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What is procrastination? 

Procrastination technically refers to the avoidance of a specific task or work that needs to be accomplished. But, this technical explanation doesn't begin to capture the emotions triggered by the word. For most of us, the word procrastination reminds us of past experiences when we felt guilty, lazy, or anxious-or some combination of these. It also implies a value judgement; if you procrastinate, you are bad, and as such, you lack worth as a person, which is not true. 

Causes of procrastination 

To understand and solve your procrastination problems, you should examine the situations where you work is not being completed. First, determine whether the cause is poor time management; is so, you will need to learn and develop time management skills. If, however, you know how to your time but don't make use of those skills, you may have another concern. 

Many students cite the following reasons for avoiding work: 

  • Lack of Relevance. If something is neither relevant nor meaningful to you personally, it may be difficult to get motivated even to begin. 
  • Acceptance of Another's Goals. If a project is being forced on you and it is not consistent with your own interests, you may be reluctant to spend the necessary time to see it to conclusion. 
  • Perfectionism. Having unreachable standards will discourage you from pursuing a task. Remember, perfection is unattainable. 
  • Evaluation Anxiety. Since other's responses to your work are not under your direct control, overvaluing their feedback can create the kind of anxiety that will interfere with work getting done. 
  • Ambiguity. If you are uncertain of what is expected of you, it may be difficult to get started. 
  • Fear of the Unknown. If you are venturing into a new realm or field, you don't have any way of knowing how well you'll do. An uncertain outcome may inhibit your desire to begin. 
  • Inability to Handle the Task. If you don't have the training, skill, ability, or resources to do the job, you may avoid it completely. 

What can I do? 

Forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past. Studies show that self-forgiveness can help you feel more positive about yourself and reduce the likelihood of procrastination in the future. 

Commit to the task. Focus on doing, not avoiding. Write down the tasks that you need to complete, and specify a time for doing them. This will help you to proactively tackle your work. 

Promise yourself a reward. If you complete a difficult task on time, reward yourself with a treat, such as a coffee from your favorite coffee shop or a walk around campus with a good friend. And make sure you notice how good it feels to finish things!

Ask someone to check up on you. Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind self-help groups. If you don't have anyone to ask, set up alarms or check-ins on your phone as a way to self-monitor. 

Act as you go. Tackle tasks as soon as they arise, rather than letting them build up over another day. 

Rephrase your internal dialogue. The phrases "need to" and "have to," for example, imply that you have no choice in what you do. This can make you feel disempowered and might even result in self-sabotage. However, saying, "I choose to," implies that you own a project, and can make you feel more in control of your workload. 

Minimize distractions. Turn off your email and social media, and avoid screens that are not necessary (TV, Social Media, game apps, etc). 

Aim to do the "dreadful task" first thing, every day! Get those tasks that you find least pleasant out of the way early. This will give you the rest of the day to concentrate on work that you find more enjoyable. 

Need more support?  

If you feel you are having difficult overcoming procrastination on your own, scheduling an appointment at the Counseling Center may be a good next step. A counselor can assist you in seeing your patterns and coming up with techniques for overcoming your procrastination hurdles. 

Additional Resources