Chapter 3: Time & Space

Avoiding Procrastination

Procrastination self-check

Think about the tasks and activities you are currently putting off. Think about tasks you have typically put off in the past.

  • What activities do you tend to put off until the last minute?
  • What do you typically find yourself doing instead of the activities that will help you reach your goals?
  • What are the patterns?

Are you a procrastinator? Take this self-assessment to find out more.

“Do or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda

Now Concept Reminder Motivation Time Actio


Procrastination is the act of putting something off. It’s doing something that’s a low priority instead of doing something that is a high priority. We all procrastinate sometimes. But when we procrastinate on an assignment or studying for an exam until there is little or no time left, our grades suffer and our stress level increases.

Think about this: If someone were to give you $500 to complete a homework assignment on time, would you complete it sooner than you ordinarily would have? What level is your internal motivation? How important is the assignment to you? How important is your grade? How important is your class?

Procrastination checklist

Do any of the following descriptions apply to you?

  • My paper is due in two days, and I haven’t really started writing it yet.
  • I’ve had to pull an all-nighter to get an assignment done on time.
  • I’ve turned in an assignment late or asked for an extension when I really didn’t have a good excuse not to get it done on time.
  • I’ve worked right up to the minute an assignment was due.
  • I’ve underestimated how long a reading assignment would take and didn’t finish it in time for class.
  • I’ve relied on the Internet for information (like a summary of a concept or a book) because I didn’t finish the reading on time.

If these sound like issues you’ve struggled with in the past, you might want to consider whether you have the tendency to procrastinate and how you want to deal with it in your future classes.

Reasons We Procrastinate

Learning about why we procrastinate can help us overcome it. The following are some of the more common reasons people put off doing something followed by thoughts to help combat that type of procrastination:

I don’t feel like it. I would rather play a video game, watch TV, hang out with friends, sleep, or do anything else other than start my assignment. (The problem is – you might never feel like starting it.)

Perfectionism. I want to do it perfectly, and since there is not enough time to do it perfectly, I am not going to do it at all. (Remember that no one is perfect and done is better than perfect.)

Fear of success. If I study my tail off and I earn an A on an exam, people will start to expect that I will get A’s all of the time. (The important thing to remember is to set high expectations for yourself.)

Fear of failure. Without confidence, I can’t do the assignment well, no matter how much time or effort I put into it. (Putting in time leads to good results which lead to increased confidence and competence.)

“Procrastination makes easy things hard and hard things harder.” – Mason Cooley

These and other reasons keep some students from completing assignments and studying for exams. Do you procrastinate? Why?

Whatever the reason may be, procrastination is not a good idea. It can be stressful trying to complete something if we have left it to the last minute. It can be stressful to know that we didn’t submit work that was our best. And stress can take a toll on the health of our bodies.

There are many examples of how Americans procrastinate. FedEx is built on the fact that people need something immediately, and in many cases, they have procrastinated past when regular mail would have gotten it there on time. Post offices stay open later on tax day because they know people procrastinated getting their taxes done. Stores offer sales days before Christmas because they know people have procrastinated their Christmas shopping.

Tim Urban’s Ted Talk shines a light on procrastination.

Video: Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator, Tim Urban TED Talk

Let’s get started with some immediate solutions as well as some perspectives that might, in time, help you adjust your thoughts and feelings and gain a sense of self-efficacy to help you overcome procrastination.

Create a list of your top five challenges when it comes to procrastinating. Create a chart, such as the one below, but leave yourself ample space to fill in the solutions you find as you read more about strategies for overcoming procrastination.






Strategies to Combat Procrastination

Because procrastination is so common, there are many suggestions for helping us avoid it. Below are some effective strategies for overcoming procrastination:

  1. Keep your studying “bite-sized”: When confronted with 150 pages of reading or 50 problems to solve, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. Try breaking it down: What if you decide that you will read for 45 minutes or that you will solve 10 problems? That sounds much more manageable.
  2. Turn off your phone, close your chat windows, and block distracting websites. Treat your studying as if you’re in a movie theater, and just turn it off.
  3. Set up a reward system: If you read for 40 minutes, you can check your phone for 5 minutes. But keep in mind that reward-based systems only work if you stick to an honor system.
  4. Study in a place reserved for studying ONLY. Your bedroom may have too many distractions (or temptations, such as taking a nap), so it may be best to avoid it when you’re working on school assignments.
  5. Use checklists: Make your incremental accomplishments visible. Some people take great satisfaction and motivation from checking items off a to-do list. Be very specific when creating this list, and clearly describe each task one step at a time.
  6. Create a new association with a current habit. For example, if you drink coffee in the morning, that’s a great time to write down your to-do list. New associations create new neural connections and form new habits.

In the following video, Joseph Clough shares key strategies for conquering procrastination once and for all.

A few strategies additional strategies to combat procrastination are discussed below:

Tell yourself to do your best all of the time. Ask yourself what is important right now. Other peoples’ expectations of you shouldn’t matter. Be confident in yourself and in your abilities. Make your goal to do your best and to realize that you’re not perfect. Do the best you can and be satisfied with your effort.

Get started. It is the hardest part to do and will have the biggest effect on defeating procrastination. It can be simple: skim the chapter you have to read, think of a title for your paper, or schedule an hour of study time. The rest of it will be easier once you get started.

Establish and rely on a process. Figure out what works best for you. Take some time to make a plan, list, or outline that allows you to see what you will do and when to complete your assignment or goal. It might be setting aside time early in the morning or postponing a movie until after you’ve finished an assignment. Set your priorities and stick to them.

Set imaginary deadlines. If the paper is due in six days, tell yourself it is due in two days. Knock it out early and then enjoy not having it over your head. Soft, or fake, deadlines are less stressful. And if you do end up needing more time, you have a cushion.

Don’t break the chain. Jerry Seinfeld wanted to be a better comedian and believed that writing better jokes every day would help, so he developed a system to help prevent procrastination. He used his system, called Don’t Break the Chain, to motivate himself. Each day he wrote, he would place a big red X on that day on a big wall calendar. After a few consecutive days, he had a chain, and the task became not breaking the chain. If there is something you want to practice every day, try it.

“If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, the rest of your day will be wonderful.” – Mark Twain

Eat a frog. Twain wasn’t suggesting you go out and eat a frog; rather, he meant that if you have to do something you don’t want to, the best thing to do is do it right away: get it over with as soon as possible so you can then move on to enjoy the things you want to do.

Let’s start now

On a sheet of paper write down three important items you need to do this week and prioritize them. Write down the date and time you will do each item. Write down the name of a person who will help hold you accountable for completing the task. Ask the person to help hold you accountable. Start with the most important item. Write down what you will do to reward yourself when the three items are complete.


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