How to Avoid Procrastination in College: Helpful Advice for Students

Brittany A. and Brittany R. are college roommates, first semester Sophomores, American Cultural Studies majors, and both have projects due two weeks before midterm. Brittany A. is writing a paper on the passage of the 13th Amendment for her African American History class, while Brittany R. is contributing to a cooperative group presentation regarding European-introduced disease to Northeastern U.S. Native Americans for her North American Cultural Catastrophes class.

As part of their Freshman Seminar Class last year, they were required to participate in lessons and exercises about how to avoid procrastination or putting off until tomorrow what can and should be done today.  They should have both learned that putting things off until tomorrow, or two weeks from now, or mere hours before what you need to do must be done is a spectacularly bad way to operate in college. Brittany A. and Brittany R. absorbed that information and apply it to their lives in very dissimilar ways.  One Brittany completes her project with time to spare, confident that she’ll get a high grade, while the other Brittany…well, read on:

Project Start:how to avoid procrastination_group studyBoth Brittany’s are given their choice of topics to study and develop reports/presentations on. They are also both given the choice to work alone, or in groups.  Both know what topics they want to address.  Since Brittany A.’s knowledge about Abolitionis strong, she declines the opportunity to work with others on this project. She wants to take on the entire thing herself because it’s a topic she’s passionate about.  Brittany R. is also knowledgeable about her project topic, having done previous research and presentations.  However, Brittany R. also knows the value of working in groups; tasks can be divided and accountability for getting tasks done can be structured. She chooses to work on her project with three other people from her class.

Project In Progress, Weeks 1-3:

Brittany A. knows she has about six weeks to complete her project, which is so doable. She knows she could research and write the paper within just a few days, maybe even one afternoon, so she puts it on the back burner and focuses on anything but this project.  She is reminded weekly during class about her project but is unconcerned for the first several weeks. Brittany R. finds that her cooperative group is eager to get going, so they set a weekly meeting time. At their first meeting, they establish objectives, responsibilities, and roles for each member, and they hash out what their finished product should be. They also contact their professor during Week 2 to clarify her expectations and project details. By the time they are at the halfway mark, they have their sources, bibliography, abstract, and an outline.

Project In Progress, Weeks 4-6:how to avoid procrastination_deadline

Brittany A. starts working on her project. She finds her research sources, writes her abstract and has a goal of establishing her bibliography and an outline. But when she reads her abstract, she is overwhelmed and anxious, thinking she took on too broad a topic. Brittany R. continues to meet with her cooperative group weekly. They realize they have too many sources and too much information, some of it not germane to their objectives. They decide to meet twice a week to review each other’s work and provide support, suggestions, and edits.  By the beginning of the week, before the project is due, they have a draft for all members to review.

Project Due In Two Days:

Brittany A. asks Brittany R. on Saturday evening, “Is there school on Columbus Day?”, with the faint hope that there will be no classes on Monday, therefore giving Brittany A. an extra day to complete her project. Brittany R. informs her roommate that, sorry, there are classes on Monday. Brittany A. decides to email her professor, asking for an extension and some additional guidance about the project requirements.

Project Due Date:

how to avoid procrastination_deadline

Brittany R. and her group have submitted their project three days ago, and they receive excellent marks.  Brittany A. does get an extension from her professor, but even with the extra time, she completes the project with resentment and stress and knows that her project is not the work she is capable of, and her grade on the project reflects that.

A post-mortem look at how the Brittany’s approached their projects shows you ways to avoid procrastination and the subsequent stress and substandard work product.  It’s very simple:

●When you have a task with a deadline, look at the deadline and work backwards to create a schedule.

●If you can work in a group, do so. Establish accountability for each member of the group and make sure they know their responsibilities.

●Contact your professor/supervisor for clarification or with any other questions early in the process.

●Create a schedule that you need to adhere to.

●Break the big project down into small tasks.

●Don’t think “I can’t”, think “How can I?”

Procrastination can be a huge mental roadblock on the path to academic success.  Acknowledging it, and learning how to avoid procrastination, can provide you with an incredible edge.  So get done what you can get done today. And relax tomorrow.

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