How To Not Procrastinate On Essays

“Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.” –V.Kiam

I recently had one of my readers, Maya*, ask me to write about procrastination. Now I’ll be honest with you, (please don’t hate me), when I was in college I was that girl who had her paper written at least a week before the due date. I always did things way ahead of time, and never stressed about homework. Seriously, never.

And no I’m not some huge super-nerd.

I just felt so accomplished after getting things done early, and chased that feeling. And doing things ahead of time ensured I never had to turn down hanging out with friends, never did homework past 8pm, and always turned in the high quality work that only time can produce. This recipe ensured many 100% on essays and tests, and A’s for life.

Yep, I mostly got 100’s on my tests. And trust me, I’m not a super genius (see my SAT/ACT/GRE scores). However, if I can study for a test I will ace it. And I will not give up my social life. And I will enjoy the process. And you can too.

So if you’re still reading and haven’t gagged in your hatred of my non-procrastination I thank you. I only say all this because I want to help those who want to end their procrastinating ways.

Maya is one of those rare and wonderful students who actually want to their overcome their procrastination. And I’m guessing you’re one of those too or you wouldn’t have gotten this far.

Maya asked me about tips to help her stay motivated and not procrastinate, and explained one of the issues she struggles most with is:

I find excuses why I don't have to study right at that moment. It's like I trick myself into believing that I'll eventually get it done and it'll be fine, but it never is. Because of this, I end up just giving up on trying to get things done on time because I feel like such a disappointment when I give myself goals that I don't accomplish.”

Maya is not a lazy slacker. She obviously wants to succeed and wants to accomplish her goals, but her motivation dies in the middle of the semester and she said she finds herself still cramming at the last minute, especially in the midst of the disappointment she feels when she doesn’t meet her goals.

So below are my top 10 tips for Maya and for you to stop procrastination from limiting your life and your potential.

1. Analyze the consequences

What are you procrastinating that’s actually limiting your life, draining your energy, and keeping you from a 4.0?  If you procrastinate picking your clothes up off your bedroom floor but it doesn’t bother you, then it’s not really a big deal. However, if you aren’t getting the grades you want, missing opportunities, or disappointing yourself and others, then it’s time to seriously change your habits.

2. Know your excuses

Pay attention to the excuses you make to continue your procrastination. Excuses are those little voices inside your head that tell you it’s okay to put something off.  Recognize any of these?

“I work best under pressure”

“I’m too tired”

“I’m not in the mood”

“I’ll do it tomorrow”

“Procrastination is a natural part of college”

“I can write this paper in one draft”

“I’ll live with a C”

“I won’t get an A anyway so why bother”

“This won’t take that long – I’ll have plenty of time later”

“I’ll start this after…”

“This won’t be that hard”

“I’ll eventually get it done – I always do”

I’m sure you could add many more to this list. Notice your excuses and label them as excuses, not comforts. Stop that little voice and replace it with action.3. Take control

When you procrastinate you may think you are controlling your homework by putting it off until the last minute, but in reality, when you procrastinate your homework controls you. Deciding to complete a project ahead of time allows you to control the timeline and your grade.

4. Break it down

The first thing I do when I consult with students about time management and procrastination is for them to show me their to do list (if they even have one). Most lists say things like “English essay” or “read Huckleberry Finn” This is the worst possible way you could write a to do list.

First of all, if you look at “English essay” all you’re going to think is “ugh I do not want to write a whole essay right now.”  It is much easier to begin a task if it says “write 1pg. English essay outline.”

All projects should be broken down and divided over a timeline you create (i.e. you are in control, and you can create pressure for yourself if you do work best under pressure).  But of course, tasks can only be broken down if you create your plan AS SOON AS YOU GET AN ASSIGNMENT.

Every item should start with a verb (e.g. write, read, outline, do) and then be as SPECIFIC as possible and represent a task that would take you no more than 2 hours. So for example, “read Huckleberry Finn” should be: “Monday: read pgs 1-30 in Huckleberry Finn.” Suddenly this task doesn’t seem so daunting.

5. Schedule study time in a productive environment

Especially when you commute to college your instinct is to schedule your classes as close together as possible so you can drive, go to class, and then leave. Resist this urge and schedule your classes far apart and make that time your designated daily study time.  

Find a great spot in the library (avoid studying in your room at all costs), sit down and create a to do list JUST for that scheduled time, do NOT open Facebook, and then don’t stop until the time is finished.

6. Stay motivated

       Maya mentioned she knows breaking tasks down and time management are important, but she finds what is most difficult for her is maintaining momentum and motivation through the end of the semester. She makes plans to get ahead and then falls behind and then feels so disappointed.

       To stay motivated, write out your short and long term goals for your life and post them on the inside of your binder or book.  Remind yourself why you’re in school and where you want to go in lifeconstantly. If you don’t have that clear picture yet, start searching now.

