95% of college students procrastinate. So how can you stop?
09. December 2022
Procrastination is a phenomenon that is being researched in universities around the world. According to some, it's a habit, while, according to others, it’s caused by anxiety or fear of failure. Many people procrastinate even when they enjoy the task. Although it’s hard to compare levels of procrastination over time, there’s evidence to suggest it’s on the rise: 40 years ago, only 5% of the population were considered chronic procrastinators. Today, in the global population an estimated 15-20% of adults suffer from chronic procrastination and up to 95% of college students procrastinate to some degree. The most time (around 47%) is “wasted” on the internet.
So, what does procrastination look like? It obviously varies from individual to individual, but a typical example would be when a deadline is approaching, but you don’t take any action. Then, the night before an exam or hand-in deadline for a work assignment, your adrenaline kicks in, and you get it done right on time. The final result makes you all the more pleased — you made it, and the work wasn’t even that bad! You pat yourself on the back and next time you decide to cut it even finer – after all, you clearly work best under pressure. But there are limits, and one day you'll come to a point where your “just in time” approach doesn’t work out, and the deadline will be missed, or the exam failed. There might be serious consequences – you might fail to complete your degree, miss a funding application deadline for your startup, or even lose your job. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
How do you deal with procrastination?
One way to gradually change your habits is to begin planning your activities in advance and reward yourself for completing tasks. Another is to take advantage of any bursts of energy and drive to get going: As the saying goes, "Do today what you'll thank yourself for tomorrow!"
What else helps? The three-minute rule and role-playing
You know that feeling, when you’d rather do anything than the task at hand? Laundry, cleaning, walking your neighbour’s dog? Well, sometimes it can be okay to give into those impulses, but make sure you’re thinking about your work while you’re doing them… you might get inspired. But, once you’ve done one “extra” it really is time to settle down and focus.
And, if there are lots of things at home to distract you, it might not be a bad idea to dress nicely, wear your favourite perfume and go to your favourite coffee shop or co-working space. Once you’re there, if you don’t need the internet to complete your task, turn off your wifi to minimise distractions. Open the thing you’re working on and give yourself a set amount of time to get on with it. Even if the idea or words won’t come, for that given amount of time, you won’t be giving your attention to anything else. You’ll be amazed how quickly the work will start flowing once you give yourself no option but to get on with it!
Try applying the three-minute rule. The author of this technique, psychologist Jennifer Wild, advises to apply them when you feel you could put the matter off. Tell yourself you'll give the unpleasant task at least three minutes and you'll see that three minutes quickly becomes six and before you know it, the task is done.
Another approach is to make yourself feel successful – the mindset alone can work wonders. It could also help to play some roles. Try to put yourself in the mindset of a successful and capable person you admire – a well-known entrepreneur, an outstanding manager or even a classmate or work colleague with a strong work ethic — how would this person approach the task? What would they do to perform at their best? Now try to Imagine that they are behind you, supporting you while you get it done. What encouragement would they be offering? What advice would they give? And would they agree that now is the right time to take a break? Don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and take this kind of game seriously.
A Book tip for even more inspiration: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield will help you uncover your weaknesses, which are often the very things that block your creativity. This book details how our natural struggles with resistance work, and how understanding these processes can keep you one step ahead.