What’s the harm in taking five extra minutes to finish your social media scrolling before starting work? What’s the harm in relaxing for one more hour before the daily grind begins? No big deal, until you notice you’ve lost three hours! Now this procrastination has cost you an entire night of work because now you’re too sleepy to finish your assignment.
If you’ve always had trouble procrastinating homework, then it’s time to go deeper than the usual Shia LaBeouf “Just do it!” cliches. Let’s consider some tips for reprogramming your brain that work and how to stop procrastinating homework.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Nearly everyone experiences some problems with procrastination. According to a University of Vermont report, 46 percent of subjects said they “always or “nearly always” procrastinate writing papers, while 65 percent stated they would like to reduce procrastination for their academic studies.
More telling is the fact that modern research suggests there are degrees of procrastination, indicating there isn’t always a quick-fix solution. Not everyone procrastinates the same way and tips to learn how to stop procrastinating homework and other things are not always universally helpful.
Dr. Joseph Ferrari, Ph.D., says, “Everyone procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator.” He quotes research suggesting 20 percent of Americans are “chronic procrastinators,” which is a percentage higher than those diagnosed with clinical depression.
Commonly Suggested Reasons for Putting It Off
Psychologists have speculated that the most common reasons for procrastinating homework might include:
- Poor parental or authority models
- Lack of self-confidence
- Lack of self-love
- Underestimating time constraints
More complex theories from the Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) suggest students may experience “low frustration tolerance.” A study from the University of Louisiana speculated that procrastinating college subjects had “irrational beliefs,” though the exact thought process during procrastination remained a mystery.
Personal Motivation and Procrastination
Psychologists have reevaluated the age-old trend in recent years, however, especially in light of new studies. Research suggests there could be a link between procrastination and a lack of personally relevant motivation.
According to a University of Bieleland study, procrastinators are more likely to avoid action if they are “fulfilling duties assigned by others rather than engaging in tasks important to them personally.”
Doctors Axel Grund and Stefan Fries even suggest procrastinators don’t always consider their behavior a matter of weakness, but a mismatch in values, the goal of completing an assignment not reflecting their “post-modern liberal values.”
The lesson is that stopping procrastination involves not necessarily tough love or in punitive consequences, but in students achieving more specific and personally-fulfilling goals.
You might wonder then, “Shouldn’t graduating and finding a good job be motivation enough?”
The Self-Improving Benefits of Homework
There is some debate as to whether homework helps students academically. The Center for Public Education, in association with the National School Boards Association, made a bold statement based on multiple homework studies.
“There is no conclusive evidence that homework increases student achievement across the board.”
The real benefit of doing homework is not necessarily that it makes you a better student. Instead, the practice teaches students self-discipline, time management skills, and productive study habits. These are self-improvement skills for the business world, where concentration and dedication to a task are essential.
Being diligent in completing homework assignments helps to establish good character and an excellent work ethic. The benefits and the matching values are self-evident.
At heart, procrastination is self-defeating behavior and sacrifices our self-willed success in the future for temporary comfort in the present.
In the words of Dr. Fuschia Sirois of the University of Sheffield, procrastination is “an inability to manage moods…or challenging emotions.”
Understanding fluctuating moods, as well as your unique way of coping with negative emotions or thoughts, would be the first step in breaking the habit. A person retreats when they procrastinate. They avoid the source of stress or negativity rather than finding productive ways to cope.
Strategies for Changing the Procrastination Lifestyle
It’s not enough to only “will yourself” to do homework when you don’t feel like it. Your struggle is against procrastination, which is the product of your lifestyle. Logically, the strategy is to change your lifestyle, which has until now allowed for easy procrastination.
Completing homework assignments is, therefore, a matter of learning what lifestyle changes will work to your advantage.
Let’s start by looking closely at “When” and not “Why.”
Figure Out When Procrastination Happens to You
Becoming more self-aware of the habit is the first step. Doing so prevents you from going into that automatic “trance” where you surf, read, watch, and lose track of time.
You can only speculate why it happens, but you need to focus on when it happens. Figure out the most likely times that you zone out, postpone, and stop using your conscious mind to problem solve.
For instance, do you tend to procrastinate right after dinner? Or does late-day anxiety send you to the internet or video games? Figuring out the least productive times of day, as well as your peak energy hours, could help you with concentration. If you change your lifestyle from hour to hour, you will have fewer instances of zoning out and losing time.
