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What Is Procrastination and How to Overcome It?

A Few Introductory Words

Who does not procrastinate? It is simply human to put stuff off when one is too busy or lacks the inclination to tackle a task.  However, it is possible your habit is troubling you. Working all night to get papers completed may be leaving you exhausted and you do not want to continue this pattern in your professional life.

Examining the consequences of procrastination (as it applies in your case) can help you decide whether you need to take corrective action or not. If it causes you to feel overburdened, discouraged, constantly anxious, or to get zero marks, it may be time to act.

Does Hope Exist?

Everyone can be helped to overcome procrastination. It is not to say you are naturally inefficient or lazy. This article aims to explore the reasons for procrastination, to help you understand your specific reasons, to suggest strategies to change the situation and to enable you to complete assignments sooner and in a more stress-free manner.

Reasons Why People Procrastinate

  • Fear of Failing: Maybe your paper will not end up being good.
  • Success: Afraid you might become a workaholic or that there will be increased pressure placed on you if you write well.
  • Your autonomy may be lost.
  • You may be alone.
  • You may become attached.

The above fears (whether subconscious or conscious) have a paralyzing effect and prevent us from acting until we are overwhelmed by anxiety and discomfort and are forced to a) abandon the project or b) get it done.

  • Expecting perfection of yourself. Fear of not meeting your own exacting standards.
  • Do not like what you write: Want to avoid the discomfort of re-reading a possibly less-than-perfect first draft.
  • No time
  • Delaying sometimes works

What Improvements Can One Make?

Here are some improvement strategies. Try the methods that you find most appealing; if one method proves ineffective, try another!

Take Stock

Being aware of exactly how and when you put things off is a way of stopping the habit.

In What Way Does Your Procrastination Show Itself – How?

  • Ignoring a task – hopeful it might disappear?
  • Under or over-estimating how difficult a task is.
  • Downplaying how your current performance can impact you in the future.
  • Substituting an important task for an even more important one.
  • Taking a longer-than-planned break or an entire evening off.
  • Putting an entire task at risk by focusing on just part.
  • Spending excessive time on selecting and/or researching a topic.

Understanding the “how” puts you in a better position to spot your procrastination when it occurs. We often do not recognize procrastination in time.

Make Your Work Environment a Productive One

Create a conducive work environment (e.g., a quiet Internet-free space) but do not spend too much time “making your environment productive” and too little time on writing.

Consider also, when you will work i.e. what time of day.  

If You Have Myths – Challenge Them!

It is not necessary to collect all the topic information you need to start writing, but the conditions in which you write should be optimal. Write down your reasons for delaying on one sheet of paper and, on another, the reasons why you should not delay

Myth Number One: “Unable to work in an untidy environment. Need to clean up first.”

Your task: You only need two things to write i.e. 1) an implement to write with, e.g., keyboard or pen and 2) something to write on, e.g., paper or a computer. Making excuses can be a sign of procrastination.

Myth Number Two: “It is time to get started but I need another day in the library to do more research.”

Your task: You are unlikely to collect all possible information for an assignment. Start writing a well-development argument right now using the information available.

Myth Number Three: “I work best when I am under intense pressure.”

Your task: You can create a pressurized environment in a number of ways instead of delaying. Set time limits, e.g., commit to writing a certain amount in a given time or tell yourself you are working on a time-restricted exam assignment.

Myth Number Four: “I need six full undistracted hours to write.”

Your task: Write in blocks of an hour (or less). This helps break a task into smaller, more manageable, and less daunting portions.

Myth Number Five: “I cannot write until I have something that is perfect” and/or “I am unable to begin until my introduction or thesis statement is perfect.”

Your task: A first (second, third or even final) draft doesn’t need to be perfect. Writing a first draft requires us to ignore the critic inside ourselves and simply put some words onto paper.   

Break Your Assignment Down

Break it down into the smallest parts possible so that you do not see it as a huge task and commit to immediately starting work on one part.

