Procrastination at exam times

Procrastination at exam times

We’ve all been there, you need to write 500 words a day in order to meet your deadline but today you’ve decided to clean the oven instead, you know you need to do the work, you want to do the work but for some reason, you have an urge to clean up instead. This is procrastination.

Procrastination can be difficult to break out of; students often suffer with it at a time when it’s least needed. It is perfectly normal. But it needs to stop. Delaying and avoiding issues that matter to us does sound hypocritical, so why do we do it?

When you look at the science, procrastination falls into research known as behavioural psychology. It means that as humans we value immediate rewards more highly than future rewards. However, your future self can only achieve the goals that your present self takes action for. This is why it is so important to have goals, even if you don’t feel like writing that essay today, you know that in the future it will bring you gratification. However, these long term consequences cannot be relied upon to motivate yourself.

Procrastination at exam times

Time to take action

Take a minute and think about why you are putting off your work, do you not feel confident with starting, do you not feel prepared enough or are you anxious about starting it and not doing well? In this situation, worrying about procrastinating is actually worse than worrying about your work. It is a recurring problem that students put off doing work because they’re procrastinating when all that energy should be going into starting the work.

Reward based motivation

Writing an essay or preparing revision can be hard, but what a lot of people don’t realise is that really it is all about self-control which is where a reward-based system comes in. However, this needs to start with a goal, I don’t mean a big goal, just one that you feel is manageable, 200 words a day for example. Every time you write 50 words then you get to eat a square of chocolate. Or you could do it in time rewards, every time you work for half an hour, you get to reward yourself with 20 minutes of Game of Thrones. But the key with reward-based motivation is sticking to it, otherwise it doesn’t work. However, small measures of progress are very important to measure, as they all build up meaning you are more likely to finish large tasks without feeling overwhelmed by them.

Procrastination at exam times

Getting yourself in the mood

You are more likely to procrastinate if you are not ready for work. This could mean different things to different people but generally it is that you are well rested, you have eaten and are hydrated, and you feel ready. Getting a good night sleep the night before is essential as it will keep your brain active and ready for thinking. Making sure you have eaten well is important too, there is no point in living off custard creams and baked beans, this is not food for the brain. A healthy balanced diet is important in a student’s life. Some people have found that exercise gets them in the mood for work, this does make sense as when you’ve done exercise your blood is pumping, and you feel invigorated. This can motivate you to sit down and focus on the essay.

Stop yourself procrastinating

This next step focuses on stopping your actions ahead of time and is a bit more extreme, so hiding your TV in your wardrobe to stop you watching TV mindlessly. However, a more subtle way to stop yourself from procrastinating is to use an app. Using your phone is a guaranteed way of not doing your work but sometimes seeing the chime and the notifications flood in can be hard to distract yourself from. This is why using an app like forest which grows a tree for the amount of time you work can be incredibly helpful. This will tie in to rewards being more immediate too. You work for half an hour and you have a tree. This step will also require self-control but if you go to an extreme length such as giving your phone to a flatmate it shows dedication and the work you get for it will be reward enough.

Procrastination at exam times

Make it manageable

Sometimes procrastination is centred around a particular piece of work, you can struggle with it for a long time but ultimately it has got to be manageable. Reducing the size of your workload can improve your mind set, an essay of 3500 words can weigh heavily on you but a paragraph of 500 words seems much more manageable. By breaking it down into chunks and viewing it as separate pieces of work, you can focus easily and not worry about the overall message. This will also help you develop a positive attitude which will increase your productivity.

All these tips are only helpful if they are continually done. Staying consistent is a key way to ensure your work remains at a high level. However, this can be difficult. There needs to be a method which you can use to ensure you are on track. A key way to make this happen is to write down the steps that you need to do. Keep the list small and prioritise them. It is different for each person but don’t do all the easy ones first but equally don’t do all the hard ones first. The best way to do it is to mix them up. This will tie into a reward  based motivation, completing an easy task gives a sense of satisfaction and can motivate you for the next harder task.

This is simple because it works. Often students make complicated lists or confusing schedules. Keeping it simple means that you are more likely to succeed.


Procrastination at exam times

Helen Rodgers

Lifestyle / Employment Writer. Helen studies Ancient History at the University of Nottingham and writes a weekly article on balancing student and working life.