A Guide to How to Stop Procrastinating in College


Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘Procrastination’ as- “to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.” We are all guilty of this, especially if you are in college. There are so many other things we would rather be doing than finishing that essay on Shakespeare. Some are bigger procrastinators than others, but we all suffer from it at one point or another.

So, how do we stop procrastinating in college? Enclosed below is a list of steps you can take to stop procrastinating and start hitting the books:

  • Get Organized
  • Set Goals for Yourself
  • Get Rid of Distractions
  • Find a Study Buddy to Keep You Accountable
  • Be Reasonable with Yourself
  • Reward Yourself When You Follow Through on Studying

There are many different ways to avoid procrastination; you just have to find the methods that work best for you personally. There’s more to it than just “get it done” because there is an underlying reason we are putting things off. Once you are able to crush those reasons, you will be able to better focus on the task at hand.

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Why Do We Procrastinate?

Believe it or not, putting it off only makes your stress worse. If you choose to watch Disney Plus instead of doing your chem homework, you won’t truly be able to enjoy all those episodes of The Simpsons, because, in the back of your mind, that chem homework is weighing heavily on your conscious. There is so much anxiety, and guilt associated with schoolwork and procrastination is a huge element of this. If you are not motivated to work now, what makes you think you will be motivated to work on it later?

Between 80 and 95 percent of college students procrastinate, according to the American Psychological Association (Source). It is an epidemic that doesn’t really get much attention. The reason we procrastinate is that we would rather be doing something we enjoy rather than something we are dreading accomplishing, plain and simple. You allow yourself to put your anxieties on the back burner so you can relax instead of just getting the work done and over with. Procrastination is a behavioral issue that most of us face in our lifetimes, especially when in school.

How Do I Stop Procrastinating?

The first thing you need to do in order to stop procrastinating is to get organized. If you are facing a mess, you are less likely to want to face it. Start by buying a cheap yet fun notebook or planner (I recommend the Moleskine XL notebook, which you can find here). Make yourself a to-do list each morning so you can check off tasks as you go. I know checklists seem cliché, but they really do work. There’s something about checking an item off your list that makes completing the said task that much more satisfying. You can get an app on your phone to do this as well if you absolutely do not want to use a pen and paper. I actually wrote an article on todo apps for iPhones/iPads that you can read here.

Get Organized

In addition to being organized on paper, you need to organize your schoolwork. Get folders and binders to keep things orderly and easy to find. Not having to spend 15 minutes trying to find your notes from the first week of class will lessen your frustration and make you less likely to procrastinate even further.

One of the key things you can do to help overcome procrastination is to build a study schedule. A study schedule will help you add structure and make it harder to rationalize procrastinating. Check out my article on how to build a study schedule here.

Set Simple Goals

Next, set some simple goals for yourself. The main reason we procrastinate is that the tasks we need to complete feel daunting, so we would rather just put them off until later. So, in order to make these tasks less daunting, break them up into smaller goals. This makes things less intimidating and makes your goals much more attainable. Instead of writing an entire report in one night, break it up into one section or a couple of paragraphs per night.

Get Rid of Distractions

Get rid of distractions. Your phone, TV, the internet, iPad, your cat, whatever is going to pull your attention away from what you need to get done. If you know that halfway into writing your first paragraph, you are going to hop on Twitter, then turn your phone off and eliminate that distraction. Distractions are simply a form of procrastination that only make tasks take longer.

Ask Yourself Why You Are Procrastinating in the First Place

Ask yourself why you are procrastinating. I know this sounds like being your own therapist, but as I mentioned before, there is a reason you are procrastinating. Is the work overwhelming? Are you simply feeling lazy? Did you get a bad grade on your last assignment in that class? Are you burnt out mentally? Once you admit your issue to yourself, you can begin to amend it. Think about how much worse you will feel if you don’t complete the assignment or get a bad grade because you waited until the last minute.

