's schedule with only essentials--classes, work, and exercise. Then
write down any minutes you do study.
- Use a Symbol for Studying. Choose an item, like a hat, that you put on when and only when, you are studying or
an item that you place on your desk as you study.
- Bits and Pieces: Break large tasks into small ones. Prioritize work and set deadlines. Use behavioral
suggestions, e.g., lay the book you have to read out in plain view.
- Relax Your Body Before Starting to Study. Relax your body and give yourself an affirmation and/or an image that will motivate
you. Imagine your brain is filled with the subject you are going to study and there
is no room for anything else. See the entrances to your mind are blocked by that subject
so your mind will be less likely to wander.
- Transition Smoothly. Find a transition activity that will move you in a positive direction towards studying.
For example, if you have a paper to write, break the task down by starting to copy
a favorite passage or poem from a book. Once you have the momentum for writing, you
will find it easier to change subjects and begin your paper.
- Contract with Yourself. Develop a contract that suits your needs. For example, if you observe that it takes
you 30 minutes of procrastinating before you begin to study, contract with yourself
to reduce that time to 20 minutes by defining a motivating reward or punishment.
- Positive Patterns. After analyzing your procrastination patter, develop a positive pattern that will
carry you across the rough spots. For example, instead of watching T.V., prepare yourself
mentally...Think of...when... not if...; the price of delay; positive thoughts. The
effects of an intervention like this will grow stronger each time you do it.
- Learn to Tolerate Discomfort. Watch for mental self-seductions into behavioral diversions, (e.g., "I'll do it tomorrow,"
"What's the harm of a half-hour of TV now? I've still got time," or "I deserve some
time for myself," or "I can't do it.")
- Dispute mental diversions, (e.g., "I really don't have that much time left, and other
things are sure to come up later," or "If I get this done, I'll be better able to
enjoy my time," or "Once I get started, it won't be that bad.")
- Identify your special behavioral diversions: identify them; note when and where you
use them; plan how to diminish and control their use.
- The Ten Minute Plan: Work on a dreaded task for ten minutes, and then you decide whether or not to continue.
- Bogged in the Middle: Change location or position; take a break; switch subjects or tasks.
- Give Yourself Credit For a Step. If you solved 5 problems but not 10, if you read 30 pages instead of 50, recognize
that you are making progress, doing something.
- Not a Mona Lisa Every Time. Grades are not a measure of self-worth. Your assignment is not equated with worthiness
as a person.
Mendelson and Stuckey, 1983 University Counseling Center, UNC-Chapel Hill. Compiled
by Pauline McNeill, 1992, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Campus Health
Services; University of Minnesota University Counseling and Consulting Services; Overcoming
Procrastination, The University of Kansas, Counseling and Psychological Services;
Nancy Taylor Kemp, Ph.D./University of Oregon Counseling Center.
Contact: Educational Counseling and Disabilities Services: firstname.lastname@example.org