Write a New Schedule to Thwart Procrastination
The next step is to rewrite your schedule with a time management strategy. According to UCSC Counseling and Psychological Services, getting a planner will help with more efficient scheduling. When creating your new plan:
- Schedule your homework as a top priority assignment and do it at the peak energy time of your day, but before you have to take on other low-priority tasks
- After completing homework, you can schedule a time for eating, socializing, relaxing, and other daily routines that require less concentration
- Use an electronic app to set the alarm for each high priority assignment
- Remind yourself as the chime plays that time is up, and it’s time to move onto the next item on your schedule
- Learn to re-prioritize tasks based on what is due first
Better organization can break you from the habit of unconscious loitering! Speaking of reorganizing…
Break Down Big Tasks into Manageable Parts
Think of a big homework assignment (and yes, just assume they’re all huge and daunting!) as an enormous piece of food. A juicy steak, a soy patty, vegetable lasagne, a red velvet bundt cake, use your imagination!
When you have to take a big bite out of an entree, you don’t swallow it whole. You make small bites, right? Approaching homework assignments is much the same way. Don’t prepare for a huge meal as if you’re gulping it all down in one breath.
Try to break the assignment down into manageable parts. Divide the work in its entirety into simple-to-do items, individual goals. Work on one thing at a time and follow it through until you’re finished. One by one, mark each task as completed.
By breaking large homework assignments into smaller ones, you don’t procrastinate, but you can postpone the stress of a substantial workload. Take small breaks in between each task to avoid fatigue.
Depending on the overall length of the assignment, these breaks could be anywhere from five minutes to twenty minutes. Set deadlines for each mini-task and keep track of your progress.
You can also re-prioritize tasks according to stress levels. For instance, if doing a particular task causes you high anxiety, finish another low-stress level activity first. Continue to tackle the more comfortable items first, giving you a boost of confidence.
Getting started is sometimes the most challenging part of procrastination. Negotiating with your mind, and realizing that you don’t have to finish everything at once, can help to reprogram your mind for productivity and achievement.
What Are Some Examples for Mini-Goals?
Creating little goals might be challenging in its own right. Here are some examples of breaking down a simple task.
- Read 5-10 pages instead of 50
- Setting a time to work on a project, like one hour, then break, and resume
- Solving a certain number of problems on a test or sample test
- Writing a certain amount of words
Remember that recording all of your activity is important for finishing the assignment. Create a schedule, a goal sheet (of all the mini-tasks), timelines and deadlines, and a checklist to review and track all your progress thoroughly.
Set Performance-Based S.M.A.R.T. Goals
S.M.A.R.T. goals refer to an acronym for more practical goals than just general success and completion. Goals should be:
- Specific (or a specific way to improve)
- Measurable (there must be some way to record progress beyond just win or lose)
- Achievable (Actionable and according to the ability of the person)
- Relevant (Realistic and researched goals)
- Time-bound (Deliverable results according to a timeline)
Goals that are more specific and researched have a better chance of success than generalized “win or lose” scenarios.
You may be thinking by now, “If it were only that easy! Just when I sit down to finish a task, someone or something distracts me!”
Of course. The world is continuously busy, and people are always sending signals, looking for your attention. That brings us to our next point.
Create an Environment Free From Distraction
If you’ve noticed many lapses in keeping a new schedule, ask yourself if you’ve changed the environment enough to accommodate your unique goals. Too much comfort in your old routine may lead to overconfidence.
Instead, redesign your ideal environment. According to some studies, the “mere presence of others…could either speed up or slow down performance”, depending on a student’s individual skill level. Other people can also serve as poor role models, while many people evaluate themselves compared to others.
It’s not surprising then to learn that catching up on the latest news involving people is usually a distraction to someone who struggles with procrastination. Everywhere you turn there is a “social distraction”, including:
- Checking social media streams
- Checking Smartphone or tablet notifications
- Watching TV or listening to the radio
- Friends and family sending you messages
- Casual surfing during your break – which can easily extend beyond the allotted time
Let’s also not forget other less human but still distracting social interactions like:
- Cats meowing for your attention or rubbing against your leg
- Dogs wanting to play
- Birds chirping (or screeching)
- Adorable pigs oinking at you
The point is, all of these distractions are bound to happen and interfere with work because they instantly take you out of your state of deep focus. The ideal room for doing homework is quiet, animal-free (close the doors!), and completely disconnected from the internet.
