You’re up to your neck in assessments, and so after putting if off for as long as possible its time to study.

But first you need to clean your desk. Now you need to make a study snack – its brain fuel after all. You tell yourself you’ll just quickly check Facebook and log straight back off. And then before you know it you’re 6 hours deep into the wormhole that is YouTube. Its 11pm – too late to start studying now - so you’ll get up early tomorrow to start it. Rinse, repeat.

If this sounds like you then keep reading. This vicious cycle is all too familiar to most of us and it seems that for many procrastinating is almost second nature, and as such it feels next to impossible to break the habit.

End the chronic procrastination cycle once and for all through understanding the psychology behind why you procrastinate, and implementing the following hacks. ProcrastinEATING, stress sleeping or binge watching – whatever your favourite avoidance technique, here’s how to understand and beat it.

Understanding Procrastination

The intrinsic urge to put off necessary tasks is clearly an emotional decision rather than a rational one, and in order to stop procrastinating you need to understand the mental process behind it.

Essentially, it can be put down to our preference for instant gratification rather than long-term reward; for example, most of us when forced to choose between $50 today, or $60 in a months time would pick the $50. Human motivation is highly influenced by how imminent the reward is perceived to be, and the further away it is the more we discount its value. This which is partly why we choose binge watch Netflix instead of studying for an exam a month away, with procrastination techniques proving many small rewards instead of the future reward of getting a good mark on your test. Finishing season 2 of Daredevil seems more rewarding than a High Distinction, until ‘temporal proximity’ increases the value of getting a good mark, resulting in cramming the night before[1].

Understanding the mental process behind procrastination is only half the battle though; identifying your personal procrastinating style is also crucial. Dr Ferrari of DePaul University[2] identifies the three main procrastination styles:

  • Avoider: A fear based technique - avoiders don’t want to learn about their strengths and weaknesses in the work process, they have a fear of judgement and avoid making decisions.
  • Thrill-Seeker: Thrill-seekers enjoy the adrenaline rush of leaving tasks to the last minute, believing it to boost their performance.
  • Indecisive: Indecisive procrastinators are paralysed by perfectionism, and have a fear of failure or fear of living up to previous work, they would rather have their effort judged as opposed to their ability.

Through evaluating why you procrastinate, you’re more likely to address the underlying reasons and rationalise to get on with the job, utilising the motives and emotions behind your procrastination to conquer it.

Hacks to stop procrastinating

So now that you’ve got an awareness of why you procrastinate, here are our top hacks to push through your instinct to procrastinate.

  • Just 10 minutes

If you can’t bring yourself to start and have built up the unpleasantness of studying just tell yourself you’ll do 10 minutes then stop. 10 minutes is better than nothing, but most of the time you’ll get on a roll and wont want to stop, as you’ll begin to feel accomplished. This is down to the ‘Zeigarnik Effect’ kicking in, which compels us to finish tasks once we’ve actually started.

  • Change your mindset

A crucial hack to help with procrastination is to change your mindset on study; don’t think of it as a sacrifice in which you’re missing out on things you’d rather be doing – instead you’re enriching your mind and working towards your goals. Take the time to focus on the reasons behind your work, make your work reward focused as the proper motivation can take you far. Train yourself to enjoy the process rather than building up study as a negative experience and counting down the minutes and telling yourself “20 minutes of torture left”.

  • Make achievable goals

If you’re prone to procrastination, locking in a 6 hour block of study is only going to make you head for the hills. Know your weaknesses and be realistic, rather than going from no study to 6 hours a day, work up slowly instead, aim for 30 minutes a day, then 45, and so on until it becomes a maintainable habit. Don’t sacrifice too much or you’ll feel resentful and end up bailing altogether.  

  • Eliminate distractions

Checking Instagram can quickly lead to abandoning study altogether, so your best bet is to eliminate your procrastination triggers altogether. Put your phone on airplane mode so you cant receive messages or use the Internet, and download web apps such as Stay Focused that restrict you from accessing your chosen distracting sites for a block of time, and wont let up even if you restart your computer or uninstall the app during the allocated time. Even remove yourself from a distracting environment altogether; go to library instead where you’re surrounded by studious minds to motivate you.

  • Tell other people about your goals

Tell someone what you have to do, when you have to do it, and what results you want to achieve. When you have someone to answer to you’re more likely to actually hold yourself accountable. Choose wisely though, pick someone who’ll encourage you and won’t let you get away with slacking off, such as your friend from uni who never gets less than a distinction, or your most ‘mum’ friend.

So whilst it’s more than likely that right now you’re reading this article as a form of procrastination, hopefully we’ve motivated you to go straight back to study after this. So don’t make dealing with procrastination an issue for future you - sure, Olympic level procrastinators can still find something to distract them, but for the most part these procrastination hacks will help.