Tips to Manage Procrastination

23rd April 2024

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Tips to Manage Procrastination

I last wrote a blog in June 2023. So, what’s taken me 10 months to write another? Well, I’ll be perfectly honest – I’ve been putting it off and falling into the familiar trap we call procrastination. It seems so much easier to put a task off rather than get on with completing it, particularly if there are other more enjoyable, easier tasks competing for my attention offering an immediate reward.

In my clinic, I am aware of how procrastination is currently affecting a lot of young people revising for GCSE, A level and University exams. I often hear comments such as “I just don’t seem to be able to get started”; “I’m feeling so unproductive.” “I can’t motivate myself”; “I’m going to start tomorrow”. I know both as a psychologist and as a parent, that these are the effects of procrastination, not laziness, poor time management or lack of willpower. In this article, we’ll look at why procrastination happens and identify some strategies for managing this unhelpful behaviour.

Let’s look at an example: one of my clients, let’s call him ‘George’, arrives at his CBT session. He’s spent all morning avoiding his revision. He describes the following scenario – he got up early with the intention of revising before his appointment. He opened his books, but quickly and without thinking, flipped to his social media account and lost an hour. He focused back on his revision but found himself picking up his phone for “just one quick” game and lost a further hour. The “reward” of avoiding the revision is that he doesn’t have to confront the uncomfortable feelings of trying a practice Maths paper which would be challenging and effortful. We also identified that he has fears of not understanding the Maths and not being good enough to achieve the grade he needs for his first choice University. No matter how much he wants to complete this practice paper, these fears overwhelm him and he falls into procrastinating instead. Over time, he has learned that gaming and social media can numb him for a while, so that he can avoid the work and his accompanying fears.

This example explains how procrastination happens. It is a short-term, temporary solution which involves avoiding a task that requires attention now. However, as illustrated by George, procrastinators do not consider the long-term consequences of putting tasks off. Ironically, putting off revision or an assignment, can make you feel better temporarily. However, it’s likely to leave you feeling stressed and potentially guilty and frustrated over the longer term. These uncomfortable feelings also increase over time and as we get closer to the exam or academic deadline.

So how do we change or manage this unhelpful behaviour? Here are some suggestions that you may want to try out:

Finally, remember that we all procrastinate and that we have been struggling with delaying and avoiding long before technology arrived. However, for the reasons outlined in this article, it’s best not to procrastinate on issues that matter to us. Procrastination is not due to poor time management, laziness or lack of willpower. Instead, it is due to poor emotional management. Remember that imperfect action is better than no action. Good luck!

Further reading

Article date 23rd April 2024

Article written by Dr Kate Donaghue, Director, Bristol CBT Clinic