Successfully disconnecting from unwanted social distractions will require removing all temptations; deleting social media apps, turning off notifications, blocking addictive sites, and perhaps even logging out of social accounts before you start work.
Gain control over social media and internet addiction by checking apps according to schedule and not whenever you get a free minute or accomplish a simple task.
Forbes magazine had a great line about breaking social addiction; “Some of the best minds in the world have dedicated their lives to making social media more addictive.”
You are quite literally fighting an uphill battle when you think you can quit social media surfing anytime you want. By nature, it is a medium of distraction, one that evokes strong emotions to keep you viewing and clicking. Stay out of the “casino” until you have the time (money) to spend!
Resisting procrastination is as much about managing addictive coping behaviors as it is resolving to finish a task.
If You Must Take a Break, Do Something Else
Part of reprogramming your mind for more significant homework assignments is about changing your coping behaviors altogether. If you know that the urge to procrastinate happens at a certain point in time, then don’t fight it. Plan for it.
More importantly, change your coping strategy for dealing with the anxiety or boredom that you feel. Finding alternate ways to satisfy a restless mind will break the procrastination cycle while also giving your subconscious the rest it requires.
You can think up new coping mechanisms that are productive and helpful in accomplishing your daily goals. Rather than surfing social media when you have a moment, instead:
- Take a walk outside
- Exercise for fifteen minutes
- Read a book (that’s not too exciting!)
- Start a new hobby like art, music or crafting
By avoiding the usual go-to behavior – the same one that robs you of valuable time – you can retrain your mind to respond to new cues. Now you can stop the automatic responses that you’ve been creating over the years.
An article in the Harvard Business Review covered a social experiment involving a writer who quit an addiction to social media (a leading trigger for procrastination) by conducting a series of experiments.
The formula was easy:
- Social media “fast” for a month (break the craving)
- Limit all access to social media during work (remove temptation)
- Schedule time for social media (give your subconscious mind what it needs)
- Take a 24-hour weekend fast (Breaking the cycle regularly for shorter amounts of time)
These methods work because they retrain the mind stop automating our thought processes (which leads to procrastination and “lost time”) and instead returns your attention to conscious action and thinking.
You’re no longer allowed to coast through the day with the usual patterns. You actively think about what you’re doing, now that the addiction to procrastinating behaviors has lessened.
It might surprise you to discover that new hobbies enjoyed during downtime are more exciting than the old procrastinating behaviors that once consumed your attention.
Create a Network of Accountability Friends
The procrastinator’s ideal environment can sometimes turn into their greatest enemy – a quiet room! When no teacher or authority figure is watching over you, procrastination can sneak back in to disrupt your plans.
While some people can work independently, don’t assume everyone can do it well. After all, one study quoted in Neuron, states that human beings crave social interaction and validation from others – even from total strangers. Achieving a good reputation can activate the “reward” part of the brain, which links to motivation and success.
We don’t like the idea of “failing” others, even if they’re strangers, and that positive peer pressure can be advantageous. No, these people are not there to distract you while you work. Instead, they can be there for you after hours, to help you stay motivated.
Finding accountability friends or associates is a tremendous help for students trying to stop procrastinating. Reporting to someone on a weekly or even daily basis encourages friendly competition and mutual accountability.
Better yet, make it a point to talk about constructive topics related to your shared goals. For instance, discussing strategies that work, or various triggers that cause a problem.
If one of the group members doesn’t report their status, the others can send an email or phone the friend to make sure everything is still going smoothly.
When choosing an accountability partner(s):
- Choose someone ethical and honest
- Make sure they’re in this arrangement for the long-term
- Make sure they’re also students and personally understand the importance of stopping procrastination
- Make sure you find a compatible personality, someone who shares your values or sense of humor
- Always choose someone positive and make it a goal to stay positive in conversation
In addition to a work buddy, others around you can help. Decide in advance to tell friends and family about your goals to finish your homework on time and to get rid of procrastinating habits. Emphasize to them and yourself that you’ve committed to seeing this decision through.
Rewarding Yourself for Goals Achieved
For the last strategy tip, it’s time to review the concept of “training” the mind for success. By nature, we only want to do things that offer some benefit. Whether those benefits are physical or mental, or even short-term or long-term, our thoughts, feelings, and actions gravitate towards that which makes us feel good.
Things that cause revulsion or stress push us away. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that in a Northern Arizona University study, the tactic of penalizing procrastinating students for late assignments did not show any strong positive effects.
