How to prevent student procrastination

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To stop procrastinating on your studying or schoolwork right now, you should identify the smallest possible thing you can do to make progress on it, and then modify your environment to make it as likely as possible that you will do it.

For example, if you need to study for an exam, the smallest possible step that you can take toward doing this might be to open your notes and go over just the first paragraph that you have written down. Once you realize that this is all you need to do, you can start modifying your study environment to help yourself achieve this, for example by going to a room with no distractions and leaving your phone outside.

Improve your planning:

  • Set concrete goals for yourself. For example, instead of a vague goal, such as “study for my upcoming exam”, set a concrete goal, such as “on the week of my upcoming exam, go to the library every day after I finish my last class for the day, and spend at least 2 hours studying”.
  • Break your tasks into small and manageable steps. For example, if you need to write an essay, you can start with steps such as figuring out the title, creating a rough outline, and finding five appropriate academic sources. Note that if the project in question is large, then you generally shouldn’t worry about figuring out all the steps to it from the start. Instead, start by identifying only the first few steps that you need to take, and then identify new steps as you make progress, to avoid feeling overwhelmed or getting stuck.
  • Set intermediate milestones and deadlines for yourself. If your instructor hasn’t done this already, or if they’ve only set a single major deadline at the end, setting intermediate milestones and deadlines for yourself will help you plan ahead, be accountable, and feel more motivated to make continuous progress.
  • Identify your productivity cycles. Students vary in terms of when they’re most productive; for example, some work best in the morning, while others are more focused at night. You should take this into account, and schedule your study and work to times of day when you’re least likely to procrastinate.

Improve your environment:

  • Change your environment to make it harder for yourself to procrastinate. For example, if you tend to procrastinate on writing essays because you keep browsing social media, turn off your internet connection on your computer before you get to work.
  • Change your environment to make it easier for yourself to get started. For example, if you know that you’ll need to study for an exam tomorrow morning, organize all the relevant study material on your desk or in your bag before you go to bed.
  • Change your environment to make it easier for you to keep going. For example, if you know that you’re likely to lose concentration if you get distracted while studying, go study in a quiet room and leave your phone outside.

Change your approach:

  • Start with a tiny step. For example, if you need to write an essay, help yourself get started by committing to only write a single sentence at first. This can help you push yourself to get started on tasks, and often, once you do so, you’ll find it easy to keep going.
  • Start with the best or worst part first. Some students find that starting with the most enjoyable or easiest part of an assignment helps them get going, while others find that getting the worst part out of the way first helps them avoid procrastinating over time. You can use either approach if you find that it works well for you.
  • Add a time delay before you procrastinate. If you can’t avoid procrastinating entirely, try committing to having a time delay before you indulge your impulse to do so. For example, this can involve counting to 10 before you’re allowed to open a new tab on the social media website that you usually use to procrastinate.
  • Use the Pomodoro technique. This involves alternating between scheduled periods of study and rest. For example, you can study for 25-minute long stretches, with 5-minute breaks in between, and a longer 30-minute break after every 4 study sets that you complete.

Increase your motivation:

  • Make studying feel more rewarding. For example, you can gamify your studying, by marking down streaks of days on which you’ve managed to achieve your study goals, and potentially also giving yourself some reward once you reach a sufficiently long streak.
  • Make studying feel more enjoyable. For example, if studying in your room is uncomfortable, try going somewhere more pleasant, such as the library.
  • Visualize your future self. For example, you can visualize yourself being able to relax after finishing an assignment, visualize yourself being rewarded for getting a good grade, or visualize yourself having to handle the issues associated with not studying enough.
  • Focus on your goals instead of on your tasks. For example, if you need to work on an assignment that you find boring, then instead of focusing on the assignment, try thinking about your academic goals and about the reason why you want to do well on that assignment, such as that you want to get a good grade in the class so you can have a stronger college application.

