What is procrastination?

Do you suffer from procrastination? Don’t be afraid, you are not alone. Procrastination is the most common student time-management problem. A substantial part of students is familiar with this phenomenon, concerning avoidance of a specific task or work, which needs to be accomplished.

Almost everybody procrastinates at some point. We put things off because we have too many things on our mind or just because we do not like to do them. However, if your procrastination is either keeping you from succeeding academically or is causing feelings like anxiety or guild, you probably want to seek help.

This section contains both information to help you understand procrastination better, and strategies for managing it. Procrastination may occur in various ways. It is important to clearly specify how you procrastinate.

How do you procrastinate?

Do you act as though if you ignore a task, it will go away?
A deadline by the end of the month is not likely to vaporize, no matter how much you ignore it.

Do you underestimate the work involved in the task, or overestimate your abilities and resources in relationship to the task?
You think you can manage to finish the task within the weekend while other students normally need a week to do so.

Do you deceive yourself by substituting one worthy activity for another?
Suppose you clean the apartment instead of writing your thesis. Valuing a clean apartment is fine but if that value only becomes important when there is a thesis due, you are procrastinating.

Do you believe that repeated and minor delays are harmless?
An example is putting off writing your thesis so you can surf on the internet for a few minutes. If you don’t return to writing the paper after several minutes have elapsed, you may stay surfing on the internet the whole evening, with no work being done on the thesis.

Do you persevere on only one portion of the task?
Writing and rewriting the introductory paragraph will lead to not finishing the body and conclusion of your thesis. The introductory paragraph is important, but not at the expense of the entire thesis.

What causes procrastination?

In order to understand and solve your procrastination problems, you must carefully analyse those situations where your academic work is not being completed. First, determine whether the cause is poor time management. If so, you will need to learn and develop time management skills (check out this page). If you know how to manage your time, but don’t make use of those skills, you may have a different kind of problem.

Many students procrastinate due to the following reasons:

  • Acceptance of another’s goals: If a thesis has been assigned to you and it is not consistent with your own interests, it may be difficult to focus fully on the specific topic.
  • Perfectionism: Having unreachable standards will discourage you from pursuing a task. Remember, perfection is impossible to achieve.
  • Valuation anxiety: Since others’ responses to your academic work are not under your direct control, overvaluing these responses can create the kind of anxiety that will interfere with work getting accomplished.
  • Ambiguity: If you are uncertain of what is expected of you, it may be difficult to get started. Defining the expectations together with your supervisor will help you to clarify your timeline and the tasks which need to be done within this timeline.
  • Fear of the unknown: Writing a thesis is often an exploration of a new field of knowledge, you don’t have any way of knowing how well you’ll do. Such an uncertain outcome may inhibit your desire to begin.
  • Inability to handle the task: If through lack of training, skill, or ability you feel that you lack the personal resources to work on your thesis, you may avoid it completely.

How to manage procrastination?

If you recognise yourself in one or more of the previous mentioned examples, you may be ready to take the next step to overcome procrastination. Take a look at the strategies mentioned in the general tips and tools section, and see for yourself which of these apply to you. If you try something and it doesn’t work immediately, be patient. Improvement will come with practice. Realise procrastination is a kind of behaviour that has probably already existed for many years in your life. Undoing years of habitual procrastination isn’t easy, but it can be done.

General tips and tools for students

Navigate the toggles to learn more about tips & tools you can use to avoid procrastination during your studies. 

Break down the task

The entire thesis may seem impossible, but smaller parts seem more manageable. By breaking up the thesis into small pieces it will never get the chance to take on huge proportions in your mind. By doing so you can tell yourself just to write the introduction today, nothing else and you may be more likely to sit down and work on the introduction than you will sit down and ‘write the thesis.’ Inform your social circle.

Tell other people

Inform the people around you about your current planning, meaning they know you’re in the middle of writing a thesis. Informing people who are close to you creates a form of monitoring as well, because they will ask about your progress and this can help you to stick to your planning.

Put yourself in a productive environment

In order to stop procrastination it is vital to find a place to study where you have less chance getting distracted. Go someplace where you cannot connect to the internet, where you have a clean desk and little noise. Furthermore, ask yourself: when you will write? When are you most alert? Some students prefer working early in the morning while others are more effective during the evening hours. Try to schedule writing time (in your agenda) when you know you will be at your best.

Work together

Working together with a peer student or friend (regardless the topic the other is working on) will help you to plan the time to sit down and start writing. This creates accountability.

Set a time limit

It may be helpful to set limits on how much time you will spend on reading before writing and writing itself before you start to do something else. The vision to “work on your thesis all weekend” may not inspire to sit down and write while “working on my thesis for 2 hour” just might. Spread the small steps reasonably over the given time frame. You should calculate sufficient time for each step. Do not fool yourself by believing you can do more than is possible. Indicate in advance the amount of time you expect you need for achieving your tasks and evaluate afterwards whether this planning was realistic and whether you need to adapt your planning into a more realistic one.

Include rewards periodically

Realise you need variation and relaxation as well. Think about listening to music, taking a walk, drinking a cup of tea or something else. Each 60-90 minutes may be followed by relaxation or after achieving a part of your planning you are allowed to reward yourself with something you really like and set it as a goal for after completing your task. This will help you feel less resentful of the task and the work that still needs to be done.

Monitor your progress

Watch for the pitfalls discussed earlier. Assess problems when they arise and do something about them quickly. Keep track of small steps you have taken and how they fit together to form the whole picture. Reassess time commitments as necessary. Reflecting on your study progress and behaviour regularly is an effective way to trace down any difficulties and do something about it to stay motivated.

Manage your expectations

Be reasonable in your expectations of yourself. High (unrealistic) expectations or Perfectionism may cause disappointments, as they are impossible to reach. Inform your supervisor regularly about your progress and let his/her feedback decide whether you are doing well or not.

Stay positive

By telling yourself all the time how horrible and impossible the thesis is, you will shoot yourself in the foot. Changing your attitude toward the task, may help you a lot already in keeping you from procrastination. Keep it positive!

General tips and tools for supervisors

From the first moment onwards, be clear in your expectations towards your student. Unlike courses, a thesis has no predefined content and this is probably the first time a student faces such a kind of learning activity in which they need to demonstrate independent research and self-regulated learning.

Get support

Long-term procrastination is difficult to resolve by yourself and it’s often best for you to seek help. Don’t struggle alone. Procrastination can seriously impair your academic performance and that is not only distressing for you, but means a lot of wasted effort.

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