Ask any college student what their number one academic obstacle is and you’re likely to hear the same answer: chronic procrastination. Procrastination is the number one enemy of productivity. Chronic procrastination is more than just an annoying habit. It is a complex psychological problem that can be a considerable source of stress and anxiety and can actually negatively affect your health and well-being. Over the course of a single semester, college students who chronically procrastinate demonstrated evidence of a compromised immune system, such as more colds and flu and more gastrointestinal problems. Procrastinators were also more likely to be insomniacs.
So, what can chronic procrastinators do to help them become more productive? Procrastinators can change their destructive behaviors, but it isn’t easy as one might think. It is a common misconception that procrastination is the result of laziness or lack of organization. However, most instances of procrastination actually point to a much deeper problem. Unfortunately, using a day planner or setting goals alone isn’t going to be of much help to most procrastinators.
Procrastinators typically have problems with self-regulation in all areas of their lives, such as monitoring their alcohol consumption. Psychologists believe that procrastination might actually be learned in the home, as a response to an authoritarian parenting style.
Procrastinators seek out distractions, especially those that do not require a great deal of personal commitment. They might do small, simple things that allow them to feel productive while still avoiding whatever project or assignment it is that they really should be working on. By distracting themselves, they can help to keep their fear of failure at bay. Most procrastinators have a debilitating fear of failure and would rather have their teachers or classmates think that they lack effort than lack ability. Other procrastinators have trouble making decisions. By avoiding making any decisions, they cannot be held responsible for the outcome of events. Still other procrastinators are adrenaline junkies who crave the rush of waiting until the last minute to complete their assignments.
Chronic procrastinators lie to themselves about the reality of their situations. Procrastinators are typically very optimistic that they can complete their assignment on time and feel that they have everything under control. They constantly underestimate the amount of time that a given task will take, thus there is no need to start because they have plenty of time to complete it. They might say things like, “I produce better work under pressure”, or “I’ll feel like doing this later”, when in reality they are just making excuses and squandering their resources.
While some severe cases of chronic procrastination may only truly be cured by intense behavioral therapy, there are exercises that every student can do in order to help them change their self-destructive ways. One major contributor to procrastination is perfectionism. In order to increase their productivity, perfectionists need to continually reassure themselves that their efforts will be good enough and make a conscious effort to praise what they have done.
Another contributor to procrastination is a low tolerance of frustration. People who are overwhelmed easily have a tendency to put off their work until they feel better about doing the work. However, generally the frustration will continue. In such cases, it is sometime effective to ask others for help. Maybe you are frustrated because you don’t understand something and asking for help might be all you need to make you feel confident and ready to get to work. Learning to temporarily postpone your desires is also important.
Finally, many procrastinators tend to get down on themselves and continually downplay their skills and abilities and doubt their own success. If such behavior continues for long enough, the self-downer will actually start to believe that they really are incapable of achievement. Self-downers benefit from practicing graciously accepting complements about their performance and uncovering the real reason that they feel uncomfortable with success.
Remember that the first step towards overcoming procrastination is realizing that it is a problem. Many procrastinators are in denial about their negative behaviors. Carefully analyze your situation to help discover why you delay your work and write them down. Then vigorously dispute them and learn to overcome them. Now its time to get started!