November 03, 2016

Understanding procrastination and kick-starting your productivity

Feeling the effects of procrastination? The Student Success Centre shares advice for identifying your procrastination habits and working through them to increase productivity. 

It’s the middle of semester and Fall Reading Week still feels far away. You are studying for midterms, you have a term paper due in a week, two lab reports the week after — and lots of readings yet to complete. No one would blame you for curling up on the sofa for a binge session of your favourite Netflix show.

Procrastination affects all of us at some point in our academic careers. Whether we battle with competing deadlines and demands, all-too-inviting distractions, worry about failure, or fear our own success, we struggle to accomplish what we set out to do despite our best intentions. We become overwhelmed, paralyzed, stressed, or even bored, and getting “unstuck” is a challenge.

While procrastination is a complex issue, you can figure out your patterns of procrastination and get back to work. Here are some ways to get started:

Track your time and your self-talk. Write down everything you do for an hour, day, or week. The patterns that emerge will help you determine where small (and big!) amounts of time go. And, note what you tell yourself: do you help or hinder your productivity?

Arm yourself with a range of strategies.
  • Set a timer/alarm for 15 minutes. Short time limits help break up your work into manageable chunks (it’s only 15 minutes!). Then, set the timer again.
  • Set a time-specific goal. (e.g. I will spend 15 minutes making an outline of the chemistry kinetics unit, or working on a paragraph about...). Work hard and do nothing else during this time. Focusing on one small task at a time is less overwhelming and much more productive.
  • Take (short, boring) breaks. Short breaks help you work and focus longer, and you’ll remember more of what you did.
  • Reward your effort — not your grades or accomplishments. Your effort each day is the work of learning, and a favourite distraction can become a terrific reward for a hard day’s work. Focusing on a particular grade or honour typically causes stress, but focusing on your effort helps you achieve your goals.
  • Keep a distraction list. Write down any distracting thoughts that come into your mind while you work. Then, deal with these ideas, thoughts, chores, etc., later.
Plan and prioritize. Schedule a time to schedule when you will work on weekly, monthly and/or yearly schedules. Or, plan a project (such as a paper or final exam preparation) in steps or stages. When you feel overwhelmed or unsure of your timelines, it’s hard to get started. Taking the time to plan your approach can keep you on track.

De-stress, unplug, let your mind wander, etc. In other words, procrastinate! None of us can work constantly. It is not lazy or undisciplined to take a break or schedule time off; it is necessary. Breaks enable you to sustain concentration over longer periods of time, maintain productivity, and enjoy what you are doing.

Don’t wait for the “perfect moment.” Start before you feel ready. Focus on one small task or part of a task, or try to work “mindlessly” to get going on a project.

Talk to a counsellor or learning strategist if you cannot manage your procrastination on your own. Seeking out resources and support is a positive, strategic step.

And, if you are looking for more strategies or like-minded students wanting to boost their productivity, check out the activities and workshops happening on campus during the busiest times of the semester.