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2.4: Procrastination- The Enemy Within

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    Questions to consider:

    • Why do we procrastinate?
    • What are the effects of procrastination?
    • How can we avoid procrastination?
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): We can think of many creative ways to procrastinate, but the outcome is often detrimental. (Credit: University of the Fraser Valley / Flickr / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0))

    Simply put, procrastination is the act of delaying some task that needs to be completed. It is something we all do to greater and lesser degrees. For most people, a little minor procrastination is not a cause for great concern. But there are situations where procrastination can become a serious problem with a lot of risk. These include: when it becomes a chronic habit, when there are a number of tasks to complete and little time, or when the task being avoided is very important.

    Because we all procrastinate from time to time, we usually do not give it much thought, let alone think about its causes or effects. Ironically, many of the psychological reasons for why we avoid a given task also keep us from using critical thinking to understand why procrastination can be extremely detrimental, and in some cases difficult to overcome.

    To succeed at time management, you must understand some of the hurdles that may stand in your way. Procrastination is often one of the biggest. What follows is an overview of procrastination with a few suggestions on how to avoid it.

    The Reasons behind Procrastination

    There are several reasons we procrastinate, and a few of them may be surprising. On the surface we often tell ourselves it is because the task is something we do not want to do, or we make excuses that there are other things more important to do first. In some cases this may be true, but there can be other contributors to procrastination that have their roots in our physical well-being or our own psychological motivations.

    Lack of Energy

    Sometimes we just do not feel up to a certain task. It might be due to discomfort, an illness, or just a lack of energy. If this is the case, it is important to identify the cause and remedy the situation. It could be something as simple as a lack of sleep or improper diet. Regardless, if a lack of energy is continually causing you to procrastinate to the point where you are beginning to feel stress over not getting things done, you should definitely assess the situation and address it.

    Lack of Focus

    Much like having low physical energy, a lack of mental focus can be a cause of procrastination. This can be due to mental fatigue, being disorganized, or allowing yourself to be distracted by other things. Again, like low physical energy, this is something that may have farther-reaching effects in your life that go beyond the act of simply avoiding a task. If it is something that is recurring, you should properly assess the situation.

    Fear of Failure

    This cause of procrastination is not one that many people are aware of, especially if they are the person avoiding tasks because of it. To put it in simple words, it is a bit of trickery we play on ourselves by avoiding a situation that makes us psychologically uncomfortable. Even though they may not be consciously aware of it, the person facing the task is afraid that they cannot do it or will not be able to do it well. If they fail at the task, it will make them appear incompetent to others or even to themselves. Where the self-trickery comes in is by avoiding the task. In the person’s mind, they can rationalize that the reason they failed at the task was because they ran out of time to complete it, not that they were incapable of doing it in the first place.

    It is important to note that a fear of failure may not have anything to do with the actual ability of the person suffering from it. They could be quite capable of doing the task and performing well, but it is the fear that holds them back.


    Consider something right now that you may be procrastinating about. Are you able to identify the cause?

    The Effects of Procrastination

    In addition to the causes of procrastination, you must also consider what effects it can have. Again, many of these effects are obvious and commonly understood, but some may not be so obvious and may cause other issues.

    Loss of Time

    The loss of time as an effect of procrastination is the easiest to identify since the act of avoiding a task comes down to not using time wisely. Procrastination can be thought of as using the time you have to complete a task in ways that do not accomplish what needs to be done.

    Loss of Goals

    Another of the more obvious potentially adverse effects of procrastination is the loss of goals. Completing a task leads to achieving a goal. These can be large or small (e.g., from doing well on an assignment to being hired for a good job). Without goals you might do more than delay work on a task—you may not complete it at all. The risk for the loss of goals is something that is very impactful.

    Loss of Self-Esteem

    Often, when we procrastinate we become frustrated and disappointed in ourselves for not getting important tasks completed. If this continues to happen, we can begin to develop a low opinion of ourselves and our own abilities. We begin to suffer from low self-esteem and might even begin to feel like there is something wrong with us. This can lead to other increasingly negative mental factors such as anger and depression. As you can see, it is important for our own well-being to avoid this kind of procrastination effect.


    Procrastination causes stress and anxiety, which may seem odd since the act of procrastination is often about avoiding a task we think will be stressful in itself! Anyone who has noticed that nagging feeling when they know there is something else they should be doing is familiar with this.

    On the other hand, some students see that kind of stress as a boost of mental urgency. They put off a task until they feel that surge of motivation. While this may have worked in the past, they quickly learn that procrastinating when it comes to college work almost always includes an underestimation of the tasks to be completed— sometimes with disastrous results.

    Strategies for Psyching Ourselves Out and Managing Procrastination

    Now that you understand a few of the major problems procrastination can produce, let’s look at methods to manage procrastination and get you on to completing the tasks, no matter how unpleasant you think they might be.

    Get Organized

    Much of this chapter is dedicated to defining and explaining the nature of time management. The most effective way to combat procrastination is to use time and project management strategies such as schedules, goal setting, and other techniques to get tasks accomplished in a timely manner.

