Do you always wait to the very last minute to study for tests and write papers? This becomes less realistic in college, when the papers are longer and require more research and tests cover more material. Figure that you’ll just be pulling a lot of all nighters? Think again! Procrastinating can not only affect your ability to do your best work (and get your best grades), but can also increase test anxiety and performance in academic and extracurricular activities because of stress and lack of sleep.
Why we procrastinate
It’s easy to see where procrastination might be a problem when completing school work. After all, wouldn’t most of us rather go to a movie with friends or even sleep, instead of starting to study for the massive biology test we have next week? Adjunct professor and career counselor Diane Lang believes that procrastination is often a result of poor time management skills, commenting that, “When you are overwhelmed or not managing your time wisely, it’s easy for you to put off tasks for a later date or spend time doing things that are not a priority.”
Another problem that intensifies procrastination is an inability to focus while attempting to complete work. Lang suggests that students consider the following questions about their work habits and environment: “Do you have difficulty focusing? When you sit down to do work or study, do you find yourself
daydreaming? Falling asleep, watching TV, etc.? Is it that your environment is noisy? Is your desk cluttered or disorganized? Are you lying in your bed while studying?”
Creating new habits
Creating new, healthy study habits is key to breaking the cycle of procrastination. Vincent Miskell, the Area Chair for Humanities of University of Phoenix, South Florida (www.phoenix.edu) says that the brain is conditioned to respond to different situations with certain actions. Therefore, he recommends students “build study habits using if-then routines. If it is 3 p.m. on Thursday, then I will go to the library to do my biology reading. If it is 7 p.m. Sunday, I will work on the outline for my research paper in my room.”
Often when faced with large projects, or a test that covers a lot of material, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and push off studying. “Break projects into tiny pieces to keep yourself motivated,” suggests Olivia Lindquist Bowen, the Founder & Director of Education of the Royston Writing Institute, “Not only is it satisfying to cross something off your list, but by splitting an assignment into many small tasks, it will be easier to motivate yourself to take action. Go as small as you need to in order to wipe out excuses.” For example, start studying for a test a week ahead by dividing the material into sections and reviewing some each day, leaving time for a comprehensive review of all the material before the test.
But how do you keep track of all these small tasks? Use a calendar or scheduling software that gives you enough room for more than just final deadlines and/or make a list of tasks that have to be completed each day. Schedule your days so that you have enough time for studying, your job, extracurriculars and hanging out with your friends. If you are particularly busy with several tests and papers one week, it might not be a good time for a Harry Potter movie marathon with your hall, or you may find that you have to switch to a class with a lighter work load so you have time to study and for your work-study job at the library.
Bowen also suggests two other techniques for getting dreaded tasks out of the way. One is known as the Pomodoro Technique, in which you have to choose a task and work on it for 25 minutes without stopping. Then, take a quick five minute break to give your brain a breather before starting on the next 25 minutes. And what should you start with? The task you want to do the least, which will not only get it out of the way, but also give you a sense of accomplishment that will keep you motivated.
Finally, make sure that your study environment helps you be productive instead of prone to procrastination. Make sure your desk or table is tidy and organized, well lit and comfortable (but not so comfortable that you fall asleep). Dr. Robert Neuman, former Academic Dean for Marquette University (www.marquette.edu), says study times should be noise-free zones, “free of cellphone and texting interruptions…and Internet socializing. Social lives can be turned back on when study is finished.”
Sara Rowe is a freelance writer published in various publications for teens and preteens.
Teen Board Sound Off
Q: Lots of students struggle with procrastination. Do you have any tips for overcoming procrastination?
“I start my assignments the day they are given. Also, I bought a planner so I can see when assignments are due. It helps to plan your day out by hour to make sure you have time for everything!—Colton Tobias, senior at Hamshire-Fannett High School, Hamshire, Texas
“Focus! You are going to have to do your work eventually. Why not start now? No one has ever put off their work and not had to do it. If you focus on your specific task, with no distractions, you can finish your work in a timely manner.”—Morissa Schwartz, senior at The Middlesex Academy for Allied Health and Biomedical Sciences, Colonia, NJ
“I have a horrible problem with procrastination, but I have figured out a way to keep me from procrastinating. I keep a treat on my desk and the treat is supposed to be my reward when I finish an assignment.”—Stephanie Wu, junior at Academy of Our Lady of Guam, Barrigada, Guam