Find an Accountability Partner in a Study Buddy

Need some motivation? Work with a study buddy. Get with a classmate and work on your assignments together. As long as you don’t spend the whole time gossiping about the football player in your class, and encourage each other, you should have great results with this method. This will definitely not work for everyone, but if you need someone to push you, then this could be awesome for you.

Be Reasonable with Yourself

Many of us put way too much pressure on ourselves, especially when it comes to being successful in our educational endeavors. College is overwhelming, you are not going to get an A on every assignment you ever do, and that is okay. Once you accept this, things will become much less daunting. Remember, C’s get Degrees.

Reward Yourself for Following Through on Studying

Reward yourself as you meet milestones. Have you got through Chapter 6? Go take a nice, relaxing bath. Are you finished with studying for your midterms? Go grab some Chipotle and spoil yourself with extra guac. Teach yourself that once you overcome a task that feels monumental, you can spoil yourself and have some self-love time.

Talk to Someone if You Feel Overwhelmed by Your Work/Course Load

Overcome your anxiety about these tasks. Talk to a counselor if you need to, or a family member, a friend. Sometimes talking things out with another person is all you need to understand why you are struggling. Once you admit to yourself why you are having trouble, you can begin to counteract it.

Make Studying Fun!

Make your tasks fun. Play music as you complete them. Make studying a trivia game like Jeopardy. Change up the places where you study. Anything that will make studying and working on assignments more fun and less dreadful.

College is a journey with a final destination. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s normal to be overwhelmed. It’s understandable to be overwhelmed. Putting things off will only make them worse. Usually, once you complete a task you have been dreading, you realize it wasn’t as bad as you imagined it would be. Remember that next time you are thinking about procrastinating.

The Negative Impacts Procrastination Has on Your Life

Once you procrastinate, it is hard to go back. Once you apply procrastination to your school life, it is likely that you will begin to apply it to other aspects of your life. Procrastination is a trap, and once you are in, you have to work very hard to get out.

Procrastination can have a huge impact on your mental and physical health. It can also have an impact on the people surrounding you. (Source) Creating more burdens for yourself is going to make life more difficult for you, obviously. Facing the facts and getting things done is a much better approach to all things in life. People depend on you, including yourself. Don’t let them or yourself down.

Remember that episode of Spongebob Squarepants when he is trying to write his essay and can’t get past “The”? That is procrastination at its finest. Even sea sponges suffer from it. If you realize that you are a serial procrastinator, don’t feel bad about yourself, just try to get better at avoiding it. Everyone does it; you aren’t alone. Something as simple as not doing the dishes can be procrastination. Again, something like a check-off to-do list can motivate you and get you back on track.

According to a report by the University of Arkansas Fort Smith, “For the most part, our reasons for delaying and avoiding are rooted in a lack of motivation, fear and anxiety about doing poorly, low self-confidence, being overwhelmed by the task at hand, of not having control of our outcomes, of looking stupid, or perhaps having our sense of self challenged.” (Source)

Being aware of which of these reasons triggers procrastination for you can help you to avoid it in the future.

Manage Your Time to Overcome Procrastination and Get Studying

Procrastination is mainly a time management issue when it comes down to it. So, how do you manage your time when in something as time-consuming as college?

Find a routine that works best for you and try your best to follow it. When I was in college when I got home from classes, I would have a snack and then start on my homework immediately. I actually did this all through elementary, middle, and high school as well. My mom was really great at instilling in me that once you get it done, you can relax and enjoy your evening. Remember this next time you get home from class and need to study. Establishing a routine early on in the semester will make it easier to stick to throughout the rest of the semester. (Source)

Make healthy decisions. When you feel healthy, you will feel energized and more optimistic, simply because you actually feel good. (Source) Have a green smoothie, exercise, go on a walk, take a bath, do a face mask, put on sunscreen before you go outside. Your energy levels will be higher, and your mind will be more engaged. Get 8 hours of sleep at night and take a power nap if you need it. Self-care is so important, especially when you are in college.

