Skip main navigation

£199.99 £139.99 for one year of Unlimited learning. Offer ends on 28 February 2023 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply

Find out more

How to tackle procrastination

This video explains the mechanisms behind procrastination.
Procrastination is just about as common as studying. We’ve already shown you how a good plan can help you to fight procrastination, but even if you have the perfect plan, you can still end up procrastinating. Most students who procrastinate a lot suffer from this. Having to keep coming up with excuses is exhausting. Watching a series might well provide welcome distraction, but it’s not long before a voice in your head tells you that you should have been studying. This increases your stress level, and it makes you feel guilty. The reality of the matter is this. Studying sometimes produces negative emotions. For example, because you can’t go of and do all those other fun things.
It also causes insecurity because you don’t know where to start, or aversion, because your book is hard to get through. And of course, we don’t want to feel those negative emotions. So we try to avoid them. The key message of this video is that battling the negative emotion costs you a lot of energy, and ultimately, it doesn’t help you. You waste all your energy trying to distract yourself and burying your head in the sand, instead of that energy going to the things that make your life worthwhile, which include studying and enjoying it. As with everything in life, you actually have the choice between the following two options.
One is to take an emotion-driven approach to studying, where you let yourself be guided by how you feel at a particular moment, or two, you take a value-driven approach, in which case you let yourself be guided by what you think is important and worthwhile. So it’s normal to feel those negative emotions, but you shouldn’t let them dictate your actions. This way of thinking is based on the acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT. So how can you be more value driven? The ACT model that we are about to show you helps you to look at your emotions from a different perspective.
In ACT, the things we don’t like doing in our everyday life, things that we find annoying, scary, or difficult, are referred to as clean pain. In ACT, pain is a broad term that describes a negative feeling. And clean means that it’s a pain that’s part and parcel of life. Life isn’t always fun, and neither is studying. So if you want to study, if you want to live more value-driven, you will have to accept the clean pain. And only when you start studying, you will notice that the clean pain of studying isn’t actually all that bad. In fact, studying can be even fun and interesting. After all, you’ve chosen your field of study for a reason, right?
But then you first have to power through that clean pain. If you put it off, the work piles up, you’re behind schedule, and that produces negative emotions. You may also feel angry or guilty or insecure. And that is what we call the dirty pain, the pain that arises when you haven’t studied. It comes on top of the clean pain, and together, that’s even more pain you have to go through. One thing that this model shows you is that being angry with yourself for procrastinating doesn’t do you any good. It’s actually counterproductive. The dirty pain just keeps on getting bigger. So beating yourself up is a waste of time.
The best thing is to actually stop being angry with yourself, come up with a new plan, and think of a reward, so something that you can give yourself when you’re done with the first step of the new plan. Not only is that kinder on yourself, but that’s also much more effective. Another way to help you stop procrastinating is to learn how to recognise avoidance behaviour. Avoidance strategies can be grouped
into three categories: avoidance, looking for distractions, and numbing. Avoidance is avoiding situations that confront you with your studies. For example, not checking your email so you don’t run the risk of reading about an assignment, or not contacting people who might start talking about your studies, or not making a plan, so you don’t have to work out how much you’ve still got to do. And the result is that you will still have to study, but that you’re also way behind schedule. Looking for distractions, for example, watching series, getting in touch with friends to hang out, surfing the internet, staying up late, and playing computer games. Actually, it’s anything that distracts you from thinking about your studies.
Some distractions might actually be good in principle, like doing the washing up, cleaning, or playing sports. But if you keep using those activities to avoid studying, they quickly become an avoidance strategy, too, and you’re left facing the same consequences. You still have to study, and you’ll be way behind schedule. And finally numbing. This might be through consuming alcohol or drugs, but food can also be a form of numbing if you eat so you don’t have to feel things. And result, your mood won’t be any better the next day. The work you had to do hasn’t gone anywhere. And you’ve eaten a whole bag of crisps, or you have a hangover.
Different types of behaviour can fall into several categories at the same time, and strategies might overlap. But learning to recognise avoidance behaviour in yourself is half the work. So if you have negative emotions, just accept that they are there, but don’t get bogged down in them too much. Go through the clean pain to prevent dirty pain from piling up. And the more you focus your sights on what you really want, so value-driven the more satisfaction and pleasure you can eventually get out of it.

So far we have looked at the role of thoughts and self-handicapping on procrastination. In this video we will take a better look at procrastination itself: what are the core mechanisms behind procrastination? Becoming aware of these mechanisms will help you to gain more control of it.

The mechanisms include:

  • Life orientation: emotion driven versus value driven

  • The difference between ‘clean pain’ and ‘dirty pain’
  • Three avoidance strategies:

    1 – Avoidance

    2 – Distraction

    3 – Numbing

Please let us know which avoidance strategies you recognise.

This article is from the free online

Improving Your Study Techniques

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education