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Overcoming Academic Procrastination 

This message is reprinted from my monthly email newsletter. Subscribe to have it delivered directly to your inbox.

This message is coming out a little later in the month than usual for a few reasons, but one of which is relevant to my upcoming point: I procrastinated. 

Yep. Professors and academic advising experts like me do it too. If you are a human reading this email, you may have experienced this phenomenon too, which means you should read on and find out how to cope and help students to manage procrastination as well.

In my field of educational psychology, we focus on how our brains both cause and interfere with learning in schools. Procrastination is a great example of your own brain getting in your way! 

Here’s what both science and experience tell me about Academic Procrastination:

  1. Understand it in order to beat it: Recognizing the triggers is the first step towards combating procrastination effectively. Procrastination stems from various sources, including fear of failure, resistance to discomfort, and low value for the task at hand. Notice that “laziness” isn’t one of the sources, though: Too many students come to believe that they are simply lazy when they procrastinate instead of peering behind the curtain to see they’re actually “scared.” A very different emotion to address.

  1. Be nicer to yourself: Research tells us that you actually have to be self-compassionate about your procrastination. Instead of beating yourself up when a task gets pushed back, you recognize that the process fell short of your hopes, learn from it, and plan to improve next time. This is a much healthier approach and actually much more effective toward improvement. Students who bemoan themselves about their procrastination develop shame about it. Shame becomes a terrible block to overcome later (trust me, I have spent many hours of my life helping college students unlearn their shame-based beliefs that they are lazy and unworthy if they procrastinate).

  1. Try out new strategies: 

  1. Get super specific about the task. I tell students that your to-do list should have BITE-SIZED tasks and clear ACTIONS. So, instead of “Chemistry Homework” on the homework list, try: “Read ch. 8 in Chem textbook; Work problems 1-10 today, 11-15 tomorrow.”

  2. Habit stack: add an oft-avoided task to an already existing routine. Putting off Chem homework? Start it during the afterclass snack that you always have. Every day. On repeat.

  3. Work in blocks with proper breaks: Students who tend to work for 5 min then get on social media for 5 tend to feel they are less productive than those who work without distraction for 30 min and take a break for 30. Same proportion but the sustained effort gives you more evidence of progress and less mental effort to renew attention after the break. 

  4. Plan out future tasks earlier than you will need: this is so common with the students I coach! They are so swamped in the daily mire that they don’t look a week or two ahead. They feel so much more empowered once we begin looking at a full coming week or even two at a time. Birds’ eye view for the win.

In short, academic procrastination is common for students–and a lifelong experience for most adults that can be managed with a good combination of new perspectives and new habits. 

Wishing you well,



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