You have an essay due in a week.
You know you should be working on it, but you just can’t force yourself to start. You blame yourself, thinking, “Why can’t I just do this?” You keep meaning to start, but instead find yourself scrolling through social media or playing video games. The essay is always at the back of your mind, so you’re not even enjoying yourself. Days pass, and just thinking about the essay makes you feel guilty and anxious.
Now, it’s 10pm and the essay is due tomorrow. You finally, frantically begin to write. You stay up late, feeling stressed and guilty the whole time. You know the work isn’t your best, and feel angry that you put yourself in this position. You promise yourself that next time, you’ll start work in advance to avoid this situation. Instead, the new project gives you that same anxious, queasy feeling you had with the last one, and the cycle repeats.
If the scene above sounds familiar, you’re definitely not alone. According to one survey, 87% of college and high school students are self-described procrastinators.
Ending your procrastination habit takes more than just willpower. Despite what you may have been told, procrastination isn’t about being lazy—it’s about having trouble organizing the cognitive resources you need to complete a task.
Here are some common reasons that people procrastinate:
- You feel anxious about the task, and avoiding it lets you avoid confronting that anxiety.
- The assignment feels painfully boring and under-stimulating, especially compared to all the other things you could be doing!
- With longer projects, you aren’t even sure where to start. The assignment feels so big and insurmountable. Why even bother?
It will probably take some time, practice and patience with yourself, but it’s worth it to stop procrastinating. Here are 7 tips to help you stop procrastinating and build healthier habits instead.
1. Check in with yourself.
What do you feel when you think about the assignment or task you’re procrastinating on? Do you feel anxious? Uncertain about how to do it? Do you think it will be hard or take a long time? Understanding the reason(s) you’re procrastinating can help you come up with strategies to deal with it.
2. Get rid of distractions.
Create a distraction-free environment. Find a quiet place where you know you won’t be interrupted. Put your phone on silent, and put it away in a bag or other part of the room.
3. Break down big tasks into smaller ones.
When you have a big project to complete, it’s not always obvious where to start or what the steps to finishing it are. Make it easier for yourself by breaking down the task into more manageable chunks. For example, you could break down an essay into items like, “Choose topic,” “Research topic,” “Write thesis statement,” “Make outline,” etc. If you’re still not sure how to go about it, break the chunks down into even smaller bits: “Get out textbook and notebook,” “Re-read instructions,” “Write one sentence.”
4. Start small.
It takes more energy to start a task than it does to continue it. Just getting out your books and putting pencil to paper (or fingers to keyboard) can make a big difference in getting over the procrastination hurdle. Instead of telling yourself “It’s time to complete this project,” tell yourself, “It’s time to work for 5 minutes.” After 5 minutes, you’ll find that it’s much easier to keep working.
5. Create rewards.
Beginning a big project due in 4 weeks isn’t immediately rewarding, so it can be hard to feel motivated. Create a small reward, like getting ice cream, for beginning a task or completing an item on your to-do list. This can make mundane tasks more enticing, and help you feel motivated.
6. Find a study buddy.
Sometimes, just having someone else around can make working easier. That connection, even if you’re just working silently side by side, can be comforting and motivating. If you think this might help, find a friend who inspires or motivates you, and set up some study time!
7. Visualize how good it will feel to be done.
This is another way to motivate yourself. Think about how accomplished, proud and free you’ll feel when you’ve finished the project.
Remember that changing your habits takes time and patience. If you slip up, try not to be too hard on yourself. Instead, practice some self-compassion, and then recommit yourself to your goal to stop procrastinating.
If you’re 10-22 years old in NYC, get confidential, comprehensive healthcare at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center by calling (212) 423-3000.