Change your mindset:

  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes. For example, if you’re working on an assignment, accept the fact that your work likely won’t be perfect, especially at first. Furthermore, you can decide to start by just getting some initial answers written down, and then go over your work at the end to check if you need to make corrections.
  • Address your fears. If you’re procrastinating because you’re afraid of something, try to identify your fears and resolve them. For example, if you’re afraid that your writing won’t be good enough, you can say to yourself that your goal is to just start by getting something written down, and that you can always improve it later.
  • Develop self-compassion. Self-compassion can help reduce your procrastination, as well as various issues that are associated with it, such as stress. It consists of three components that you should promote: self-kindness, which involves being nice to yourself, common humanity, which involves recognizing that everyone experiences challenges, and mindfulness, which involves accepting your emotions in a non-judgmental manner.
  • Develop self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief in your ability to perform the actions needed to achieve your goals. It can help you reduce your procrastination, as well as associated issues, such as anxiety. To develop self-efficacy, try to identify the various strategies that you can use to successfully study and complete your assignments, and think about your ability to execute those strategies successfully.

You’ll probably need to use multiple techniques in order to reduce your procrastination, but even just a few should help. Start with just a few techniques initially, to avoid getting overwhelmed, and then you can add more techniques over time, based on your progress.

If you suffer from an underlying issue that causes procrastination, such as ADHD, depression, or lack of sleep, you will likely need to resolve that issue first, using professional help if necessary, in order to successfully overcome your procrastination.

Overall, to stop procrastinating on your schoolwork, you should identify the smallest possible thing you can do to make progress on it, and then modify your environment to make it as likely as possible that you will do it. In the long term, you should also figure out the causes of your procrastination, and use relevant anti-procrastination techniques, like setting concrete goals, breaking tasks into manageable steps, and giving yourself permission to make mistakes.


How to help students stop procrastinating

When it comes to helping students overcome their procrastination, for example, if you’re a teacher or a parent, there are three main approaches that you can use:

  • An externally led approach. This involves using relevant anti-procrastination techniques to reduce students’ procrastination, without actively involving them in the process. For example, this can involve setting a series of intermediate project deadlines for all students in a course.
  • A student-led approach. This involves letting students overcome their procrastination with little to no external guidance. External guidance in this case might include something as minimal as mentioning the problem of procrastination and telling students about a relevant resource such as this article.
  • A joint approach. This involves giving students external guidance while also encouraging them to take an active role in their attempts to stop procrastinating. For example, this can involve going over relevant anti-procrastination techniques with students and helping them choose and implement their preferred ones.

None of these approaches is inherently superior to the others. Accordingly, you should decide which one to use based on factors such as the number of students that you’re trying to help and the type of relationship that you have with them. For example, if you’re a teacher trying to help 200 students in a college course you will likely need to use a different approach than if you’re a parent trying to help just your kid.

Almost any type of relationship can be beneficial when it comes to helping a student overcome their procrastination. For example, if you’re a teacher, you’re likely in a good position in terms of your influence over the student’s academic situation. On the other hand, if you’re a parent, you’re likely in a good position in terms of your influence over the student’s home life.

Furthermore, you can reach out to other stakeholders who can help. For example, if you’re a teacher, and you think that a student’s parents might be able to help them stop procrastinating, you can reach out to them and discuss the situation.

In addition, an important factor to keep in mind is how independent the students in question are. In general, the more independent students are, the more they should be involved in the process of overcoming their procrastination, since this can increase their motivation and make the process more effective, while generally leading to more self-development and growth over time. This also raises the importance of giving students a sense of control, even if you’re the one guiding the process, which can be especially crucial when it comes to avoiding procrastination that’s rooted in issues such as resentment, rebellion, or lack of self-confidence.

Finally, the following is a list of specific things that you can do to help students stop procrastinating:

  • Explain to the students what procrastination is and what it looks like, and help them understand that they engage in it themselves.
  • Show the students why procrastination can be dangerous when it comes to factors such as their academic performance, their career prospects, and their mental and physical health.
  • Explain to the students what causes procrastination, and help them identify the causes of their own procrastination.
  • Point students in the direction of resources that can help them deal with their procrastination, such as this article.
  • Tell the student about relevant anti-procrastination techniques—which are listed in the previous section—and help them pick their preferred ones.
  • Implement the previously mentioned anti-procrastination techniques on behalf of the students, for example by breaking apart large tasks into manageable steps and setting intermediate deadlines for each.

Overall, you can help students overcome their procrastination in various ways, such as by helping them understand that they’re procrastinating in a problematic manner, helping them identify the causes of their procrastination, and helping them choose and implement relevant anti-procrastination techniques. The specific approach that you should use depends on factors such as how autonomous the students in question are, how many students you’re trying to help, and what kind of relationship you have with them.

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