How can I stop procrastinating?

Students usually procrastinate because a task feels too overwhelming, boring or difficult.

The best way to stop procrastinating is to ‘break down’ a big task into smaller steps.

For example, an essay requires you to do a series of steps:

1. Understand the question
2. Brainstorm ideas
3. Look for reference material on the library catalogue
4. Find reference material
5. Skim-read reference material (abstract, introduction, conclusion, headings)
6. Do an essay plan
7. Read reference material in detail and take notes
8. Write first draft
9. Write second draft
10. Edit and proofread
11. Print and hand in

If any of these steps feel too big, break them down further.

For example, step 3 above (look for reference material on library catalogues and journal databases) involves these mini-steps:

a) Find out if there are any required readings for assignment
b) Find out if there are any recommended readings for assignment
c) On paper, brainstorm other key search terms to enter into catalogue
d) Enter key search terms into catalogue
e) Write down call numbers of books to locate
f) Click on links to online journal articles
g) Borrow, photocopy, save or print relevant reference material

For many people, these steps are obvious – they would do these things without explicitly planning for them. Procrastinators, though, tend to get stuck. Often they have trouble starting. Focus on one small task and take action.

Sometimes taking a small step (like looking up a library catalogue) feels too daunting. Committing to the absolute minimum (e.g. going to the library homepage) might help the ball start rolling.

Set yourself a time limit. Small mini-steps set to short timeframes work best. What can you achieve in the next 30 minutes? With practice, you will get good at setting realistic timeframes. Be gentle on yourself.

Remember, something is better than nothing! Start with just one small step ...

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