 If you don’t have a clear goal and are not excited about what school is going to help you accomplish, then it will be almost impossible to muster up motivation to do things ahead of time.7. Be accountable Get a mentor or a friend to keep you accountable with your procrastination during a semester. Buddy up with someone in your class. Find a college adviser or mentor and tell them your goals for overcoming procrastination and ask them to follow up with you. 

Surround yourself with people who care about school and who do not take pride in procrastinating. These kind of people will help you stay motivated and will not distract you.

 8. Don’t be hard on yourself

       Maya said she often felt disappointed in herself when she didn’t reach her short-term anti-procrastination goals. Don't be too hard on yourself – it doesn’t work and only serves to deflate your motivation even further. 

Do not punish yourself, but instead when you find yourself cramming and are wondering how you got there, make a plan to avoid this next time. Figure out what went wrong and instead of slapping yourself on the wrist, promise yourself you’ll implement a new plan for the next test. And when you do, reward yourself and compliment yourself. 

9. Take one day at a time

Remember procrastination is a habit and like all habits it is hard to beat it overnight. However, you’ll never beat it if you don’t start today. 

10. Eat That Frog

Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy is one of the best books on procrastination. You can preview the concept in this short 1:28 video and/or buy the book here.In short, Tracy says you should do the hardest thing you have to do as early as possible because it will give you huge dose of energy.  If you had a frog on your plate and just ate it and got it over with, you would be able to enjoy the rest of your meal. However, if you put it off, it will drain your energy and you will slowly be filled with dread and stress.    

Stress causes so many problems, and believe it or not, college does not have to be stressful. In fact, done right, it shouldn’t be stressful. If it is, talk to someone and change your habits. Thanks Maya – I hope this helps!

*name has been changed for privacy 

Don't read this article, get back to work (just kidding). After reading these 7 tips you'll be well on the way to whizzing through your essay, dissertation etc.Unfortunately, procrastinating is something we all do.

We all have work piling up high, but we just cannot bring ourselves to do it. We try to start, but it just doesn't work. We end up spending hours scrolling through Facebook or playing (a few) video games, or even tidying up the kitchen, all because we cannot bring ourselves to start doing our work!

Luckily for you, there are ways to avoid procrastinating, such as.

  1. Create a timetable

    A key way to keep on target and keep up to date with your work is to create a timetable. This way, you can set aside time every week to make sure you get your work done.

    Obviously, you'll need to be flexible with this, as some weeks you'll get more work for one half of a course than the other. But, this is a good way to ensure you keep on schedule and don't fall behind.

    Make sure you leave a few hours for leisure though!

  2. Remember to take regular breaks

    The idea of working solidly for hours on end tends to put people off starting work…

    A good solution to this is to take regular breaks. Say, for every 30 minutes you work, give yourself a 10 minute rest. Grab a cup of tea, have a quick chat with friends then get back to it.

    It can be difficult to stop working then get back into it, but once you've got used to this method of working you'll find yourself feeling far more motivated to do work.

  3. Give yourself something to look forward to

    Nothing is more tedious than doing a lot of work but feeling like you have nothing to look forward to after, so plan something.

    May it be a night out with friends, a fancy meal, or even a REALLY good night's sleep.. make sure you plan something to get you motivated to finish your work!

  4. Take to the library

    The library is pretty much the most boring place on earth and yes, it is eerily silent most of the time. But, that's the kind of environment you need to get your work done!

    Find a quiet spot on your own, get your work out and get to it. Avoid any distractions by playing some music through your headphones (but try to avoid singing along to any songs!)

  5. Work with friends

    This can work both ways… You'll either get lots of work done or get none done at all… but it's worth trying it out.

    Grab a few course friends and all decide on a topic you want to cover and get straight to it. Don't allow time for distractions, just get the work done then have a catch up afterwards.

  6. Make sure you get enough rest

    Nothing is less appealing than doing work when you're absolutely exhausted.

    To be honest, it could be pointless trying to attempt any work as you're too tired to take any information in. Before starting any serious work, make sure you're well refreshed. That may require skipping a night out with friends, or having a quick nap before starting work, but it'll be worth it in the long run.

  7. Reward yourself for every bit of work completed

    For example, for every question you answer correctly on your mock test, reward yourself with a sweet or a biscuit. Or, after a really long day of writing essays and going over work treat yourself by getting a few drinks with friends.

    Make sure you reward yourself regularly to keep yourself motivated.

These are just a few suggestions to keep yourself going through those tough, low-motivation days.

Keep yourself on track and keep yourself organised to ensure you don't fall behind and get disappointed in the long run.

Remember, procrastinating just leads to you missing out in the future… Do you really want to put off doing work one day to then have to rush to do it all in one night, when all your friends are going out? No.

Do you want to be disappointed with your grade because you rushed your coursework? No. Do you want to be motivated and get the work done, but also have time to see friends? Yes.

So put that video game down and open up a textbook!


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