Create a Study Schedule with Todos/Checklists. Like I mentioned previously, make a study schedule, use planners, use a calendar, use apps on your phone if you prefer. Prioritize each task by how desperately you need to complete them. Don’t forget to turn in a simple assignment because you forgot to write it down. Don’t forget you have an exam on Thursday because you forgot to write it down. Little mistakes like this can result in a big downfall when it comes to your grades and mental health.

Holidays are a hidden gift, use them! Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Thanksgiving Break, don’t just spend them sleeping. Use them to get ahead. Even 10 minutes of studying each day on Thanksgiving Break or writing one section of your essay on one day off will help you pull ahead and manage your time better. Of course, we all want to take a day off literally, but sometimes pushing yourself to do the opposite of that will have you feeling super thankful that you did so in the future. Remember, little things add up over time. Things like this allow you more flexibility as well, so if your friend asks you last minute if you want to catch the 5 o’clock showing of the new Star Wars movie, you can allow yourself to have that break.

Make time for fun activities and social interaction. Don’t become a recluse and study 24 hours, seven days a week. Go out with friends, go shopping, play with your dog at the nearest park. Balancing school, work, and friends are important to keep your mental health in tip-top shape. Remember to be fair to yourself, school is a priority of course, but so is your mental and physical wellbeing.

Managing your time will never be easy with so much on your plate, but you will find yourself to be a lot more content if you are not wasting time and instead of using it to your advantage, while also using it to stay happy and healthy in every way.

In Conclusion

You aren’t the first college student to experience procrastination, and you most definitely will not be the last. Procrastination is a psychological element that we, as humans, face in not only our academic endeavors but in our lives in general. Finding ways to counteract putting off tasks is the only way we can avoid it.

We procrastinate because we are stressed and overwhelmed. It can be confusing because we are unmotivated and yet feel guilty at the same time. We would much rather be doing something we enjoy rather than something we are dreading.

We can stop procrastinating in college by getting organized, setting goals, avoiding distractions, studying with others, rewarding ourselves, trying to understand why we are avoiding things, trying to overcome our anxieties, making learning more fun, and realizing that college is a marathon, not a sprint.

Procrastination can seep into your lifestyle outside of college as well. Once you start procrastinating, it is difficult to stop. You may begin paying your bills late or skipping work. You may put off that physical at the doctor’s office that you know you need to have each year.

Procrastination can be solved by better time management. To do this, you need a lot of patience and determination. The Pomodoro Technique can be a helpful tool to use to overcome procrastination. Check out my article on how to use the Pomodoro Technique to get things done here.

Make sure you create a study schedule, stick to a routine, stay healthy, use days off to your advantage, avoid distractions, and create an environment that you actually want to be in.

There are four types of procrastination: anxious procrastination, fun procrastination, “plenty of time” procrastination, and perfectionist procrastination (Source). You may experience one or maybe even all of these during your academic career. The fact that there are so many different types of procrastinating shows how complex an issue it truly is. There are ways to beat them, but it is not always easy to do so, especially when you are unmotivated.

There is science behind the concept of procrastination, and it has nothing to do with laziness and everything to do with self-harm. When we need to get something done, we rely primarily on our self-control in order to bring ourselves to complete it. Having motivation is key.

It is unnecessary, but it is understandable. It’s more than just your willpower, though; it has to do with how you function as a human being. It’s kind of like starting to exercise and eat well. We know we should do it, and we know how, but we often create a gap between how we intend to act and how we act in reality.

Being optimistic and looking to the future and your end goals are important when in college. Realizing the negative effects that procrastinating can have on, you can change your perspective dramatically. I know that procrastinating can simply be part of life as a student, but think back to this article next time you need to study or work on a project or assignment. Procrastinating is a vat of quicksand (Source); don’t get stuck in it, because it will become incredibly difficult for you to find your way out.

You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
― Abraham Lincoln

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