An Obie Recommends: How to Avoid Procrastination

 It’s that time of the semester again: I’ve just finished midterms and used fall break to get a jump start on upcoming projects for my classes. There’s a foggy idea forming in my mind about the amount of work piled on my plate, an unending academic grind in the weeks ahead. Any day now I expect the specter of academic foreboding to come knocking at my door, whispering to me to put off my finals and internship applications in favor of readings, homework, and student organizations. My procrastination is gathering on the horizon, and once I start slipping, it’s hard to overcome. 

Fortunately for me, though, procrastination works like sleep debt. With a large enough disaster, I’ll find the motivation to avoid making the same mistake. At the end of last semester, I procrastinated on a final essay, and now I’m letting my memories of sitting stupefied before my computer with mere hours until the deadline keep me on track. Not to mention, feeling haunted gets me into the Halloween spirit. Boo! But am I spooked enough? Will this be the semester I nail self-discipline?

One major hurdle in my way is that procrastination is a beast of many faces. According to researchers Piers Steel and Katrin Klingsiek, procrastination manifests uniquely depending on individual personalities. Specifically, Steel and Klingsiek found that extraversion is the most popular trait that leads to procrastination. However, students can be deterred from their work for a whole host of other reasons, including anxiety, boredom, exhaustion, perfectionism, and impulsiveness. 

In my personal experience, these factors can all contribute to procrastination at the same time, with one dominating according to the situation. However, even before these causes set in, students can be predisposed to procrastination due to issues with time management and academic engagement. The fact that procrastination can take a variety of forms is a likely reason why it’s widespread throughout academia. Steel and Klingsiek cite one study which treats the behavior as an epidemic. 

Although procrastination can be multifaceted and difficult to overcome, Piers and Klingsiek suggest a few methods for preventing it. One strategy is counseling and therapy. This route is not exclusive to people who struggle with mental health. Counselors can help to identify specific causes of procrastination and aid students in determining personally effective strategies. Obies considering counseling should go to the Academic Advising Resource Center or the Counseling Center for additional information. 

If you don’t want a counselor, Piers and Klingsniek also recommend introspection, or “conscientiousness.” Think about what places, objects, times, or other factors interfere with your commitment and plan ways to avoid or overcome them. After you’ve found what makes you step away from your necessary work, the last step is self-discipline. See if you can think of a reward to work towards. Or, if you’ve been working for a while and you feel a strong impulse to quit, mentally step away for a few minutes before returning to it. You may have more energy and motivation than you think.

Some of my anti-procrastination goals for the second module include running more, sleeping regularly, and consistently scheduling my homework. Exercise both significantly reduces my anxiety and lets me practice mental endurance so that I’m de-stressed and focused when I sit down at my desk. Sleeping regularly will help me maintain more energy and focus, as well as preventing additional anxiety. To make sure school work and applications don’t bleed into my sleep and running time, I like to schedule homework and projects into my day. When I set aside a specific time for a task, I’m much more efficient with my time and don’t catch myself ruminating on missed time management when I should be focusing. Typically I like to work on big projects in the morning because it builds good momentum for the rest of the day and keeps my motivation high for when I work on homework due the next day.

To all my co-Obie-procrastinators, I wish you the best of luck, and I want you to know I’m fighting right alongside you. I write these recommendations in full knowledge that people struggle with procrastination for their own unique reasons, but I still hope my advice was helpful. Stay strong and don’t be afraid to reach out to someone for help. Let’s make this semester one we’re proud of!