I recently had a meeting with a student where I was trying to help him think about all of the things he needed to do in order to keep moving ahead with his career plans. Most important in this regard, I reminded him how critical it was to contact the graduate program he was really interested in attending—it was actually on our campus. It was application time, and I told him that it would serve him well to talk to both the staff who dealt with applications and the faculty who were in the graduate program. I emphasized that it was one thing to read about the program, but quite another to talk to someone about what could be the next few years of your life. Moreover, having a one-on-one conversation would make you stand out (in a positive way) as the program decided whom to accept.
After spending some time talking about things, I calmly said, “So when do think you’ll contact the graduate program office?” I was not trying to be hard on him or make him feel guilty that he had not contacted anyone yet. I just wanted him to understand that I thought there were real advantages to contacting the program relatively soon. His answer to me was not what I expected, given his enthusiasm for continuing on to graduate school: “I am really busy, so I’m not sure when I’ll get around to contacting them.” Given his unexpected answer, I thought about whether I should press the issue, but instead I told him I hoped he could do it soon and wished him good luck with his future plans.
This kind of thinking by this student was not necessarily new to me, but it really got me thinking about the more general problem of college students not getting things done in a timely fashion. It includes the student described above, but also students waiting until the last minute to complete class assignments (written work and reading), and students failing to study in a timely fashion for exams. Finally, there are those students who procrastinate and impact their ability to obtain research assistantships, internships, jobs, etc.
As we all know, trying to solve the procrastination problem is extremely difficult. But, students need to have some way of overcoming the delays that can lead to low grades and missed opportunities, let alone the stress and pressure that result from waiting too long to get things completed. Here are some pieces of advice for students to help overcome procrastination:
1) Don’t think you need to get everything done at once. In my opinion your best bet is to work on things in a distributed fashion, getting a little done every day. The way to achieve this is to set up a schedule, a time management plan that you commit to and will follow throughout the semester. I have written about this in another post (https://beginnersguidetocollegesuccess.com/2016/01/20/dont-delay-set-up-a-study-schedule/)—check it out!
2) Write it down! It is not enough to have a plan in your mind. You need to force yourself to write down everything you need to do. This can be on your phone, in a planner or agenda, or on a “To-Do List”, anything that forces you to take the time to actively think about your schedule.
3) Reward yourself! In my way of thinking, you can reward yourself in two ways when you complete various tasks. First, you can reap the psychological reward of completion, by crossing out everything on your schedule, agenda, or list that you finish. It feels great to get things done! Second, you might consider giving yourself a small monetary reward for every task you complete. Then, at the end of some period of time use that money to buy or do something you really like.
4) Think about what it will mean if you do not get things done. Will you be happy when you do not finish your 5-page paper written? Doubtful. How will feel pulling an all-nighter right before an exam? Tired! The key is that you want to get things accomplished and feel good about yourself.
5) Blah! Blah! Blah! Toss the excuses and take control of your life. Excuses are simply not going to cut it, and are often BS. Be aware of all the excuses you can give for not getting something done (e.g., “I like when I’m feeling pressured,” “I’m too busy”, “I’ll get it done later”), and fight the urge to use these excuses. You may feel better giving these excuses, but they aren’t getting things accomplished.
6) Get motivated. Making sure you complete various tasks requires you to be motivated. One way you can do this is to always set goals, both short term and long term. Setting these goals ties in nicely with developing a schedule that guides you through the semester (#2 above). In addition, you need to set the kind of goals that will move you toward you career after college—what do you want to be after graduating and what do you need to do to achieve this career goal.
7) Avoid punishing yourself when you do not complete a task. There are bound to be times when you want to do something, but you don’t complete it. Accept that this will occur and don’t be too hard on yourself. You don’t want to have a negative impact on your motivation level, and (more important) you want to figure out the best way to avoid having this happen in the future.
8) Remember that overcoming procrastination is a battle. Your inability to get things done is not something that occurred up overnight. In fact, procrastination can be viewed as a habit that developed over time. Because of this, it will take some time to get rid of this habit and replace it with behaviors that work for you to get tasks completed. Start fighting against procrastination today!
I hope you will take my advice and get things done…now!
Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.