Have you noticed how many funny cat compilations there are online these days? Take a look at this one – it’s only ten minutes…

The internet is good at helping you procrastinate. Delaying or postponing something, like watching the endless supply of funny cat videos instead of studying, is Procrastinating 101. The dangerous thing about it is that it can gain momentum quickly: by delaying your study, there is twice as much to do the next time. And that will inevitably make your study load appear even more daunting.

Here are some ways to avoid it altogether.

Recognising procrastination

You can’t generally fix a problem you don’t recognise. The first step is noticing. Typically, you will feel a nagging sensation that you should be doing that assignment. The washing or cleaning might ‘suddenly’ become more important (and who ever feels excited about that?).

This kind of random desire is a likely sign that you are about to procrastinate. Once you recognise the behaviour, it will be easier to manage.

Manage your time

Managing your time effectively is one of the best ways to avoid procrastination. Scheduling your daily and weekly activities isn’t about locking yourself into a suffocating routine of work work work, either. It is about allowing yourself space to do those things that help you stay well and motivated. So, if watching videos of funny cats is something that helps you to relax, then schedule it into your routine.

Read up on other techniques for managing your time more effectively.

Break tasks down

Sometimes, procrastination kicks in when we feel overwhelmed at the idea of starting a huge task, such as a 1,000 word essay. Treating your assignment (or other daunting activity) as a series of small tasks instead helps to reduce this feeling. Each small step you achieve is progress, and your sense of accomplishment is likely to reduce the temptation to procrastinate.

For example, imagine you are faced with a research report. Rather than diving into YouTube or cleaning the inside of your kitchen cupboards at the thought of writing 2,000 words, take a moment. Consider what the tasks might be. Maybe you could:

  • read the forum in Moodle for tips on the report
  • examine the question to ensure you understand it
  • find five journal articles
  • read one-five journal articles
  • draft an introduction

Then after you have made a start on your report, if you want to reward yourself with ten minutes watching cats, do it (just don’t forget to set a timer)! See the link below on rewards.

Minimise distractions

When you need to get work done, avoid or remove the things that distract you. This can range from studying in a quiet room to physically removing the distraction: unplug the modem if you’re addicted to checking Facebook or email. Turn off your phone, or at least switch it to silent.

It can help to define a study space that is free from distractions. The process of moving into this space can also help get you into the right head space to study. Read about study space here.

Reward yourself

Start rewarding yourself for your achievements. It might be going to the movies, doing an enjoyable activity, baking your favourite cake or something else. If you’ve broken your task into smaller parts, you could gather rewards along the way. For example, if you enjoy ice-cream, allow yourself a scoop after writing 250 words each night. This may motivate you to work each night.

You could then give yourself a larger reward for completing the overall task, or for working consistently. The key is to be strict about the system; don’t let it unravel by giving yourself the treat when you didn’t do the work. Make the reward something special so that it means more for you.

Get a support team

Making your friends or family aware of your new process can help you stay on task. Ask someone to check your word count every hour, or randomly drop by to make sure you are working. Tell them that you need to find five articles tomorrow so that they can nag you about it throughout the day.

Make sure, though, that you choose friends who aren’t going to lead you astray…

Do you procrastinate when you feel overwhelmed with how much you have to do? Try this five-step action plan to map out a way forward.