It’s a New Year’s resolution college students the world over make over and over: “This is the year that I will stop procrastinating on my assignments.” But one professor says that the first step to ending this habit is to rethink the way we view it. “The research shows that self-awareness is the first step in any kind of behavior change,” says Dominic Voge, Associate Director of the Undergraduate Learning Program at Princeton University. “Most people see procrastination as some kind of failure in yourself, but that’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem.”
We asked Voge why so many of us procrastinate and what we can do about it.
Identify the problem: “Procrastination is often a self-protection strategy,” he explains. “It’s protecting our self-concept of being capable and smart people.” This concept is particularly common among college students, many of whom are experiencing an academically competitive environment for the first time. “If we wait until the last minute to study or write a paper, we can say to ourselves, ‘If I perform poorly, it’s because I didn’t have enough time,” Voge says.
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Learn to use blocks of time: “It’s easy to say ‘Why even start’ if you only have an hour between classes or if you are really tired, notes Voge. “But you can say, ‘Instead of watching TV, I can review my notes from class or I can skim a chapter of my textbook,’” he says. The trick is to assign yourself reasonable tasks. A half-hour is probably not enough to do your chemistry assignments, but it’s enough time to review vocabulary for a language course.
Give yourselfa fun goal: Part of the reason procrastination often feels like an insoluble problem, says Voge, is because “Procrastination feels like a big wall, [it blocks you]. So what is something that is going to get you over that wall?” Voge suggests making a list of your interests and long-term goals to figure out your motivations. Do you like the satisfaction of successfully solving a problem or delving into research? Concentrating on the aspects of your classes that you like rather than focusing only on grades (which aren’t solely in your control) goes a long way. “When students have a life goal the thought of grades tends to diminish and their grades tend to go up,” says Voge.
Follow Lakshmi Gandhi on Twitter @LakshmiGandhi.