|Professor Fuschia Sirois is the Professor of Social Health and Psychology at Durham University.|
As a student myself, I’ve put off this very article for weeks. When I finally sat down to write it, I watched an episode of Young Sheldon on TikTok, did a quiz about how many Taylor Swift songs I can name, and had lots of “little breaks” that somehow spanned hours.
Sound familiar? You’ve probably heard of the word procrastination, and if you’re anything like me, you probably get caught up in it from time to time. We consistently postpone tasks, even if we actually want to get them done. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of “I’ll just do it later”, and we aren’t the only ones: about 20 percent of the general population are impacted by procrastination, too.
If you already have an intense study load, it’s easy for things to get overwhelming pretty fast. So, as a fellow student, how do you stay out of the trap of the endless TikTok scroll when you have things to get done?
I spoke to Professor Fuschia Sirois, a Professor of Social Health and Psychology at Durham University, to bring you the best tips on how to look after yourself as a busy student!
What is procrastination?
Professor Sirois explained that procrastination is the delay in beginning an intended important task, even if you know there may be consequences if you don’t complete the task.
“So it’s not something that’s trivial, and you delay this task unnecessarily,” she explains.
“It wasn’t because there was an emergency… it’s not because someone told you to stop doing it and work on something else. And despite knowing that there’ll be harmful consequences for yourself or others as a result of this delay.”
But it’s one thing to recognise procrastination: it’s also important to understand the root of the issue. Most importantly, take comfort in knowing that it isn’t a matter of being lazy!
Why do we procrastinate?
Sirois and her colleagues proposed a “temporal mood regulation view of procrastination” after noticing that people often tend to procrastinate unpleasant tasks. She proposes that procrastinating is a form of mood regulation and “avoidant coping”, and we do it to avoid difficult emotions attached to a task.
“It doesn’t mean that the task is difficult, the task can be a simple one,” she explains. “But in our minds… there’s some difficult feelings around it.”
“It might be that we worry about whether the completion of that task will meet the standards of the people we’re trying to impress, or our own standards, so there might be perfectionism there.”
Sirois says that another reason we might procrastinate could be stressing about the deadline. Low self-esteem could also contribute to why someone might have negative emotions surrounding a task.
“We might just have low self-esteem and just worry that we’re not competent enough or capable enough to actually get that task done,” she says.
“A quick and easy solution, take that task, put it aside, and ‘Ah, I don’t have to think about it anymore, I feel better already’, right? So you’ve just regulated your mood by procrastinating.”
How can procrastination impact you as a student?
As a student, you’ve got a lot on your plate. You’re trying to attend all your classes, do all the assigned readings, have a social life, and often manage working outside of university, all the while trying to get your assignments in on time. It’s not easy, and it makes sense that you might have negative or difficult emotions when it comes to certain tasks – especially a big essay!
Sirois adds that even people that aren’t usually prone to procrastination may pick it up due to a coping overload.
“So you've got a backdrop of stressors that is demanding your attention, and you know, all those limited coping resources you have, you're doing everything you can to cope with all those other demands,” she says.
“You don't have much left for that studying or that task, which is also unpleasant, right? And so what happens then, is we, you know, we have limited coping resources.
“At any given time, we can always develop those afterwards. But in the moment, we sometimes don't know what that coping limit is. And we might find ourselves overwhelmed with these other demands.”
At that point, we often turn to putting the task aside so we don’t have to deal with it.
What can you do to avoid procrastinating?
1. Break tasks down into smaller pieces
If you have a big assignment due, try and forget about how big it is: instead, break it down into small sections and focus on one thing at a time.
“So taking large, overwhelming type tasks, breaking them down into smaller, more manageable tasks, reduces that stress and makes it less likely that you're going to want to avoid doing that to avoid and manage those emotions,” Sirois says.
2. Avoid distractions
“There's a myth that people who procrastinate don't do anything. They actually can get quite busy with a lot of other things, except the thing that they should be doing,” Fuschia says.
To make sure you’re not busying yourself with things you shouldn’t be, it’s a good idea to try and minimise your chances of being distracted wherever possible. Try putting your phone on do not disturb and avoid things like having a T.V. on in the background.
3. Plan for distractions
Despite your best efforts, there’s still a chance that a distraction or two might slip through the cracks. This is why it’s a great idea to have plans in place for those situations where you do get a phone call or text while you’re trying to focus!
“And so you can set yourself up and say, 'If my friend calls me, I'll hang up'… you have to expect that you're going to get interrupted, especially the social temptations and interruptions,” Sirois says.
“If you expect them and you plan for them. A lot of research has shown that that sort of planning for you know distractions, if you'd like, is a really good way to manage them - you're not caught off guard.”
At the end of the day, procrastination is very common, so don’t put yourself down if you recognise yourself a little in this article! All you can do is your best, and hopefully these tips can be a stepping stone to helping ease the pressure when it comes to exam time!
If you’re struggling with procrastination yourself don’t hesitate to reach out to your university or a mental health professional. For more resources visit headspace.
About The Author
Clareese is a Media and Communications (journalism) graduate from La Trobe University. She worked at GradConnection as a Student Journalist where she covered a range of topics on the student blog and reported on the 2023 Top100 Awards. She’s now working in an exciting new role as a Cadet Journalist at News Corp based in NSW.