How Not to Procrastinate

For many college students, procrastination doesn’t just happen; there are small steps they take every day that suddenly result in having to write, say, a 5-page paper in one night (translation: pull the dreaded all-nighter). Find 8 easy steps to learn how not to procrastinate in the first place.

Don’t plan to procrastinate.

This is #1 for a reason: it’s such a simple way to solve such a common problem! If you find yourself saying things like “I can’t do (insert activity) that night; I’m going to be up all night writing a paper,” you are one hard-core procrastinator. Why? Because you’re actually planning to procrastinate — which shows that you can plan. Which also shows, therefore, that you can plan not to have to be up super late every night before you have something major due.

Break things down.

Divide things into smaller projects: coming up with a thesis/topic/etc.; doing the first part of the research; testing your results/writing a rough draft; finishing up everything but a few minor details a few days before your deadline. Breaking things down into smaller projects not only makes your workload easier to manage, but also makes it nearly impossible to leave it all to the last minute.

Set earlier deadlines for yourself.

Is your paper due on the 15th? Get (not try, but actually get) it done by the 12th. You’ll have time to really focus; spend thoughtful time putting your work together; get it read over by a TA, your professor, or an academic support center in advance; and, you know, deal with the unexpected roommate drama you’ll have to deal with the night of the 14th, too.

Find a way to hold yourself accountable.

Accountability can go a long way when it comes to avoiding procrastination (and breaking your procrastination habits in general). Find another friend — in the same class, in your residence hall, in a club you’re in — and hold each other accountable for getting your project done earlier than usual. Come up with some kind of reward system if you get your projects done early as well as some kind of “punishment” system if you aren’t keeping on track.

Work with a friend.

Working with a friend (who you really can study/work with, not just end up hanging out and talking with) can help streamline your efforts and make you really focus on the assigned task at hand. You can check in with each other about the progress you’re making and schedule time to work on your projects together. It’s much harder to break a study/work meeting with someone else than it is to break one with yourself.

Start small.

Don’t expect to change all of your procrastination habits in one week. Try to teach yourself how not to procrastinate in, for example, only 1 or 2 of your courses this term. Smaller habits are easier to stick with an make permanent on a larger scale.

Be patient with yourself.

Just like any bad habit, learning how not to procrastinate takes time (ironically!). Being patient with yourself and staying committed to not procrastinating in the long term is part of the process, too.

Get extra help if you need it.

Procrastination is often very isolating: you are up late, alone, working on your paper or report, for example. But incorporating help from others into your planning process is a great way to learn how not to procrastinate. An appointment you have at an academic writing center, for example, will help make your paper better, can provide needed mentoring about avoiding procrastination in the first place, and will help hold you accountable. After all, you’re not in college to work by yourself all the time, right? Take advantage of what your school has to offer.