    Put Aside Distractions

    Several of the methods discussed in this chapter deal specifically with distractions. Distractions are time-killers and are the primary way people procrastinate. It is too easy to just play a video game a little while longer, check out social media, or finish watching a movie when we are avoiding a task. Putting aside distractions is one of the primary functions of setting priorities.

    There have always been distractions, but it can be particularly difficult to avoid them when we carry a smart phone around with us that provides us instant access to a wide variety of diversions. With this, as well as with other distractions, it is important to think intentionally. Instead of giving into the temptation whenever it arises, we can ask ourselves when and for how long we want to allow ourselves to be on our devices. Then, we can use technological aids such as Android´s Digital Wellbeing tools or iPhone´s Screen Time function to help us follow through on our choices.

    While seeking to take more control over our distractions, it is also important to recognize that we need breaks for our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Making yourself sit still and work on an essay for an entire hour may not be the best approach. If you are in the flow, it may make sense not to take a break until you come to a natural pause. If, on the other hand, you feel yourself getting drowsy, a five minute break may be all you need to feel recharged and ready to focus again. We also may be able to take care of two things at once. Walking to the end of the block can wake us up and give us a mental break at the same time that it fulfills some of our need for movement throughout the day. We might decide instead to take a break to fold the clothes or wash the dishes. Those may not be activities on the top of our list of enjoyable tasks to do, but when they serve as a break from mental work, we may be able to welcome them. This can help us with two things: our educational obligations and our household obligations. We could also take time out to read a bedtime story to our children or check on our elderly parents. Seeing all of these things as obligations can be overwhelming, but it may help to see one activity as a break from another activity of a completely different sort that requires a different type of energy and focus. Just make sure that you are not taking these breaks due to performance anxiety or an inability to focus on the task at hand. When dealing with these challenges, we need to look for ways to address them instead of avoiding them. It is also important to make these breaks of an intentional duration. You don´t want to stop for a five minute break, get caught up in something else, and then realize an hour has gone by!

    When you study, your biggest challenge may be to block out all the competing noise. And letting go of that connection to our friends and the larger world, even for a short amount of time, can be difficult. Perhaps the least stressful way to allow yourself a distraction-free environment is to make the study session a definite amount of time: long enough to get a significant amount of studying accomplished but short enough to hold your attention.

    You can increase that attention time with practice and focus. Pretend it is a professional appointment or meeting during which you cannot check e-mail or texts or otherwise engage with your portable devices. We have all become very attached to the ability to check in—anonymously on social media or with family and friends via text, chat, and calls. If you set a specific amount of time to study without interruptions, you can convince your wandering mind that you will soon be able to return to your link to the outside world. Start small and set an alarm—a 30-minute period to review notes, then a brief break, then another 45-minute study session to quiz yourself on the material, and so on.

    When you prepare for your optimal study session, remember to do these things:

    • Put your phone out of sight—in another room or at least some place where you will not see or hear it vibrate or ring. Just flipping it over is not enough.
    • Turn off the television or music (more on that in the next section).
    • Unless you are deliberately working with a study group, study somewhere alone if possible or at least away from others enough to not hear them talking.

    If you live with lots of other people or don’t have access to much privacy, see if you can negotiate some space alone to study. Ask others to leave one part of the house or an area in one room as a quiet zone during certain hours. Ask politely for a specific block of time; most people will respect your educational goals and be willing to accommodate you. If you’re trying to work out quiet zones with small children in the house, the bathtub with a pillow can make a fine study oasis.

    Study Environment

    Choosing an appropriate environment for the task at hand can be very helpful in reducing distractions.  

    You may not always be in the mood or inspired to study. And if you have a long deadline, maybe you can blow off a study session on occasion, but you shouldn’t get into the habit of ignoring a strong study routine. Jane Austen once wrote in a letter, “I am not at all in a humor for writing; I must write on till I am.” Sometimes just starting is the hard part; go ahead and begin. Don’t wait around for your study muse; start working, and she’ll show up.

    Sometimes you just need to plop down and study whenever and wherever you can manage—in the car waiting for someone, on the bus, at the Little League field as you cheer on your shortstop. And that’s OK if this is the exception. For long-term success in studying, though, you need a better study setting that will help you get the most out of your limited study time. Whatever your space limitations, carve out a place that you can dedicate to reading, writing, note taking, and reviewing. This doesn’t need to be elaborate and expensive—all you truly need is a flat surface large enough to hold either your computer or writing paper, book or notes, pens/pencils/markers, and subject-specific materials you may need (e.g., stand-alone calculators, drawing tools, and notepads). Your space should be cool or warm enough for you to be comfortable as you study. What do you have now that you consider your study space? Is it set up for your optimal success?

