You are sitting at your computer on a Monday night, staring at the two paragraphs you have written for the five-page paper due on Tuesday. You decide you need to check your email, because that’s always a good thing to do, right? You have Facebook open one tab over and notice that you have a few new notifications. You go to check them and two hours later you find yourself deep into the archives, not one more word written in your paper.
According to David Hayes, director of the Academic Enhancement Center at the University of Rhode Island, there are many reasons why students procrastinate but, generally speaking, he says it is a “natural avoidance behavior,” a sort of fight-or-flight response. This decision to not do something can stem from a variety of subconsciously-rooted feelings. For instance, a task might make a person feel uncomfortable, they might fear that a task is too big or doubt that they can handle the task.
“For a lot of people, in some ways, it’s kind of an anxiety-based reaction,” says Hayes.
“I definitely think procrastination affects everybody,” says Kathryn Crisostomo, assistant director of the AEC. “I think that there are some people who tend to procrastinate more than others [and] some of the things that play into that may or may not have to do with anxiety and other learning disabilities because it has to do with students’ self-motivation.”
Crisostomo said that some students may not have a clear understanding of why they are looking to get a degree, which makes it more difficult for them to “self-start” and overcome their procrastination.
In the same vein, Hayes said, “If I don’t know why I’m here or where I’m going then this experience can really feel overwhelming because everyone and everything around me is telling me that I’m supposed to know why I’m here or where I’m going and if I don’t know then I need to figure it out.”
He said this inability to envision purpose can cause a student’s experience to feel “vague” which makes things daunting, leading to avoidance and procrastination. Each assignment along the way can cause stress because it all contributes to the underlying fear in the back of a student’s mind.
According to Hayes, when addressing procrastination, it is helpful to break things down to what you are most immediately responsible for and start there, rather than focusing on the larger end result. Similarly, Jacqui Tisdale, a counselor for Disability Services for Students in the Office of Student Life at URI, suggests breaking down major assignments to start small. Thinking about how many hours it is going to take to study, Hayes said, makes you want to avoid it. But the key is to set small, attainable goals.
Hayes also notes that it is good practice to focus on studying something for, say, 20 minutes and then break off and study or do something else.
In her work with students to help them manage procrastination, Tisdale suggests using time management techniques and calendar sheets to plan out your day and tasks. She also said that planning in break time is extremely important. Crisostomo said that the techniques used to address procrastination differ from student to student depending on what their levels of procrastination are. She talks with students to find out what their “procrastination methods” are – what they usually use to procrastinate, which could be anything from Facebook to Netflix to hanging out with friends. Once procrastination methods are identified, ways to manage them can be developed in order to minimize procrastination.
“It’s about putting yourself in situations where you’re minimizing the access to your procrastination methods and so that might be changing study location, putting your phone on airplane mode, not using your laptop,” Crisostomo said.
Crisostomo mentioned an app for Macs, which has proven useful for some students, called SelfControl. It blocks any sites that you want to limit access to for whatever time period you set. Once you engage the timer you cannot undo it, even if you restart your computer. Crisostomo also recommends putting yourself in situations that are going to keep you motivated and productive. She suggests that students come to the tutoring centers in the AEC to do their homework.
“Even if they don’t have any questions, at least they’re in a space where everybody else is working on that at the same time so it helps keep them focused and motivated so they’re less likely to use their procrastination methods.”
Hayes, Crisostomo and Tisdale all agree that mindfulness techniques are important and useful in managing procrastination.
“Being more aware of what you’re doing and when you’re doing it I think is really important,” says Crisostomo, “so paying attention to when you procrastinate, why you’re procrastinating and being able to have conversations with students about that and help them work through those moments to make different decisions I think goes a long way.”
There are academic coaches in the AEC that meet with students one-on-one to work through these types of issues. Disability Services and the Counseling Center also provide resources for students who are struggling with procrastination or in any other academic area.