How to stop procrastinating and start studying
Procrastination is a problem everyone encounters in high school due to the rapid growth in responsibilities compared to elementary and middle school. However, although occasional procrastination is a normal phenomenon among students, if it prolongs indefinitely, and if its triggers are not identified on time, it can pose a serious problem in the long run, especially when one starts college.
In this regard, the seriousness of procrastination is confirmed by research which shows that 80-95% college students practice some form of procrastination, while 70% identify themselves as procrastinators.
To prevent the snowball effect and avoid the negative consequences of procrastination, such as declining productivity and self-esteem, poorer grades and the onset of stress, we recommend delving deeper into the topic of procrastination given that its triggers/causes are not the same for everyone.
The aim of this article is to paint a broader picture of procrastination, starting from what procrastination is, what red flags/signals are there to indicate that you may be a procrastinator, why students procrastinate as a rule, to how to overcome this problem if it negatively reflects on your daily life and academic success.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is not a very old word, given that the term describing procrastination first appears in Latin in the late 16th century. The word derives from procrastinat- ‘deferred till the morning”, which was itself derived from the verb procrastinare ( pro – ‘forward’ + crastinus ‘belonging to tomorrow’).
Today, however, the verb procrastinate has an entirely different meaning. In the Cambridge Dictionary, the verb procrastinate is defined as “to keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring”. Procrastination itself, which cannot be found in the dictionaries from the previous century, is defined as a voluntary action of delaying/postponing one’s obligations, despite being aware that postponing them may cause certain negative consequences.
Although there is no definitive explanation as to why the original meaning has been lost, we can assume that technological advancement, hyperproduction of information and general increase in well-being have caused procrastination, as an activity with a negative connotation to emerge, although it originally referred to people who could afford to postpone their responsibilities.
Observing today’s pace of life, obligations, and expectations, it is clear that everyone, especially students, is required to give their maximum in every situation. However, students often deceive themselves, because they view procrastination from a short-term perspective, failing to recognize the long-term problem of accumulating school obligations that cannot be solved due to lack of time. An even bigger problem than wasted time involves the consequences of postponing obligations, such as:
- Poor grades (or grades lower than one’s average)
- Lagging/falling behind other students
- Inability to enrol in the desired college
Are you a procrastinator?
There is a very thin line between people who are chronic procrastinators, and those who simply need a break after hard work in order to maintain their mental and physical health. On one hand, if we look at the definitions given above, we are all procrastinators in a way, however, there are certain signals/red flags that could indicate one has a real problem with procrastination. Signals that indicate you may have a problem with procrastination include:
- Frequent evasion of school tasks, and finding excuses for it
- Lack or loss of interest in the task
- Lack of desire to find a way to complete the task
- Overthinking before starting a task or preparing for a test
- Student easily indulges in activities unrelated to the task that should be completed
- Failure to meet deadlines for the given assignments and tasks
- Declining academic performance (activity in class, and poorer grades)
Why students procrastinate
Given that man is a very complex being, it must be recognized that different people have different reasons for procrastination. The most common and characteristic reasons/causes why students resort to procrastination will be explained below.
Fear of failure
Many self-help and personal development books have been written on the topic of overcoming fear of failure. However, there is no single, universal source of fear of failure. Given that people are rather complex beings, and that they differ at many levels, the triggers and sources of fear of failure may vary:
- Fear of public embarrassment
- Sense of security
- Disturbing a fictional image of oneself
- Fear of disappointment caused by unrealistic expectations and fantasies
Using social media
Although there is no concrete evidence that using social media directly impacts procrastination, various data indicate that with the emergence of social media, the number of students who face some kind of problem with procrastination has increased. Specifically, there was a drastic increase in the time spent on social media, 27 hours a week on average, in the population of teenagers and young people between the ages of 16 and 24. In addition, there is also research that points to the fact that students spend as much as 40% of their time in class on social media. It should be noted that one of the basic indicators of procrastination is sensation seeking, and seeking mental stimuli, which is best cured by using social media, the goal of which is to keep the user on the platform as long as possible with digestible content and easy communication.
Lack of motivation
If you have experienced a significant drop in motivation for learning compared to an earlier period, it is very likely that you have a problem with procrastination. It should be noted that we live in the world of abundance, and that we are bombarded by stimuli, from consuming food and drink with high sugar content, to digestible content on social media, and excessive information noise that prevents us from maintaining focus, distinguishing between the essential and the irrelevant, and the true from the untrue. In consequence, many students are physically and mentally exhausted because their brain has been overstimulated, which results in the impossibility to fulfill one’s obligations which are far less stimulating and reactive, but much more important for their future.
