The pain of procrastination and how to beat it

Procrastination (noun). The action of delaying or postponing something.

Procrastination, we’ve all been there. You’re about to start your essay 48 hours before its due, or you could start sharpening those colouring pencils Auntie June got you for Christmas 2013. You have to start on your history revision, but you also have to check which song Taylor wrote about Jake Gyllenhaal. This coursework isn’t going to complete itself, mind you neither is FIFA.

Let’s be honest. You’re probably procrastinating right now. So why do we procrastinate? And how do we get over it? As much as it’s fun to say (it’s probably the longest word in our vocabulary), it would really help everyone’s work flow if we could get over it. 

Why do we procrastinate?

Dr Paraic Scanlon, Lecturer in Development Psychology, School of Social Sciences

We all know it’s important to work but at the back of our head we know we have days, weeks and months before handing in that essay or sitting in the exam hall. So our procrastinator comes out and our workflow comes to a halt.

Why is procrastination bad for studying?

Cramming can lead us to believe we have studied the important thing well and will remember them the next day, but instead we recognise a stat here, a keyword there, and several other pieces of text.

As Paraic puts it: "In reality, recognising information is easier than remembering it, and uses a less complex system in your brain. Alongside not actually helping you remember well, procrastination is linked to increased stress late in term and at exam times, higher levels of illness in students, and decreased exam performance."

Cramming might improve your recognition, but is less likely to help you actually remember the important information. So by leaving study until the last minute, you are likely to feel worse and perform below your real ability! 

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How to beat procrastination

The person who can find a cure for procrastination will no doubt become a millionaire. Possibly even a billionaire. And that’s because there is no method to fully stop our minds wandering. But there are techniques to help us stay focused and on task.

1. Try counting down from three

When you hit one, dive straight into the task you are meant to be completing. This helps gives you something to aim for.

2. Make sure you reward yourself

Our student Rimah Nusaybah recommends "putting something you enjoy doing after studying on your timetable." This allows you to feel like you’ve got something positive to look forward to once you’ve completed your work. This, in turn, keep you motivated to complete what you need to get done.

3. Study with friends

Dr Paraic Scanlon suggests a study group may be the way to go on improving procrastination. "Tips at improving [include] active engagement in peer-led study sessions to focus your learning, outside of the formal classroom. Having a group of friends as a study group really can help focus your mind on learning!"

Studying is hard. Plain and simple. We’re all going to procrastinate, but by doing a little bit each day and spacing it over time, learning to reward yourself and working with friends, you may find there is room to play FIFA and still do some work. It’s not going to be easy but procrastination can be beaten.

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Dr Paraic Scanlon

Lecturer in Development Psychology

School of Social Sciences 

Paraic completed his undergraduate degree in Psychology at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Following this he worked in a centre for special education with children on the Autistic Spectrum before returning to NUI Maynooth for his PhD research. His project, entitled 'Behavioural and electrophysiological correlates of source memory in normal ageing' examined changes in memory function in young, middle-aged and older adults using a variety of tasks and high-density ERP recording. During his PhD he also worked as an adjunct lecturer in psychology at Limerick Institute of Technology.