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Do you often find yourself putting off assignments or projects in favor of more enjoyable tasks like watching television, scrolling through social media, or playing games? Do you end up doing an assignment for class the night before it is due when you had much longer to do it? A lot of the population deals with this struggle of procrastination—how do you change that behavior?

What is procrastination?

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines procrastinate as “to put off intentionally and habitually” or “to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.”

Many researchers describe it as “form of self-regulation failure characterized by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.”

And a lot of the time, it does not matter how organized you usually are, procrastination can hit everyone. Many people give into procrastinating, almost everyone will put off household chores, work, assignments, or projects in favor of doing something fun or relaxing. It’s not a sign of a serious problem.

Why do I procrastinate?

For many people, they procrastinate because they know they won’t enjoy a task. If the sink is filled with dishes, but they really hate doing them, they most likely will choose to scroll through social media or binge their favorite tv show. But there’s also the worry of not doing it correctly or finding it a difficult task to do. As a student, you can have fears of attempting a math concept you didn’t quite understand in class or there’s a worry that the essay you write will always sound clunky or unclear no matter how you approach it.

Seth Gillihan from Psychology Today describes a lot of procrastination in the term “negative reinforcement.” There is a sense of relief in delaying the task you do not want to do. He gives the example of cleaning the kitchen: you have an overwhelming sense of dread when you think about taking on that task, so you feel better watching your favorite tv show instead because you didn’t have to confront that dread. And the negative reinforcement continually happens—you enter the kitchen to make a meal and feel that dread, but you know you can avoid that dread if you distract yourself.

How do I stop procrastinating?

First and foremost, you should be kind to yourself. Know that everyone at some point has procrastinated. It is not a sign of anything serious—it is normal human behavior that you can affect and change! Here are some tips to help you break the cycle of procrastination.

  • Break big tasks down into smaller ones: Writing an essay, for example, can feel like a monster of a task. Instead of looking at the paper as a whole, think of the paper as smaller steps to complete a bigger picture. Start by making an outline of what your paper will follow. Allow yourself to have a mental break. Then tackle writing the intro. Then write the body, then the conclusion, then editing. And so on and so forth until the bigger picture of a finished paper is completed. Looking at the essay as a whole can feel like too big of a task and bring on that delaying relief and negative reinforcement. If we can break it down, any task or assignment can feel that much easier.
  • Make a plan: Knowing where to start can be the hardest part of accomplishing the tasks we put off. However, if we take the tip from before and utilize breaking down big projects into smaller ones, you should start where you think it’ll help most. In a school assignment, what needs to be done first so that you can finish the task? Do you need to research for an essay? Tackle that first and find what you need. Then allow yourself a break—step away from the research so you can come back to the assignment with a clear mind, and it won’t allow you to overwhelm yourself. Is that research for an essay? Start an outline so that you have a clear idea of what you want each paragraph to say. Having a plan will allow you to have a starting point that you can achieve, and make it that much easier to finish the tasks that cause you to procrastinate. For more information on how to make plans, read our Time Management blog post!
  • Remind Yourself to Do It: Time gets away from us when we procrastinate—and a lot of work done at the last minute is worse than an assignment that gets our full attention and time. Set alarms and reminders of when you should do your assignments, work, or tasks. Write down what you need to do and then mark it off once you accomplish it. Or ask someone to hold you accountable for what you need to do. Working on a project with a coworker? Have them help you stay on track so you both do what needs to be done successfully. Putting off housework? Ask whoever you live with to remind you that you need to clean the dishes or take out the trash when they see you putting it off.
  • Remember You Are Human: It’s easy to get caught up in what we need to do or what needs to be done and allow ourselves to drown in tasks. But, as previously mentioned, procrastination is not a sign of serious issue, but a natural human reaction. No one likes to do things they don’t like or don’t want to do. Allow yourself to take a break in the middle of your tasks, reward yourself for completing what you have done, and rest.

Procrastinating is a natural reaction to the tasks we need to do, the assignments we need to turn in, or the work projects that are due on certain days. And it’s something that you can conquer. Recognizing when your procrastinating goes a long way to defeating the negative reinforcement it brings. With ANU’s online learning environment, you can conquer procrastination. But with our High Tech, High Touch™ approach to your education, the resources you need to defeat procrastination are right at your fingertips. Reach out to your faculty and professors to stay on top of your assignments and connect with other students to collaborate. To learn more about the benefits of our eLearning programs, go to

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