As the semester winds down and exams loom nearer, some students may be looking at the face of anxiety and panic in the mirror. It can be overwhelming to think about exams and finals, even more so amidst a pandemic. These negative feelings can be exacerbated by the thought that you are the only one feeling this way, and everyone else seems to have their life together. I know I have struggled with these thoughts, and it is scary, but it is important to know that you are not alone in this! Many others may feel the same way and knowing this may be a source of comfort during this difficult time.
Sometimes, this stress and anxiety can lead to procrastination. You may choose to spend time on Tiktok, Instagram, or other distractions, despite knowing that you need to study and do your homework. The clock keeps ticking and ticking, and a feeling of internal panic settles in because you know that you should be working and that there is a lot of work to do, and if it isn’t completed, then the work will keep piling up. This can lead to a vicious cycle of increasing stress and anxiety and even more procrastination to avoid confronting the work you let pile up, ultimately leading up to the day before the exam or due date where you end up pulling an all-nighter to cram or finish and submit some mediocre work.
I am sure many of you have seen the plethora of videos on YouTube about how not to procrastinate, but those videos are only effective if you actually apply what you learned to your life. Watching those videos and then not doing anything afterward can give you a false sense of productivity, which is even worse than just scrolling mindlessly on your phone because you feel like you accomplished something. The harsh truth is that spending time watching productivity videos gives you no advantage whatsoever if what you watched was not implemented into your life. Even reading this post and then continuing to do exactly what you were doing before is not helpful.
There is usually an underlying reason as to why we procrastinate. Make sure to reflect when you find yourself procrastinating as to why you are choosing to avoid your work. This could feel uncomfortable, but it is important to keep working through it and try to get to the root of your problem. Reflect on these questions as you think:
Is the work too hard?
Does the task seem too large and daunting?
Do you find yourself not being able to focus or concentrate on your work?
Is your work something you do not enjoy?
By answering these questions and reflecting, you may be able to understand why you are procrastinating. Once you know the root of the issue, it can be tackled in various ways.
If your work seems too difficult to finish, then you can always ask someone for help. Reach out to a friend, a teacher, or ask your tutor if you are part of the Help Young Minds tutoring program! I found resources like Khan Academy and YouTube videos to be invaluable sources of information that could help with a difficult concept. If you’re feeling overwhelmed because the task at hand seems too daunting and large, and you just cannot figure out where to start, the first step is to look at the rubric. If it’s an exam you are studying for, look at all the topics or chapters you need to know. Then make a list of everything you need to do or review to finish this task. Divide those tasks over a certain number of days and try to make it your goal to complete the tasks that you assigned to yourself on that day. This will lessen the workload, and breaking the work into little chunks will help decrease the pressure.
If you are unable to focus on your work, try to minimize distractions around you. Working alone in a room without a TV or any people around really helped me focus. Of course, this can be challenging, considering we are in the midst of a pandemic, and a lot of people are working from home or going to online school. When I am in a situation like that, I just put in my headphones and play some white noise. I know some people like to listen to music when they work, and if you can confidently say listening to music works for you and isn’t distracting at all, then continue to do so. However, I find anything with lyrics to be an absolute focus killer because I’ll keep listening to the lyrics, which is why I’ll listen to rain sounds or ocean noises instead. This drowns out the other noises at home but lets me maintain my focus without distracting me. If you find yourself struggling with the same thing that I do, try it out and see if it works better for you! Another way to tackle this issue of not being able to focus is to assign one area of your house dedicated to just working if you cannot be in a separate room. This can be any space you feel comfortable in, and when you are sitting in that space, make sure that you only work there. Make that location a distraction-free zone. This will help your mind get into that work zone because it will associate that location with work only.
If you find that it’s not any of the other issues that are bothering you and that you just do not enjoy that specific class or work, it can be a little harder to tackle, but not impossible! I completely understand that feeling, and it can be especially difficult because some of your classes may not be optional. It truly is a dreadful feeling to have to do something you don’t enjoy, so there are a few ways you can make it easier for yourself. Give yourself small rewards when you finish a section of work or a page of reading. This can be any little thing like your favorite snack. Dividing your work into smaller sections, as mentioned before, will also make it seem more manageable and less dull to get through. Make sure to give yourself a bigger reward when you finish that big project or essay. You can treat yourself to your favorite meal or get that shirt you have been eyeing for a while now, essentially something that will propel you to keep going. These methods will motivate you to work and finish what you need to do even if you don’t necessarily enjoy the process.
Aside from these solutions, here are some more tips to combat procrastination:
Get organized! Now, this may take you some time and may even seem counterintuitive because your time would be much better spent on actually working rather than just planning, but this is a crucial step. If you have multiple deadlines to meet, then figuring out exactly what you need to do and what is of the highest priority is an essential step. I would recommend doing this on a piece of paper or something that isn’t your phone because if you go to check what you need to do or cross off a completed task, you can easily become distracted.
Put your phone away! I know that everyone says this, but this is truly one of the most important steps. Having your phone out of sight can be the difference between having a few productive hours versus spending those hours going down a rabbit hole on social media. Putting your phone on silent or do not disturb mode can help so you can no longer hear your notifications. If someone important has to reach you at any time, you can always change the settings on your phone to let only those notifications come through. It is important to note that you keep your phone out of sight, meaning it can be in another room or under a pillow, anywhere you cannot see it, because even just glancing at your phone could lead you to use it.
Try starting with something easy first! When I have a lot of work piled up and absolutely no motivation to do any of it, I like to start off with an easy assignment, something that will not take a lot of effort or time. After finishing that assignment, I am already in the zone to continue working, and I feel more productive and motivated, knowing that I already finished one assignment.
Procrastination is hard to beat, and it can cause more anxiety and stress, along with feelings of isolation, but remember that you are not alone in this. If these tips didn’t work for you or you find yourself struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out to someone. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. You won’t be able to beat the habit of procrastinating in one day. It will take some time, and there will be some days where you find yourself not accomplishing what you set out to do, and that is perfectly okay! Just make sure to pick yourself back up and try to think about what went wrong, so you know what not to do next time. Keep trying and learning and tweaking things until you find what works for you.
Finally, make sure not to overwork yourself. Take frequent breaks not to burn out. School can be tough, and it’s probably much harder because of the pandemic, so try your hardest and if things don’t end up the way you wanted them to, don’t beat yourself up over it. Just know that you gave the best you could in these circumstances and that matters.
Take care and stay safe :)