Procrastination: Why We Do It & How To Avoid It

Do you ever feel as if it’s physically impossible to start that English paper? Or do the first problem on your math homework? If so, you’re not alone. Everyone deals with the weight of procrastination at one point or another, but there are numerous strategies you can implement to help combat it.

First of all, let’s start with why procrastination actually happens. In an interview with the Washington Post, Timothy Pychyl, a professor who studies procrastination at Carleton University in Ottawa, procrastination is a kind of “avoidance behavior” that happens when there’s something that people really don’t want to do. Phoebe Hsu ‘24 agreed with Pychyl’s findings. “I just don’t want to do it, and don’t really enjoy the current material,” says Hsu.

Like many other students, Hsu finds it more difficult to work when she’s not engaged with the material. When people are dreading something, they simply procrastinate to avoid getting it done. In a TED Talk by Keith Urban, called Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator, he goes on to compare the mind of a non-procrastinator, or as he calls it, a “rational decision maker,” and the brain of a procrastinator, who’s controlled by instant gratification. In other words, procrastinators tend to think about what’s right in front of them, instead of thinking about the long term consequences of their actions.

While doing work last minute isn’t necessarily always a bad thing, it is true that your best work is done when you’re under the least amount of pressure, which usually builds up if you’re procrastinating and doing things last minute.

Another factor that can lead to procrastination is getting distracted, running out of time, and telling yourself, ‘oh well, there’s always time tomorrow.’ Everyone gets distracted from time to time by a variety of different things.”The most distracting thing for me is definitely social media,” says Isaac Tiu ‘24.

Social media is just one of the many things that can cause you to lose focus and stray from your task, so one easy thing you can do is to just turn your phone off and set it far away while working.

Pychyl, through his research with Carleton University, also came to the conclusion that people are less likely to procrastinate when they forgive themselves for it. Simply forgiving yourself may seem like an abstract concept, but members of a study reported getting better grades and feeling more productive once they tried this. Procrastination often leads to guilt for not getting work done on time or leaving it until 20 minutes before a class, but when people forgive themselves for it, they find themselves relaxing, unwinding and dreading their work less.

Pychyl also recommends ignoring that part of your brain that wants to procrastinate for the short term happiness, and to instead hone in on the long term effects. “I have to recognize that I’m rarely going to feel like it, and it doesn’t matter if I don’t feel like it,” states Pychyl.

Many psychologists find that if you ignore personal feelings on a topic, it will be easier to stay focused, by making decisions based on your head and not your heart. This will allow you to stay focused and on task.

Another thing that Pychyl suggests is to break up your work into smaller portions. For example, if there’s an English paper that you need to get done in one week, designate the thesis and claim to one day, the context to another, the evidence to another, etc. If you break up your work, it will become much more manageable and easier for you to get started.

Students like Tiu say that a strategy they use is by working with other students. Tiu said, “I avoid procrastination by doing work with other people because they motivate me to stay on task.”

Certain students work best when they have others keep them on task, ask for help on problems, or simply to be around during this period of relative isolation as a result of COVID-19. Others, like Hsu, say “I like to do all the stuff I’m least looking forward to first.”

By doing this, you can get the most difficult tasks out of the way first, and work efficiently while you’re most focused. From there, everything gets increasingly easier. This strategy seems to work well for certain people, so try multiple different approaches to stopping procrastination before settling on one or the other.

Try out some of the techniques above, and you’ll find yourself working more efficiently, effectively, and diligently in no time. As many high school students can attest to, procrastination can be extremely difficult to handle and avoid, but if you begin to implement some of these strategies at your own pace, you’ll find yourself feeling more comfortable and feeling more relaxed and in control while working.

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