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The Procrastination Trap
Do you find yourself putting off starting an assignment? Waiting till you're in the right mood? Leaving things till the last minute? Do you say you work better under pressure?
If so, you may be caught in the procrastination trap.
For many students, procrastination involves engaging in semi-mindless activities such as watching TV, talking to friends, tidying your desk or rearranging your CD collection - anything to avoid getting started. Such activities provide temporary relief from the anxiety associated with study, but of course in the long run the anxiety gets worse the longer you put off the inevitable.
Some students believe they work "better" under pressure. What they really mean is that they actually produce something when the deadline is the next morning. What is produced may be of a reasonable standard, but most would agree it could have been improved upon, had they given themselves more time.
If you find yourself caught in the procrastination trap, try to locate the cause of the problem. It may be that you are not well organised. A timetable, where you write in what is due when, and allow realistic timeframes to get things done, should help. Seeing in black and white all the things you have to do by next week may help the adrenaline kick in sooner.
Often the cause is anxiety. Think carefully about what worries you - perhaps the course is based on principles you disagree with; perhaps you are afraid of the lecturer's judgement of you; perhaps you think of yourself as a person who is not academically able. Locating the source of the anxiety should help you to find solutions.
Sometimes procrastination stems from our belief systems around work. It's a Kiwi thing to differentiate work (boring, difficult, something to avoid) from play (fun, enjoyable). However, successful people enjoy their work, rather than seeing it as an imposition. Most students choose subjects they are interested in and have a passion for, but when an assignment is due, the old 'work is difficult' belief kicks in. Combat this by remembering why you are interested in the subject; develop your own opinions and make the subject 'yours'; imagine yourself explaining the ideas to someone less knowledgeable and think of the assignment as an opportunity to shine.
Finally, getting interested in something cannot happen until you've started. Don't put off thinking about the assignment until it's time to begin. Give it a few moments' thought now and again beforehand - give yourself the chance to get interested in the subject and start to form your own views about it. Visualising the steps you'll need to take to complete the task will be a huge advantage when it comes to doing it.
Some Causes of Procrastination and What to do About Them
Lack of motivation
|- isolate where the lack of motivation stems from (eg course as a whole, fear of lecturer, uncertainty about a specific aspect of the task?)
- deal directly with the demotivating factor (eg decide on a course of action, ask for help)
- eradicate tasks you never mean to do
Bad study habits
|- time management
- time-line forwhen things are due
- specific study times
- organization of work
|- relaxation, breathing, meditation
- medication, aromatherapy
- identify what is causing the anxiety
- separate the anxiety from the task
|- allow yourself to do rough drafts and jot ideas, rather than worry about finished the product
- swotting: trust your subconscious to absorb the knowledge - (swot before doing dishes, housework or sleeping so the knowledge can settle in.)
- plan to study one topic in the morning and a different one in the afternoon, regardless of how well you think you've perfected the first one
Beliefs about self
eg 'I can't do it'
"I don't understand it"
"I work better under pressure"
|- replace negative beliefs with rational self-talk
* Plan for small blocks of study time rather than marathon sittings.
* Plan to work and plan to play. Remember you will need breaks.
* Don't wait for inspiration to strike. Genius is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. Why rely on the 1%?
* Don't wait for conditions to be perfect before you start. Pride yourself on being able to work in the midst of a muddle.
* Break the task down into smaller and smaller parts (each15 minutes or less). Write the parts on a list and give yourself a big tick each time you complete a task.
* If perfectionism is your problem, allow yourself to 'jot down ideas' or do a 'rough draft' before worrying about the finished product.
* Plan to work with a buddy or study group. Knowing that other people are counting on you provides a 'jump-start'.
* Tell people about your study plans.
* Write down the reasons why this task is important to you.
* Reward yourself for finishing tasks.
* Surround yourself with people who will encourage you to stick to your goals, rather than people who will entice you away. Tell your friends what kind of encouragement you'd like from them.
* Set yourself a realistic timetable. Note down all your goals and other obligations. Plan for each task to take twice as long as you think it will (because it will).
* Set priorities: This might mean letting go of activities that aren't important right now; saying 'no' to people who have expectations of you; valuing the really important things.
* Eliminate tasks you never plan to do.
* Plod along like a tortoise while you're waiting for motivation to spur you ahead like a hare.
* Think carefully about what are the optimal conditions for getting your work done. A quiet, uninterrupted three hours at home alone might sound ideal when in fact three separate stints in the Library between classes might bear better results.
* Affirmations: Tell yourself how good you are at getting things done. Figure out what negative beliefs about yourself are holding you back. Tell yourself the opposite.
* Visualisation: Imagine yourself feeling calm and confident as you approach the work, do the work and complete it.