Failure to meet one’s obligations in the given deadline
Poor organizational skills, and the inability to manage one’s own time can be good indicators that a person “suffers” from procrastination. Specifically, if your school obligations regularly pile up, the problem likely does not lie with the educators, but your lack of punctuality and alacrity which may be a consequence of external factors. The most common external factors that stimulate procrastination include:
- Lack of daily routines/ rituals
- Lack of schedule/calendar of obligations
- Not having a to-do list
- Inability to prioritize obligations
Perfectionism is not inherently bad, however, if one fails to meet their obligations within the given deadline because of it, it is very likely that this virtue has transformed into a pathological problem. Specifically, perfectionism may be a disguise for insecurity, or a low degree of concentration (possibly ADHD). In other words, completing a task should always be more important than precision or perfectionism, since they won’t matter if the task is not completed or submitted on time.
Emergence of negative emotions associated with the performance of any obligation
The presence of aversion or anxiety before performing a task can be a good signal that you already have, or will have a problem with procrastination in the long run. Specifically, it is not natural to experience intensive sudden, negative and unpleasant emotions in continuity, especially not when studying, preparing for a test, or doing an assignment.
If you notice that this problem lingers for a long time, and that your academic success is in decline, it would be good to first address your parents, then your teachers and the school counselor, and finally, if you mental health is in danger, you should ask an expert for help (clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, physiatrist).
How to overcome studying procrastination
Everyone manages to master procrastination at the end of a certain period of their life. Some manage it on their own, by recognizing mistakes and potential long-term consequences of continued procrastination, while others are forced into this realization and compelled to introduce changes by life itself, i.e. missed opportunities and failures. Several most successful and practical ways to avoid procrastination will be presented below.
As mentioned in the previous chapter, the challenge of maintaining focus in the world of abundance which regularly stimulates our dopaminergic system is a serious challenge. As a result, we have 6% of high school students diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. The biggest “disrupter” by far are digital technologies, primarily tablets and mobile phones which serve as intermediaries for accessing social media, such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, SnapChat.
To avoid this bad habit of incessant checking one’s social media and scrolling through them, it is recommended to put one’s phone in airplane mode, or install applications that lock the activity of the desired apps in the period you choose. However, if none of these tips work, the most practical way to eliminate temptation is to turn off one’s phone.
Set achievable goals
Goal setting should be observed as an integral part of the learning activity and school obligations. Namely, goals should not just be empty words on paper or in one’s schedule, but should possess a deeper meaning that would be explained in a few sentences. Otherwise, almost any activity will sooner or later become meaningless, which results in student demotivation/discouragement. However, in addition to the lack of meaning when performing activities that lead to a predefined goal, students often make a mistake of defining abstract, unrealistic or unattainable goals. Setting unrealistic or unattainable goals often results in a lack of objective awareness of the student to see themselves, their abilities, skills and time available for performing certain tasks realistically.
Therefore, it is necessary to first use metacognitive strategies to see one’s actual possibilities of performing a certain task within the given deadline, and only then can one see how to fit it into the schedule with other tasks, which also represent the goals to achieve.
After that, when the goals are defined, they need to be split into smaller parts so as to have a better overview of the obligations that lie ahead. In addition, these smaller parts can be mini goals that represent small victories, which significantly affect the secretion of dopamine (feel-good hormone). This hormone is extremely important for achieving goals of any kind, because it directly impacts motivation of the individual.
Do the biggest task first
Although this advice may sound obvious to many, a large number of students have difficulty identifying top-priority tasks. The best way to recognize the goal that is more important than others is to implement the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule. Although the primary purpose of this rule was to explain economic distribution, it can be applied in other areas of life as well. Specifically, this principle states that 80% of consequences/results come from 20% of causes, i.e. money, effort, time, obligations invested. In our case, it is necessary to find 20% of obligations (assignments, teaching units, test preparations) from the total number of obligations in the schedule the fulfillment of which will result in 80% of the results (primarily on a daily basis, as well as in the end result).
The previous practice shows that the task that usually causes negative emotions, from aversion to anxiety, is precisely the task that should be completed first. So, as Brian Tracy says in his book, eat the frog, and don’t think too much about it, because your brain will find a way to convince you to start with easier obligations, so at the end of the day, as always, there will be no time left for the top-priority obligations.
Set deadlines for your goals
Although there are objective deadlines for certain goals, many goals have flexible deadlines, which is detrimental for many. In the latter case, to avoid the problem of postponing obligations indefinitely, the final deadline of which you may not be able to meet, it is necessary to define deadlines of one’s own. In order to force yourself to meet these deadlines, you must possess a certain level of time management skills. Specifically, the time management skill comprises a number of qualities, such as:
- Taking responsibility for negative decisions or actions taken
- Commitment to the promise given to oneself
However, it turned out that we are not responsible for the formation of our virtues, but the circumstances and the environment in which we live. Therefore, there are tried and tested ways to boost one’s diligence and stimulate the qualities described above:
- Reward yourself for achieving every small goal – Many will say that this is self-deception, but in moments when you are performing an obligation you have no interest or enthusiasm for, any form of reward is welcome. It is up to you to make use of your creativity and choose what the reward could be, from purchasing something you like, to spending time with friends, family, or engaging in an extracurricular activity that fulfills you.
