The Keys to Coping with Procrastination
Procrastination. No one is immune from it. As a professor, I get at least one or two students every semester who struggle with it. Students aren’t the only ones who struggle to cope with it, however. Research has shown that at least 20% of adults also chronically procrastinate. (Ferrari, 2005) Recently, I had the question posed to me: How do you, as an educator, help your students avoid procrastination? It was an interesting thought experiment. In order to mitigate procrastination for my students, I had to first contemplate the root causes of their procrastination and to do that, I had to start with a very unique feeling that accompanied it.
You know the feeling I’m talking about. The gnawing burden of feeling that you ought to be doing something but opting instead to do something unrelated despite yourself.
Procrastination can take on any number of forms:
- Do you have homework or a paper you’re meant to be writing? Gaming on Twitch it is!
- For teachers, it might look like grabbing dinner with colleagues instead of doing lesson plans or grading a stack of papers.
- Have to prepare a brief about storm drain regulations? Researching crime statistics in your area seems far more interesting.
- Have to write about Greek Literature? Watching the newest episode of Say Yes to the Dress sounds like a great way to spend that time instead.
- It might even be something as simple as doing the dishes or going to put the garbage out.
How Can I Overcome my Procrastination?
You don’t have to let that feeling cripple you. Here are some techniques if you or your child struggle to cope with procrastination:
Break it down.
Often, procrastination comes from the fact that the task at hand seems too large to be conquered in one sitting. Recently, I had a task I was working on with which I had set myself up for failure. I had planned on tackling a task that was way too big for the hour of time I had allotted. Every time I sat down to do it, I found some other thing that seemed ‘more urgent’, and that kept me from making any progress.
My solution was to break it down into smaller parts. As a professor, I do this for my students all the time. Rather than assign a 10 page paper two months out, I assign 1-2 page papers weekly and then work with my students on combining them into one later. For this particular project I was working on, I simply broke it down into smaller pieces. One hour is plenty time to tackle 3-4 of the 25 items on the list. Over the course of a few smaller sessions, the project was completed.
For your projects, what pieces can you break off and work on to help yourself gain momentum? Instead of procrastinating for the hour you gave yourself, take that hour to game plan a strategy to break down the task into smaller, more accomplishable goals.
One of the primary reasons you might procrastinate is because of motivation. Educational studies have shown that students who are externally motivated (by punishment or reward) tend to procrastinate more than those who are internally motivated. Psychologists and educators call this Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation.
It means that if you’re learning something because you care about it, you’re far more likely to retain that information and not procrastinate with it than if you’re simply learning something because you have to in order to get a grade (reward) or avoid being grounded (punishment).
This can be applied to our work. If we care about cleanliness, we’re far more likely to not let dishes collect in the sink or dust collect on the table. Going back to the examples above, if you don’t care about storm drain regulations, then you might find yourself on the Struggle Bus when preparing a brief about it.
The reality is that whether you’re a child, a teen, or an adult, you are often going to have to do things you don’t find very interesting or care much about. One technique that can help with this is to search for or create that intrinsic motivation.
A. Create a reason to care.
I don’t particularly care about storm drain regulations, and I don’t know many that do, but I know I would care if a hurricane were about to blow through town and I had a storm drain on my street that seemed a bit wonky. I would have so many questions. By putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you can find a level of motivation you wouldn’t otherwise have.
B. Look for connections.
Often, it’s hard to see how something you care about can possibly be connected to something you don’t. You may not care much about Greek Literature, but you do enjoy watching Love Island or Say Yes to the Dress. There is a deep connection between Greek literature and our modern day conceptions of ‘love’. Finding that connection and making it something relevant to you can help build intrinsic motivation. When we see how things we care about are related to things we don’t, it becomes easier for us to care and it helps foster a motivation to do something we otherwise didn’t want to do.
C. Develop self-belief vs gaining rewards.
One of the easiest ways to to motivate yourself is to set realistic benchmarks. Each time you achieve that benchmark, you may choose to reward yourself, but unconsciously, what succeeding does is it helps you gain competency. Educational researchers Niemiec & Ryan (2009) found that improved feelings of competence was one key factor in building internal motivation. That’s because one of the main reasons we procrastinate is often a feeling of overwhelm or anxiety about being able to accomplish a task. Knowing you can do something is often the first and most important step in actually doing it!
Create a habit
One way to break out of procrastination is to create a habit for yourself. It’s kind of a combination of breaking things down into smaller parts combined with creating self-belief. If every day you sit down for thirty minutes to do some small accomplishable task, such as washing the dishes, reading over your child’s schoolwork, or even taking the last thirty minutes of your workday to prepare your calendar for tomorrow and reply to emails, over time, that becomes a habit. When you have that habit, it suddenly isn’t as burdensome to have to check and respond to emails or to work on grading your students’ papers. Whatever the task, by creating a habit in small doses, we can end our procrastination.
Procrastination effects us all and the above tips and tricks are meant to help you to cope with the procrastination you find yourself doing. What are some things you’re struggling with procrastinating about? How might you employ some or all of these strategies in overcoming those difficulties?
Remember, also, that you’re not alone in this. We at Cornerstone Counseling provide growth counseling and guidance to those who can’t seem to overcome procrastination in their lives. Whether you procrastinate because of anxiety or depression, or any of the reasons above, if you, your children, or other loved ones find yourself looking for answers, don’t hesitate (or procrastinate) to reach out to us today. Our Intake Coordinator will set you up with the therapist that’s the right fit for you.