On the contrary, a reward-based system for delivering homework improved student performance and reduced the number of dishonest excuses for late work.
Be Good To Yourself
Give yourself a small reward for completing individual milestones, since this will associate positive things with keeping your disciplined schedule.
Little rewards not only boost your confidence for a job well done but also feeds your need for comfort and pleasurable feelings. Chasing these pleasant “highs” helps you stay motivated and in good spirits about finishing your homework.
According to research cited by Robert Eisenberger, the secret to creating a successful rewards-based system is to reward ourselves in small doses for the progress we make, not merely reaching the end of a task.
Waiting to complete an enormous task may cause more problems with procrastination. Don’t wait to reward yourself at the end of the day or week. Instead, reward yourself for reaching a minimum level of progress, perhaps after a couple of hours.
Remember we talked about SMART goals earlier? Putting more emphasis on performance-based goals, rather than “win or lose,” will give us a steady supply of rewards daily. Over the next few weeks, you will start to associate work, and the completion of goals, as something positive and fun.
Best of all, Since you are continually learning while doing your homework, you will train your brain to crave challenges and find satisfaction in finishing tasks. Rather than focusing on unpleasant tasks, which we learned are demotivational, we shift our perspective to see the pleasure that comes from the rewards.
You must decide what your “small rewards” might include and how they directly tie into staying focused on the task. For example:
- Studying in an enjoyable environment
- Talking to a friend
- Eating your favorite snack
- Watching a favorite TV or internet show for a short amount of time
- Working out or enjoying another hobby for a few minutes
Don’t Punish – Keep Positively Motivated
On the other hand, punishing yourself for missing deadlines and goals doesn’t seem motivational, does it?
Still, it’s reasonable to say training yourself to accomplish goals by a rewards-based system only works if there is something to contrast those high emotions. Rewards work if they are highlights, a joyful part of an otherwise typical day.
Rather than punishing yourself for procrastinating, simply refrain from rewarding yourself when progress has stalled. Don’t allow your subconscious mind the gift of a reward if you haven’t earned it by making the progress you committed to making.
Reward yourself generously for staying focused or simply deny yourself the pleasure that procrastination falsely lends to you. Procrastination’s comfort is short-lived and weak. Hold out for something better!
As stated in the outset, not everyone deals with procrastination in the same way, and some cases are far more serious than others. The A.D.D. Resource Center in New York states that chronic procrastination that can’t be addressed by better organizing may point to additional problems such as:
- Health problems or nutritional deficiencies
- Sleep deprivation
- Drugs or alcohol
- An unhealthy diet or lack of exercise
If repeated attempts to stop procrastination prove unsuccessful, and if educators can’t help by adjusting the workload, then going in for a medical checkup or psychological screening may prove helpful. This way, a doctor could rule out any underlying causes.
Read more about studies involving ADHD and procrastination at Psycom.net, which lists several research studies studying the effects of medication on severe ADHD students.
In summary, remember that overcoming procrastination is ultimately a choice that you must make. It’s not about merely choosing to do the work; of course, it’s not that easy. It’s about what you are willing to do to explore solutions and adjust your lifestyle to accommodate a new schedule.
By now, we know the formula for success:
- Figure out why you procrastinate, what stressors and distractions lure you in
- What role finding personal motivation plays
- How finishing homework teaches good discipline, which is helpful for your long-term future
- The importance of analyzing your faulty schedule so you can design a new and improved one
- Why you must break down large assignments into manageable pieces
- Set mini-goals that are realistic, specific and performance-based
- Create a quiet environment free of distractions
- Switch your go-to break activity to break the predictable procrastination cycle
- Find a network of friends and associates to be your accountability team
- Create a positive reward-based system for accomplishing smaller tasks and making progress
If you have the will to find a solution, you are no longer just standing still and seeking the next distraction. You are taking back control of your mind.
Many students who have stopped their procrastination habit speak of “visualizing their success.” They decide in advance that they’re going to change the way they think, study, and work. They choose when they’re going to complete a series of tasks, and figure out how they’re going to do it and guarantee success.
They anticipate the benefits. They research a plan for success. They plan SMART goals and recreate the ideal environment. It’s not just about will, but determination.
Decide to make a change in your heart and determine that you can do this. You will explore new solutions and use all of your resources available to finish your homework on time, every single time. Commit to your own success, and the procrastination habit will stay in the past rather than perpetually ruining your future.