Managing Your Procrastination

"It's a job that's never started that takes the longest to finish." J. R. R. Tolkien (1892 - 1973)
Sandra Chard Debra Pretty Student Development Services University of Western Ontario

y Video y Introduction yOvercoming Procrastination yActivity yVideo y Resources


Tales of Mere Existence ² ´Procrastinationµ

Work, School, and Life in Balance ² How do you know?
yYou are satisfied and happy yYou handle many responsibilities yYou are healthy yYou believe you have control yChoices are informed and not forced

Procrastination ² What is it?
y To voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite

expecting to be worse off for the delay (Piers Steel)
y Put off intentionally the doing of something that should

be done (Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary)
y To postpone doing something, especially as a regular

practice (Encarta World Dictionary)

Procrastination ² Who does it?
y Procrastination is an almost universal affliction, one that

occurs in almost every culture and is reported as early as 800 BC. y It affects 95% of the population (Ellis & Knaus, 1977) y and approximately 20% of those chronically (Harriott & Ferrari, 1996).

Gröpel, P., & Steel, P. (2008). A mega-trial investigation of goal setting, interest enhancement, and energy on procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences, 45 (5), 406-411.

An insight ² negative reinforcement
Procrastination is reinforcing - every time you delay, it reinforces your negative attitude toward that task. Every time you put off something you dislike, you: 1. 2. 3. 4. strengthen the habit of not doing; practice avoidance instead of participation; avoid acquiring training and skills, and indoctrinate yourself with fears.

Active participation in anything tends to give you a positive attitude toward that activity; inactivity helps acquire an unfavorable attitude.

Myth #1
I can't function in a messy environment. I can't possibly write this paper until I have cleaned my apartment Challenge: There are no conditions that are necessary in order for you to write, save two: 1) You must have a writing implement (e.g., a keyboard or a pen) and 2) you must have someplace for writing to go, such as into a computer or onto a piece of paper. If, when faced with a writing project, you start piling up prerequisites for all the things you must do before you can possibly start writing, consider whether you might in fact be making excuses³in other words, procrastinating.

Myth #2
I know it's time for me to start writing, but I just haven't done enough research yet. I'll spend one more night at the library, and then I'll start writing my paper Challenge: Truth be told, you will never collect all the information you possibly could for your paper. Better to write a tightly-crafted argument with the information you have NOW, AT THIS VERY MOMENT, than to keep doing research and risk throwing your paper together at the last minute.

Myth #3
I do my best work under pressure Challenge: There are lots of other ways to create pressure for yourself, besides waiting until the night before the paper is due to start writing it. You can set a time limit for yourself³for example, "I will write this paragraph in ½ hour"³or you can pretend that the paper is a timed essay exam. If you do this a week or two before the paper is due, you'll have a draft in plenty of time to revise and edit it.

Myth #4
In order to work on my paper, I must have six uninterrupted hours Challenge: You can and should work on a paper in one hour blocks (or shorter). This will help you break the writing task down into smaller pieces, thereby making it seem more manageable. If you know that you can work on one part of the paper for one hour, then it won't seem so daunting, and you will be less likely to procrastinate.

Myth #5
What I write has to be perfect, " AND/OR "I can't write anything until I have a perfect thesis statement/intro Challenge: A first draft (or a second, or a third, or even³egad!³the final product) does not have to be perfect. When we write an early draft, we need to turn off our internal critic and just get some words down on the page. The great thing about starting early on a writing project is that it leaves us plenty of time for revision, editing, and proofreading; so, we can set ourselves free to just let our writing flow, without worrying about sentence-level concerns such as grammar, punctuation, and style.

Why Do We Really Procrastinate?
y Stress and Anxiety ² we often feel too overwhelmed and worried to
even being working on tasks.

y Difficulty Concentrating ² it may be difficult to begin working

because it is noisy, the phone is ringing, your roommate is watching a great TV show, the sun is shining, your desk is too cluttered etc.

y Negative Beliefs ² Thoughts such as: ´I cannot succeed at thisµ and ´I lack
the necessary skills to perform the taskµ creep into your mind.

y Fear of Failure ² You may think that if you don·t achieve a certain mark,

you are a failure. Or, if you do fail an exam, you think that you, as a person, are a failure, rather than that you are a perfectly ok person that has failed an exam.

Why Do We Really Procrastinate?
y Boring Tasks of your time.

² you think that the work required of you is useless, boring, or a waste

y Unrealistic Expectations/Perfectionism ² You may think that you always have to achieve A·s, especially if you did in high school. You may believe you MUST read everything ever written on a subject before you can begin to write a paper. Or, you may believe you MUST read and take notes on every single sentence and paragraph and chapter in your textbooks. y Poor Time Management ² You may be uncertain of your priorities, goals, and objectives. You may not be managing your time wisely. y Preoccupation with Personal Problems ² You may be focusing on problems un-related to the task e.g. financial difficulty, relationship issues, family problems etc.

10 ways to deal with procrastination
Challenge self-defeating perfectionistic beliefs because they slow you down. Use realistic statements to help your perspective (´Doing something is better than nothingµ, or ´Things get done one step at a timeµ). 2. Just start! Action leads to action ... Pick anything and do it! 3. Get something or anything down on paper when beginning a task. Editing comes later! Try writing quickly so the ´inner-criticµ can·t interfere.
Wendy Vaughan, M.A., Counselling Services, University of Waterloo

10 ways to deal with procrastination
Jot down distracting thoughts. Don·t try to continue concentrating when distracted. Set aside time to focus on these concerns after getting something done. 5. Ask yourself, ´If I can only get one thing done today, what would it be?µ 6. Be assertive and set limits on distractions from friends. Reduce interruptions of phone, email, MSN, or having an open door.

Wendy Vaughan, M.A., Counselling Services, University of Waterloo

10 ways to deal with procrastination
Work in your ´high energyµ time of day. Do you know how to use your circadian rhythm? 8. Identify what energizes and motivates you into action (music, calling a friend, getting organized, going for a run, studying in a variety of different places) and combine this with trying to work.

Wendy Vaughan, M.A., Counselling Services, University of Waterloo

10 ways to deal with procrastination
Don·t keep doing the same ineffective things. What have you tried in the past? What helped and didn·t help? 10. Note where you are starting from and set small, realistic goals (SMART) from there. Chunk large projects and tasks into very small 15 minute pieces of work and just do the next step.

Wendy Vaughan, M.A., Counselling Services, University of Waterloo

Activity: Daily Plans
y Get out a sheet of paper and make a to-do list of all the

specific things you·d like to get done tomorrow.
y Beside each item, place one of the following letters

A: for what must be done tomorrow B: for what should be done or you·d like to get done C: for what can easily be postponed a day or two
y Now look at your B items. Place these into either the A list or

the C list.

Activity: Daily Plans
y Transfer your top-priority tasks (your A·s) onto a slip of

paper or a notepad.
y As the day goes by, refer to your list and complete your A

tasks as you can, crossing off each one as soon as it·s done.
y Tip: many people write their to-do list for tomorrow·s tasks

at the end of each day, as this eliminated lying in bed worrying about forgetting something


Useful Resources
Procrastination and time management Stress management Stress and the immune system

Stress and anxiety Self-esteem