Beating procrastination

What is procrastination?

Picture this. You have taken the afternoon off from work as you are an aspiring novelist. The housework is done, and dinner is already prepped and in the slow cooker. You set yourself up at the dining room table with your laptop, your coffee, your notebook and a pen. You take a seat and begin to type:

Bluebells always look loveliest in May, especially with their vibrant… Hang on – are bluebells blue? Also, do they come out in May or earlier? You reckon this is worth a Google and find a great page on the Royal Horticultural Society website; but notice a link that says ‘See also – Violets’. You click on this link, and you are reading about Violets when an advert pops up on the screen: ‘10 celebrities you didn’t know are vegan’. Interesting stuff. You click on this link and go through the slide show. You discover that Miley Cyrus is vegan and pick up your phone to go to her Twitter page. Her and Liam Hemsworth are now married! They had gorgeous flowers at their weddin- ah, Bluebells. And just like that 45 minutes of your afternoon off have disappeared into thin air.

The purpose of this example is to demonstrate that we are all incredibly capable of procrastinating and wasting time; in fact, 70 % of students procrastinate at some point during their time at University (University of Sheffield (UoS), n.d.)! Although studies have found that procrastination is ‘eating away at student productivity’ (Knezevic, 2012), it is a habit, and one that can be broken. Procrastination is linked to several ‘ingredients’: impulsivity, delay, proximity to temptations, tiredness, SpLDs, perfectionism and low self-confidence (UoS, 2019). You aren’t alone though: take a look at this advice from UK students: 



Tips to manage procrastination


  • Set the scene for study Do you need music, background noise or silence? Clear space or clutter? Tea, coffee or water? Alone or in company? Spend some time deciding what conditions you need for effective study and get these in place before you begin. This will help minimise work-avoidance too! 
  • Study triggersSome people need to ‘trigger’ a study session, as a way of activating the brain for study. This might be getting all of your notes in order, or bookmarking pages in texts or even having a quick tidy up before you can sit down and get on with your work.
  • PrioritiseYou might find that you have a number of deadlines that occur within the same time frame. These can be difficult to manage, so you might need to spend some time organising your priorities. You might find the Study Skills Priority Matrix helpful!
  • Use rewardsUse reward systems for every study goal achieved. For example, after 300 words have been written, go and make a cup of tea. At 800 words, allow yourself the rest of the day off! The point is to incentivise your goals, so you stick to them.
  • Choose the right time to studyMake sure you find the best time to study in the day. This might mean considering when you are most likely to get interrupted in line with when you are most likely to be focused. Also, match the study task to the amount of time available.
  • Study in chunks or blocksDon’t set yourself unrealistic expectations for study, for example, a full 5 hours! You are more likely to be productive when your study sessions are broken down into blocks of time, with breaks in between. For instance, studying for 30 minutes, with a 5 minute break, allows you to focus more, stay attuned with the topic at hand, and avoids time wasting, as there isn’t long to go before a break!
  • Identify your main distractions and minimise them –  Spend some time identifying the main web pages, apps or personal distractions that take up a lot of your time. Try creating a list of these distractions and deciding how you will limit or even prohibit your access to them when you are trying to study. Here are some suggestions:
    1. Put your phone on silent and leave it at the other end of your room
    2. Lock your phone in a drawer and give the key to a friend to hide
    3. Unplug your internet cable or switch of WiFi
    4. Let friends and family know that you will be studying during certain times
    5. Use some apps to help increase your productivity and avoid procrastination
    6. Listen to music created specifically to enhance study