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Advice and Counselling Service

Procrastination and study problems

The Advice and Counselling Service offer workshops for students struggling with getting started on revision or feeling overwhelmed and anxious about their workload, deadlines or exams.

Watch this 7 minute video about procrastination

One of the most common problems worrying students is the tendency to put thing off until the last moment - or to beyond the last moment. Of course it is not only students who have trouble with this habit. Probably every one of us has tried to avoid some unpalatable task at some time - it is a natural human reaction. However university students are particularly vulnerable, possibly because of the amount of work expected of them, the lack of formal structure in university and the range of tempting distractions on campus.

We all have our own preferred way of working. If letting the tension build up a bit before you get started works well for you, then there is no reason you should change. However, if you get increasingly behind with your work and end up feeling wretched about yourself and your course the problem needs addressing. Counsellors call the problem procrastination (from the Latin for "until tomorrow") and have given a lot of thought to why it happens and how to deal with it. Many people can and do break this habit.

Do any of these points sound familiar to you?

  • Difficulty in making a start on a piece of work or revision. Do you find yourself constant putting back your starting time and never actually getting going? Are you often waiting for the "right moment" to start or for inspiration to strike you?
  • Craving diversion. Does the need to tidy your room, do the shopping, phone home and so on become irresistible whenever you contemplate getting down to work? Do friends and social opportunities easily distract you from your work?
  • Ineffective working. Do you spend time in the library but end up with little to show for it? Do you stare at a blank piece of paper rather than being able to start writing?
  • Last minute rushing. Is all your work finally done at a breakneck speed the night before the final deadline or the exam? Do you often think you have not left yourself time to do the work justice?
  • Missed deadlines. Do you feel you are always requesting extensions and making excuses? Are you losing marks on work because it is late? Do you find it hard to get to classes?
  • Nagging guilt. Is your social and relaxation time spoilt by the continual feeling that you ought to be working? Do you often feel you have got a lower grade than you should have achieved?
  • Disappointment and self-reproach. Do you feel you are letting yourself down by putting things off? Do you think of yourself as lazy and as a poor student? Do you compare yourself unfavourably with others because of your procrastinating?  

If you answer yes to many of these questions, you may well have developed the habit of putting things off.

The Centre for Clinical Interventions provide detailed modules which help with overcoming different aspects of procrastination, based on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. They also provide information sheets which summarise key points on procrastination.

Alternatively, read these tips on how to avoid and overcome procrastination from the counsellors at the State University of New York. 

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