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Expert Advice: Beating Procrastination

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Waiting until the last minute to finish an essay or to study for an exam is nothing new in the life a college student. For many, procrastination develops into a bad habit of sleepless nights and missed deadlines, which become increasingly harder to kick with age.

Doing important tasks at the last minute is stressful, so it is not surprising that procrastination accounts for much of the anxiety young people face in their lives. According to the American Psychological Association, 83% of teenagers say that schoolwork causes them a significant amount of stress, comparable to stress trends seen in adults.

Beating procrastination takes work. To help you kick the habit and take back your sanity, NerdScholar asked university experts to break down some easy strategies to help get you going. Here’s what they had to say.


1. Set SMART goals.

Or rather, “specific, measurable, aggressive, realistic, and time-bound goals,” Jeremy Short, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, says. Instead of telling yourself to finish a project by the end of the week, breaking down your projects by setting specific, detailed goals will make you more productive, he says. Creating SMART goals will increase your odds of completing projects in a timely manner and will make you a more proactive person in the process.

There’s an app for that: 30/30 will keep track of all your upcoming tasks and goals and help you plan each day down to the last minute. The application forces you to work or study for 30 minutes, followed by another half hour block to unwind. (Price: Free)


2. Schedule in time for fun.

Setting goals is only useful if they are realistic. The best way to be productive during crunch time is to “schedule play activities first into your calendar, then your work.” Piers Steel, a professor at the University of Calgary, says. “It makes sure there is a payoff for being productive.”

When you do take time to check your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter during your work breaks, make sure to close your work files first, says Steel. The same rule applies when you should be concentrating on work—tune out of all activities that might distract you. School or work-related tasks and personal activities “should each have a different look and feel,” he says. “Collectively, you have just added another three months of productivity to your year, at least.”

There’s an app for that: AppDetox makes sure you separate your work from your play. It blocks you from accessing certain applications on your smartphone, such as Facebook and Twitter, for the amount of time you choose. (Price: Free for Android; not available for IOS)


3. Get a motivation buddy.

Whenever you start putting off your work, a motivation buddy will keep you accountable and help you stay on track, Justine Marie Shuey, a professor at Temple University, says. “It could be someone in your class, or it could be a friend or roommate. Change your scenery,” Shuey says, “and co-work on your own individual assignments together in the same space. You won’t feel as overwhelmed and they can help you minimize distractions.”

There’s an app for that: Procraster helps you keep track of your daily tasks and rewards you for your accomplishments. If you’re ever feeling stuck, Procraster will help you identify the problem and lend you some quick pick-me-up advice. (Price $0.99)


4. Do simple tasks immediately.

The best way to beat procrastination for good is to make a conscious effort to complete tasks immediately, says Short. Things like email can clutter your inbox, making you feel more disorganized. Answering emails right away, he says, can help clear up your mind for more important projects.

Setting regular reminders and alerts will also prompt you take to immediate action, Shuey says. Alarms on your calendar and smartphone that constantly appear will motivate you to get smaller tasks done right away.

There’s an app for that: Finish lets you prioritize by short, medium, and long-term tasks. It’s a great way to keep tabs on when homework is due or on lengthier assignments that need to be planned, such as essays. (Price: Free)


5. Have a routine wake-up time.

A great way to be more productive, and feel more optimistic about doing so, is to have a consistent morning schedule. One way to do this is to wake up at a set time every morning, Shuey says. “It will put your body into a routine and you will feel rested, even if you don’t go to bed as early. Use the extra time in the morning to relax, go for a run, or simply get things done while your energy is high,” she says.

There’s an app for that: White Noise not only helps drown out distracting noises while you work or study, it also works well as a sleep aid. Set the app to play soothing sounds or music while you sleep and feel better rested in the morning. (Price: $1.99)



Jeremy C. Short is the Rath Chair in Strategic Management at the Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma. He has published more than 50 research articles focusing on business management and entrepreneurship.

Justine Marie Shuey is an adjunct professor of Human Sexuality and related courses at Temple University, Montclair State University, Kean University, Middlesex County College, and Montgomery County Community College. She holds a doctorate degree in human sexuality.

Piers Steel is a professor in the Human Resources and Organizational Dynamics area at the University of Calgary. He is a recognized authority on the science of motivation and is known internationally for his procrastination research.


Procrastination image courtesy of Shutterstock.