Preventing and Overcoming Procrastination

female student studying on her tablet

We’ve all faced procrastination, often with regards to our studies, but sometimes it extends to jobs, hobbies, and chores. Everyone has been there; the task a boulder, and you a mere mortal—nay, Sisyphus, tormented to eternally struggle under the weight of the tasks you just don’t want to do. Perhaps that’s being dramatic, but procrastination can make tasks overwhelming.

                I procrastinated writing this blog after asking to do it.

                Within the Life Tools Learner’s Mindset talk focusing upon the prevention and overcoming of procrastination, we explore why we procrastinate.

Recognising this ‘why’ is the first step to understanding procrastination and the process to overcoming it, but something not often queried is how procrastination makes us feel. Some of the recurrent responses are commonly attached to specific emotions:

  • It’s difficult/I don’t understand/don’t know how to start—I’m frustrated
  • There’s too much—I’m overwhelmed
  • I don’t want to—I’m tired/not engaged

Of course, nothing is so cut and dry; you may not want to tidy because you don’t like doing it, you could be frustrated because you’re procrastinating because you’re overwhelmed, so now you’re too irritated to start.

Alicia, the creator and director of the Life Tools programme, encourages us to acknowledge our emotions within her talks. Doing so allows us to break the cycle we tend to find ourselves in. Realising you’re hungry or tired means you can start to solve it. Some fixes are easier, like remembering to eat or sleep, but others require more work, usually by applying strategies to ease the pressure and overcome the problems.

I’ve mentioned the Life Tools programme as it is one such place to find tips and advice on how to manage issues like procrastination. In fact, I used suggestions and strategies offered to me through the programme to write this blog.

As said earlier, I procrastinated writing this. So, I followed Alicia’s advice and tried to understand why; I was tired and overwhelmed. Therefore, I took a few days to myself to just rest. Not every moment has to be spent working, and sometimes looking after yourself has to come first. Preventing burnout is best done through listening to your own needs, taking the time to pause and rest daily, but if you do reach burnout, there is no shame in stepping away. To ease the nagging feeling that I was being lazy when I had so much to do, I cleaned my room and sorted out chores—I took a productive break, but remained mindful not to overwork myself.

Once my allotted day to return to my work came around, it took some self-convincing, but I started by setting up a timer for 45 minutes, and starting on a plan of what I needed to get done and when/how to go about it. Planning ahead like this helps to break tasks down into manageable chunks, making it easier to start them. Personally, I find allocating tasks to a day means I can break the tasks down even further when I’m there—for example ‘answering emails’ means finding out who I need to reply to, what I need to say/send, and means I can focus on one at a time. It also gives the satisfaction of seeing a long list of completed tasks which is always a bonus.

When my timer went off, I reset it, but this time the 45 minutes were for a break. Working this way is called the Pomodoro technique, and it gives your mind a chance to rest between each task. The time can be anything you want—25 minutes is the usual recommendation, but I found that a bit too short. I also believe it’s a great motivation seeing I have ‘just x more minutes’ and then I can draw or play games for a bit. Taking breaks is important, and the greater variation between your work and free-time the more engaging they both are.

This is just one way to overcome and prevent procrastination, but the earlier you start your work the longer you have to section it out.

But what if getting started is the hardest part for you? It is for me. Once I start I’m usually okay, but blank pages are daunting.

Free-writing may help. The idea is to just write. Set a timer, pick a part of your essay/report, and write. Don’t stop. Don’t think. Just write. Can’t think of the word/equation/terminology? Put ‘insert word here’ in block caps. Don’t want to start with the introduction? Don’t! Work doesn’t have to be written as it is read. Once your timer goes off congratulations, you have the start of a first draft! Repeating this can get you far if you struggle to start, and there is no pressure for it to be good either; your first draft gets the ideas written, all subsequent versions can be refined. You are reading the fifth draft of this blog.

The Life Tools Programme

The Life Tools programme is a series of free talks designed to help ease the pressures of university and assist you through student life. Each talk provides advice to keep you in control of your studying, professional, and personal development. The Learner’s Mindset webinars run weekly and each one covers different strategies to prevent procrastination.

The Life Tools talks occur throughout the year and are repeated regularly, so if you miss one, that’s not a worry! You can sign up any time with no pressure to attend them all, no assessments, and a chance to learn and connect with other students in attendance. Participation and discussion is not mandatory, but it is encouraged, especially as it reaffirms that you’re not alone.

Check out the Life Tools 2022/2023 Programme here to find out what topics are discussed. Here, you can book your place, and by enrolling on the Life Tools Blackboard, you can receive a weekly email with details and information about the week’s talks.

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