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Studying from Home: Overcoming Procrastination


Procrastination is a common problem when taking classes from home. Students are either too distracted or too comfortable, so they repeatedly put off doing schoolwork. As schools from over 130 countries continue to stay closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more students are forced to keep taking online courses. In this article, we discuss how procrastination affects students and how to overcome this bad habit.

Why is procrastination so irresistible?

Studying from Home: Overcoming Procrastination

It’s easy to blame technology. The same technology that helps students cope with the quarantine restrictions also offers distractions that tempt them to procrastinate. Phones and laptops have productivity apps to make life easier, like Google Keep, Evernote, and Microsoft OneNote. You can attend online classes with Zoom, Google Classroom, or Discord. The internet offers educational blogs, podcasts, and live streaming talks. Yet these same tools and online sources can distract students so much that they stop doing schoolwork and just keep browsing or video conferencing with friends.

So, why do students binge-read the Harry Potter books even after finishing their book reports? Why is it so easy to get lost in Facebook posts when there's academic research to be done? Why is it so tempting to play video games rather than finishing the project that's due tomorrow? As Dr. Fuschia Sirois, professor of psychology, says, “it doesn’t make sense to do something you know will have negative consequences.” And yet students still procrastinate.

Procrastination is not actually caused by distractions, laziness, or even time-management problems. According to Piers Steel, the author of "The Procrastination Equation", 95% of people procrastinate (and 5% are probably lying). We keep setting our 20-page assignments aside because that’s just what people do. Procrastination is part of human nature.

From a neurological standpoint, everyone is a rational decision-maker. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for making choices based on what is most sensible at the moment. When we're given deadlines, we plan out how we should ration our time and finish our tasks without compromising quality. But our limbic system also wants to satisfy our cravings, specifically our desire for instant gratification. When we procrastinate, that's simply the limbic system overriding the prefrontal cortex. 

The human brain favors dopamine, the pleasure hormone, so it pushes us toward instant gratification rather than toward finishing tedious tasks that trigger the stress response.

How does procrastination affect your studies and your well-being?

Studying from Home: Overcoming Procrastination

Since everyone procrastinates anyway, what’s so bad about it? If we can put off work until the last minute and still get the job done, what’s wrong with that? 

In Tice, Baumeister, and Ferrari’s study, college students who procrastinated experienced short-term benefits like lower stress levels since they engaged in more pleasurable activities before finishing their schoolwork. However, as the semester was ending, these same students experienced an overall decline in their health and well-being:

  • earned relatively lower grades in their classes
  • gained higher cumulative amounts of stress
  • and suffered from anxiety, guilt, and frustration

In his Ted Talk, Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator, Tim Urban further explained that procrastinators would most likely fail to achieve their long-term goals without the pressure of deadlines. Overall, even if procrastination is natural, it is unhealthy and undermines your efforts to accomplish tasks.

How can students overcome procrastination?

Studying from Home: Overcoming Procrastination

There is no one sure way to overcome procrastination. Joseph Ferrari says that telling a procrastinator to "Just do it," is similar to telling a clinically depressed person to "Cheer up." There are several simple ways for students to fight the urge to procrastinate. Using the following tips consistently can help you become productive when studying at home.

1. Beware of procrastination triggers.

According to Blunt and Pychyl, we put off work when we consider tasks to be boring, frustrating, difficult, ambiguous, unstructured, or not rewarding. If you find yourself describing your current tasks with these words, remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing. Then, address the reason why you are not motivated to continue as scheduled.

  • If you find an assignment boring, ask your parents for help. Having an authoritative figure around makes focusing easier. Plus, you get help with your homework. 
  • When you’re stuck and getting frustrated, pause for a few minutes and clear your mind so you can come back to your schoolwork refreshed. Using a time limit is going to help you stay on track with this. 
  • Break down ambiguous big tasks into smaller, more doable subtasks. Restructure your work and make a checklist. Marking each finished task can give you the sense of accomplishment you need to motivate you to keep moving forward.

2. Organize your study space.

Clutter on your table, or anywhere in your room for that matter, can easily distract you. Cleaning up before studying keeps you from getting sidetracked every time you notice something is out of place. Using cool room lighting can also help you focus.

3. Set realistic personal goals.

Make a separate set of deadlines for your tasks according to what you know to be more manageable for you. If you have a project due in a week, break it up into subtasks you're sure you can deliver on. Set personal deadlines that are days earlier than the project's actual deadline. It's easy to give in to the urge to procrastinate when a task seems daunting so using this practical approach helps you stay the course.

4. Remind yourself that schoolwork is worthwhile.

Consider the consequences of failing to finish your work on time and how it would impact your academic career. Then, think about how important graduating and becoming independent is. Whenever you're feeling unmotivated, look at the big picture and draw strength from the prospect of achieving your long-term goals.

5. Join an online study group or get an online tutor.

Studying from home can quickly become boring without any physical interaction with your peers. Joining online study groups can help ease this by giving you a sense of community outside of your online classes. Having an online tutor also adds more much-needed variety to your online learning experience.

6. Reward yourself when you finish on time.

In his book, "Still, Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done," Ferrari says that while late submissions are met with punishment, finishing on time or earlier than expected rarely gets rewarded. He suggests a more progressive view of procrastination interventions and encourages everyone, especially teachers, to use positive reinforcement rather than negative punishment to motivate students more effectively. As a student, you can do this for yourself too. For example, every time you finish an assignment, allow yourself 15 minutes more time for gaming.

7. Be forgiving when you catch yourself procrastinating.

In "I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination", the researchers reported that students who forgave themselves for procrastinating on the first exam were less likely to procrastinate again when studying for the next ones. Self-forgiveness allows students to move past their self-defeating behavior--procrastinating--and focus on the next best thing.

How about you? Have you been procrastinating lately? Share your thoughts on studying from home and procrastinating on OSAU today!

Academic Guide

Works as Management Team at Our School and Us