If you are familiar with that feeling of stress as you watch your twentieth YouTube cat video in a row, despite having planned to start revision over an hour ago then congratulations, you are a procrastinator.

Everyone struggles with the temptation to procrastinate at one time or another, particularly students who have to manage their own time during busy assignment and revision periods. But there is a lot more to procrastination than a lazy student thinking ‘I can’t be bothered to work’.

Let’s go through the reasons people procrastinate and find a few ways you can minimise your tendency to put off what you need to do so that you become more productive.

Why People Procrastinate

On the surface, the 'why' of procrastination is simple: what must be done is not fun and/or there are other, more fun things to do than study and review dry, stuffy, boring academic materials. Or, more simply put: "I just don't wanna!".

Underneath that seeming wilfulness and/or disdain lies a much deeper reason to put off the task at hand.

Don't let your fear of failure pull your focus away from your goals
The fear of failure can pull your focus from your tasks and goals, which could lead to procrastination Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay

Humans excel at beating themselves up emotionally; we even go so far as to defeat ourselves before we have a chance to succeed. Scratch any procrastinator's surface and you will find a deep-seated fear of failure and possibly of the ridicule that, at least in their minds, is sure to follow.

In modern society, being branded a failure is crushing but the fear of being so-labelled is downright debilitating. In that sense, procrastination sets us up for a self-fulfilling prophecy: we're afraid of failing so we don't try and, through our lack of trying, we fail.

Another common reason for procrastinators give for their stalling tactics is that they feel overwhelmed, either by all that the work represents or the sheer amount of it, or both.

Let's say you are preparing to sit your GCSEs or A-Level exams, or your SATs/ACTs, if you live in the US. You know that, without high scores on your exams, you will likely be denied a stable job or a spot in your choice of university degree programmes. In effect, your entire life depends on how well you do on these exams.

And it's not like you only have to take one exam and then you're all done. You have to sit multiple exams over different subjects within a relatively short time. It's no wonder you feel overwhelmed!

This sense of a tidal wave crashing over you is another manifestation of fearing to fail. Believing the task is insurmountable makes it insurmountable, leading you to put off studying - facing that tidal wave until it is too late to properly prepare yourself for it.

Now that we know what the main reason for procrastination is - the fear of failure, we can set about vanquishing it to become our most productive selves.

Find out how other students manage their stress while waiting for their exam results...

Make an Action Plan

The best strategy for gaining control of any situation is to put it in perspective. The best way to do that is to get things out of your head and onto paper, where you can see exactly what you need to do.

You might use Post-It notes or a sheet of notebook paper to write down everything needing to be done. You can list these tasks from most to least important, favourite to detested; the subjects you're best at to the ones you're worst at... any approach that will provide you with clarity.

There's nothing wrong with writing things down as they come to you and putting them in the order you prefer later if that's your preferred method.

Once you've listed all of your 'gottas', assign scores: which ones do you like the most/the least? Which ones are most/least important? Which ones need more/less of your time and attention? Which ones will get you closer to your goals?

If you need help sorting out your thoughts and ideas during this process, ask your teachers, school counsellors or caregivers for their input.

Now that you have things right in front of you, it's time to make up your schedule. You may like art more than maths but a g math score will get you into college - your primary goal, so you will spend more time reviewing algebra than art history.

As you set up your study schedule, don't forget to factor in some free time. Another common procrastination excuse is feeling burned out; an effect of over-studying you want to avoid at all costs.

Use daily affirmations to keep you on track if you need to
Whether you set deadlines for yourself or have a long read from a motivational book, find inspiration to keep going. Image by Kishan Ghaley from Pixabay

The Takeaway

  • Minimise your stress. Feelings of stress can often trigger procrastination tendencies. Sometimes, when we feel we have more work to do than we can handle, we can’t even bear to think about it let alone start trying to get through it.
  • Lower your anxiety levels by organising your workload, taking regular breaks, looking after yourself, seeking support from friends and family, getting some exercise and adopting a positive outlook towards your work.
  • Take control of your situation. You will feel a lot more eager to do your work if you are in charge.

Check these tips on managing exam stress!

Get Motivated

"I just can't wait for my life to get started!" may be the constant refrain of teenagers everywhere. Standing on the threshold of adulthood and with all that's been denied them suddenly within their reach, plenty of teens at least think that line, if not speak it out loud.

Oh, but wait: there's still stuff you have to do before you get there, like study and pass exams, find a job and so on. Lucky for you, you have a plan in place!

Remember: you're in charge of how and when you will study, review and learn, not your parents or teachers.

The study schedule you established, coupled with knowing your future is in your hands should be motivating enough but, in case it isn't, focusing on the larger picture might. Where do you see yourself in three years? In five? Which goal will you attain first?

Another good scheme to get and stay motivated is to look over how far you've come in your studies. Did you know you could get so much work done by giving yourself deadlines and meeting them? Did you know you could find as much beauty in a math equation as in your favourite painting or melody?

Some people find motivation in posting affirmations around their space; if that works for you, that's great but don't discount your accomplishments as a motivating power; doing the tasks you set out for yourself is remarkably invigorating.

The Takeaway

  • Enjoy the feeling of productivity. Don’t do work because you have to. Do your work because you want to make the most out of your education, excel in your subjects and to simply feel productive, which is a lovely feeling.
  • Enjoy feeling productive by getting up early, getting exercise and organising study sessions with your friends.

Find out how to stay calm and keep busy while waiting for exam results!