Change Your Attitude

Get it into your head that a task is not so difficult or awful, that either you are capable of completing it or that you will master (or learn) it as you progress.

Seek Assistance

Get assistance from a writing coach or from people around you.

Ask a friend. Try and identify a buddy who will work with you to provide an atmosphere of accountability.

Get writing assistance. Enlist the help of a friend, a coach at a Writing Center, a professor, or some other professional if you believe you are not a good writer and are keen to improve.

Set up a writers’ forum or writing group. These are a good way of establishing accountability and collecting feedback.

Unblock Your Mind

The options available if you get stuck on a certain paper are:

  • Switch off your screen and use a darkened screen to prevent you seeing, disliking, and/or deleting what you have written. Just continue writing.  
  • Make writing the subject of your writing. Write about your reluctance to start a particular assignment. Then write about how you could remedy the situation. This will enable you to start putting something onto paper.
  • Start the easiest section first – beginning, middle or end!
  • Talk about it. Record the thoughts and ideas and transcribe these.

Establish Accountability for Yourself

Decide on a completion deadline (different from your paper’s actual submission date) and register this with your mentor or Writing Center. This may motivate you to complete your draft on time.

Keep Your Assignment on Display

Keep your work physically in front of you to remind you that you have a project that either needs to be started or is already in progress. Stop mid-way through a paragraph to make it easier to get back in your stride when you resume.

Practice When You Have No Deadline Pressure

Understand your own process – how you write – by describing it in careful detail.

Questions to Ask of Yourself:

  • When is it usual for me to begin an assignment?
  • What writing tools are needed or do I believe are needed to get started?
  • What is my preferred location for writing?
  • Have I a preference for a noisy or quiet writing environment?
  • How much time do I usually need?
  • What are my habits before I begin?
  • What are my actions upon completion?
  • What are my feelings when I have finished (after submitting a paper)?

Now Ask These Questions of Yourself:

  • What aspects of writing appeal to me?
  • What change would I want to make?

When you understand your own process, you can decide to alter it – step by step. Too much at once and you may become frustrated, overwhelmed, and start procrastinating again.

Evaluate the Strong and Weak Points in Your Own Writing

List the strong and weak points in your work. Understanding these can enable you to take the following actions: 1) focus on your strength(s); 2) Identify a single weak point and try correcting it when you are not working to deadline – even if the notion of writing when there is no deadline pushing you forward feels strange.

The fact is that one tiny change starts the ball rolling. You start feeling better about how you write and assignments will not feel so intimidating. And – after a while – you begin assignments sooner because you are more in control and they no longer seem such a big deal.

Improve Your Editing and Proofreading Skills

If you feel reluctant to read back over your written work, there are revision, editing and proofreading strategies that can help. Practice these with a view to improving weaknesses.

Learn about Timing

Effective time management is a great way for beating procrastination. Be realistic by taking account of every activity in your day and the time you have left over for writing.

Use the Unschedule

Use the Unschedule (a calendar showing how time is used in a particular week) to create a more practical plan for yourself. Rather than being a list of what one ought to do, it accounts for time that one needs to spend on activities other than writing work.

Once created, focus on the blanks. These show the most amount of time you can possibly devote to writing each day/week

Set Time Limits

Set a limit to the amount of time you devote to writing prior to doing other things. For instance, allow three hours for writing on Saturday before meeting friends. The essential thing is to stick to this.  

Take a Realistic Approach to How Fast or Slow a Writer You Are

Be realistic by factoring in common disruptions when you are setting targets.

Final Thoughts

If you try out any of our breaking-the-habit strategies, do not expect an immediate transformation. Procrastination develops over time; it is not going to cease by magic. However, it can be changed little by little. Rewarding instead of punishing yourself for each success should help you improve over time. And probably help you put sleepless nights behind you.

The novelist Mary Heaton Vorse O’Brien has opined that writing involves applying the seat of one’s pants to the seat of one’s chair.

March 12, 2019
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