- Bet on yourself – Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and professor at Duke University presents the results of a survey aimed at finding the easiest way to force a person to fulfill an obligation they have been continuously postponing in his book Predictably Irrational. It has been shown that if you bet that you will do something you absolutely abhor (donate money to an organization whose ideas are completely opposite to yours), you significantly increase the probability of fulfilling the long-postponed obligation/promise. To succeed in this, you need to have someone who will surely be able to make you do the activity you hate, otherwise, the activity will lose quality and purpose.
Find a study space that fits you
Just as you have a place to sleep, so you should have a space to study and prepare for tests. What every study space should have is peace and quiet, and as few distractions as possible. The best place where you can feel the working atmosphere is the classroom. No matter how boring it sounds, the classroom has been shaping the largest number of educated people for hundreds of years. If you have a room that looks similar to a classroom, and if you can get the most out of yourself in it, then studying in such a space should not be a problem.
Ways to boost your mood
Motivation and good mood are the key to success. However, motivation as an emotion cannot be constant, especially if you push the boundaries of assertiveness on a daily basis, because after a while, it will result in a sense of emptiness and burnout. To avoid such notable oscillations, it is necessary to practice the following activities and supplements on a daily basis.
We often tend to forget our roots, i.e. the fact that our ancestors had been enormously physically active since our beginnings in the hunting and gathering communities, to the recent past barely 30 years ago when most employees were industrial workers. Many studies have shown that aerobic activities have a decisive role in reducing chronic depression, because one of their side-effects is increased secretion of serotonin and endorphin. In addition, aerobic activities affect the renewal of dendritic neural connections, which improves memory flow in the long run.
Eat food rich in omega-3 fatty acids
Apart from reducing inflammation in the body that can be the cause of diseases and chronic stress, they directly interact with molecules in the brain responsible for mood regulation. The food richest in omega-3 fatty acids includes:
- Fish and other seafood
- Nuts and seeds
- Vegetable oil (olive oil, linseed oil, soybean oil, etc.)
- Protein-rich food (eggs and dairy products, such as cheese and yoghurt)
Believe it or not, the primary factor in mood regulation is sleep. Namely, we live in an age where sleep is underestimated and people who sleep over 8 hours are often ashamed to admit it even to their friends. The severity of the sleep deprivation epidemic among young people is indicated by a study from Stanford University which states that a staggering 87% of high school students in the US sleep less than the recommended 8 to 10 hours a day. Students, especially those going through adolescence, need 8 to 10 hours of sleep to mature at a proper rate and secrete sufficient amounts of the growth hormone (HGH), which is one of the key factors of recovery and development, while the current average is only 7 hours.
Do breaks in between study sessions
Studying can be exhausting, especially if there is a lot of material to cover for a test. In that case, it is necessary to design meaningful learning sessions that will be divided by breaks. One of the most common mistakes students make when studying is that they are unable to see their productivity drops after 40 minutes. To avoid studying in vain, it is recommended that you make meaningful learning sessions lasting between 20 and 40 minutes, with 5- to 10-minute breaks between them. This tip slightly differs from the Pomodoro technique that recommends four 25-minute learning sessions with 5-minute breaks in-between. However, given that not all students are the same, and that every person has a different nervous system, habits, methods and learning rituals, we would not want to limit you by recommending just one technique.
When it comes to breaks, they can easily get out of hand. Therefore, we recommend that you avoid things that could cause procrastination. During a break, it is best to take a short walk, stretch, or perform an activity that will improve your focus in the next session. So, any meaningful session which matches the scope of the material that needs to be covered, and ranges between 20 and 40 minutes with 5- to 10-minute breaks in-between is a good start to introduce a structure in your learning process. This will not only help you to be more productive, but will also reduce potential mistakes, i.e. indulging in sensations that distract you from fulfilling your obligations.
As explained above, if it occurs periodically, and if one resorts to it only when necessary, procrastination is not necessarily bad, or dangerous. However, if this activity becomes a habit every time one is faced with obligations, and if it leads to evasion of one’s obligations, then it will certainly make your life harder, especially in case of grade retention, or failure to enroll in the desired college due to a lower GPA. Therefore, it is up to you to evaluate your situation and be honest with yourself in order to see which level of procrastination you are at. In case you have a significant number of signals/red flags which indicate that you may have become a “chronic” procrastinator, then we recommend that you start implementing the tips given above to achieve your long-term goals and your dreams. That way, you will be able to look back calmly on the past without regret.