    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Which is before, and which is after? (Credit: Ali West / Flickr / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC-BY 2.0))

    If it is at all possible, try to make this area exclusive to your study sessions and something you can leave set up all the time and a place out of the way of family or roommate traffic. For example, Martina thought setting up her study station on the dining room table was a good idea at first. The view was calming, and the table was big enough to spread out and could even hold all her materials to study architectural drawings, her favorite subject. But then she needed the table for a small family dinner party, so she had to find a cubbyhole to hide away her supplies with some needing to go into a closet in the next room. Now she was spread out over multiple study spaces. And the family TV was in an adjacent room, not visible from the table but certainly an auditory distraction. Martina ultimately decided to forgo her view and create a smaller station in an unused bedroom so she could leave her supplies out and have a quieter area. You may have to try out numerous places to determine what works best for you.

    Wherever you study, try to make it a welcoming place you want to be in—not an uncomfortable environment that makes you want to just do the minimum you must complete and leave. You should include the basics: a good chair, a work surface, and whatever materials, books, notes, and other supplies you need for the subject you are studying. If you want to make it even more of a productive place, you can look in magazines for ideas or search the web to see how others have set up simple areas or more elaborate arrangements. Don’t let decorating your workspace be an excuse to get out of studying!

    You don’t need an elaborate setting, but you may want to consider including a few effective additions if you have the space:

    • small bulletin board for often-used formulas
    • encouraging quotes or pictures of your goal
    • whiteboard for brainstorming
    • sticky notes for reminders in texts and notes
    • file holder for most-used documents
    • bookshelf for reference books


    Describe every element in your ideal study environment and explain why it’s there as well as how it will make more efficient use of your time, limit distractions, or in some other way strengthen your ability to study.

    After you have described your ideal study environment, think about how you can adapt that environment if you cannot be in your favorite place to study. How do you make your own space in the library, a student lounge, or a dedicated space on campus for student studying?

    Reward Yourself

    Rewarding yourself for the completion of tasks or meeting goals is a good way to avoid procrastination. An example of this would be rewarding yourself with the time to watch a movie you would enjoy after you have finished the things you need to do, rather than using the movie to keep yourself from getting things done.

    Intentionality is also important in this area. If we wait until we finish everything we could possibly do in all of our classes to reward ourselves, we may never allow ourselves those rewards, which can also fulfill important social, mental, emotional, and physical needs. It might come down to balance. We don´t want to give in to every immediate desire and temptation, but we do want to match our allocation of available time to our values and goals. As we work on our degrees, there will be times when we have to give up a workout or full engagement with a family activity. However, we don´t want to be so single minded that at the end of four years, we feel unwell or have regrets about lost time with friends and family. It may help to set a minimum amount of time per week to work on each course. We can also schedule some family time and physical activities and look at them as necessities and obligations. Remember that eight hours straight of mental work may not be the best way to focus. Ask yourself what helps you mentally focus. It may be that you need a twenty minute coffee conversation before beginning your day, or it may be that you need an hour in the gym or in the dance or yoga studio before you focus on writing. The most important thing is to pay attention to what helps you and what doesn´t. Social media may fulfill a desire and momentarily alleviate desire, but how do you feel afterwards? Does it really help you focus, or does it just leave you feeling guilty and add additional stress to your day? There may be certain activities that you enjoy but that hinder your educational journey rather than supporting you through it. Those may be activities best left as rewards.

    Be Accountable—Tell Someone Else

    A strong motivational tool is to hold ourselves accountable by telling someone else we are going to do something and when we are going to do it. This may not seem like it would be very effective, but on a psychological level we feel more compelled to do something if we tell someone else. It may be related to our need for approval from others, or it might just serve to set a level of commitment. Either way, it can help us stay on task and avoid procrastination—especially if we take our accountability to another person seriously enough to warrant contacting that person and apologizing for not doing what we said we were going to do.

    Taking it Step by Step

    You may have heard the phrase ¨Do the Next Right Thing¨, a phrase taken from letters by Carl Jung that also became the title of a song in Disney´s movie Frozen 2. This way of looking at things can help us accomplish goals that might otherwise seem impossible. If we have a long paper to write, we may wonder how we will ever finish it. Those thoughts can hinder our focus and make the task take even longer and add more stress to our lives than necessary. Once we have a good understanding of the end goal and the steps necessary to accomplish it, we can narrow our focus to the one thing we need to work on in that particular moment in order to bring us one step closer to our destination. We can let go of the heaviness of the entire project and breathe as we write just one more paragraph, or even one more sentence. Sometimes anxiety is the cause of our distraction. If we are having trouble letting it go in order to focus on the task at hand in each moment, we may find it helpful to seek out the help of a mentor, coach, therapist, or supportive classmate for different strategies for dealing with anxiety in order to enhance focus.

    AC Resources:

    AC ACCHD Public Health Resource Center

    The Public Health Resource Center is a partnership between AC, Angelina County and Cities Health District, and Angelina College that provides health and well-being services while creating campus-wide public health response resiliency for staff and students at AC.

    Two of the many services offered are Stress Wellness Education and Virtual Counseling.




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