Exercise, Eat Right and Sleep Well

Research shows that students who sleep too little and eat poorly - who eat the wrong types of foods and too much/not enough show a marked decrease in their academic performance.

Poor nutrition and lack of sleep can keep you from the goal you're working hard to reach. If you don't feel well, lack energy, and try to think through a brain fog, you're more likely to neglect your studies in favour of other, more passive activities such as binge-watching television and incessantly scrolling through social media.

What do we mean by eating right and sleeping well? How much exercise should you aim for?

If every day, you take a 30-minute walk, jog, or spend that much time on callisthenics, you may consider the exercise portion of your daily routine done. Those aren't your only options; you may choose to ride a bike, go to the gym or, if you have a weight set in your room, that would do, too.

Eating right: do you usually skip any meals, especially breakfast? Conversely: do you snack throughout the day? And what do you eat and drink?

The experts agree: eating lots of leafy greens and whole foods, going easy on the fish'n'chips and sugary drinks and eating smaller portions throughout the day will do wonders both for your physical health and for your mental acuity. You don't have to cut sweets and fizzy drinks out altogether but you should cut back on them.

Getting enough sleep: research shows that the human body functions optimally with between 7-9 hours of sleep. It's not enough to get that much sleep; the quality of your sleep matters, too.

If you have a hard time falling asleep only to find yourself drifting in and out all night, you might examine your sleep conditions: is your sleeping area too warm/cold? Do you spend a lot of time before scrolling through your phone?

Whatever you think might be affecting your sleep, deal with it accordingly or, if it's not something you can fix on your own, ask for help.

The Takeaway

  • Make the health triumvirate a cornerstone of your life: eat right, sleep well and exercise.
  • Structure your time. If during busy exam or assignment periods you don’t make any plans apart from working constantly then you’re most likely going to get bored and procrastinate your time away. You may need to schedule meal times, time for exercise and block off 8 hours for sleeping.
  •  Break up your workload in to smaller chunks and set yourself manageable goals to keep from neglecting your meals, your sleep and yourself.

How can this advice help you calm down and do your best on your exams?

Exercise or talk a walk if you feel procrastination coming on
You can combat your procrastinating tendencies by exercising and going for long walks Image by Sammy-Williams from Pixabay

Get Rid of Distractions

Our environment is unbelievably polluted - not only with micro-particles that we inhale with every breath but with sights, sounds and smells that pervade our every waking hour and sometimes our sleep.

It doesn't help that social media and more online content than anyone could consume in a lifetime constantly provoke a fear of missing out - a phenomenon so egregious that it now has a Wikipedia page.

FOMO, the fear of missing out leads people to constantly update their social media feeds and scroll through to see what everyone else is doing. Research shows that adolescents are particularly affected, both by the pressure of keeping up with their social circles and by the quantity of information tailored specifically to them.

FOMO-induced anxiety can cause you to throw away all of your carefully-laid plans, pull your focus from  your work and stop you from studying altogether but you can take charge of it, like you took action on other aspects of your student life.

You may allow yourself an hour or two to work your phone but, come study time, turn it off and put it far from you. Do the same with all other potential distractions: the telly, radio, other people, the delicious smells wafting out of the kitchen...

If your usual study area is too distracting, you might think about other places you can go to study: the library, study hall at school if there is one, a friend's or relative's house that is quieter than yours...

The Takeaway

  • Change your working environment. Finding out which type of environment you work best in could help to minimise procrastination. If you find it difficult to concentrate in your room, try working in the kitchen, the living room, the library or anywhere else that works for you.
  • Turn off and put away any electronic devices you don't need for study. These include your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computers; also the telly and radio - unless you turn the volume down.
  • Work with a tutor or find a study buddy if you are easily distracted when you’re alone.

Don't Stress Too Much

Whether you’re currently studying for your GCSEs, A-Levels; SATs, ACTs or undergraduate degree, these tips will be useful for you if you’re stuck in a bit of a procrastination rut.

Should you continue to struggle with procrastination, it may have a damaging effect on you and your studies. You can stop and reverse that process by talking with someone you trust: a parent, relative, friend, teacher, tutor or counsellor.

Also, learn how such a support network can help you cope with failing your exams

Remember that much of your motivation should come from the idea that you're in charge of your learning and each task you complete takes you a step closer to your goal. These concepts are powerful; use that power to keep yourself going.

Brace yourself for occasional lapses in your resolve. They're perfectly natural and acceptable, provided you don't let them take you over.

If you feel the urge to procrastinate, do something productive. If you're just not feeling the essay you need to write, don’t sit with your laptop on and an empty word document open whilst you check every social media website you can think of, pretending to yourself that you’ll start writing after five… ten… fifteen more minutes.

Put your laptop to sleep and do something worthwhile like cleaning your room or exercising until you feel more in the mood to sit down and do some work.

If you’ve been procrastinating all day, don’t beat yourself up over it.

it’s common to feel guilty, ashamed or stressed over the wasted hours but these negative feelings can be crippling, dissolving your determination to succeed as effectively as acid. Should you succumb to them, you may find yourself trapped in a vicious cycle of negativity and procrastination.

If today was a procrastination day, don’t punish yourself for it. Pick yourself up and read or do a bit of work with the time you have left and then focus on tomorrow - a brand new day and a spanking new chance to resume your plan of action.

Whatever you do, don’t let procrastination rule your life. With a bit of organisation and positive self-talk, you can break the cycle and get those marks you deserve!

Failed your exam already? Here is how to cope with the situation.

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