Procrastination is a problem that I and almost everyone else has struggled with. When I was at university, I’d often wait until the last couple of days before an assignment was due before even starting, and even when I was studying I’d be easily distracted and inefficient.
So how do we study more effectively? As I’m not the most authoritative voice on this subject, I turned to others, and put out the following query:
How do you overcome procrastination and force yourself to study when you have to? Looking to hear unconventional or interesting methods people have. Personal stories welcome.
I got some great responses to that, and have included the best ones below. If you have an issue putting your head down and putting work in, I strongly recommend having a read through these responses! It’s likely that at least one will resonate with you, and quite possibly have a real impact on your efficiency. Also, if you have any tip(s) that aren’t written about below, you can also submit your own study tip here.
Our top 3 tips for students to be productive and avoid procrastination are what we call our CHECK-PLAN-DO method.
CHECK: Check in on what you need to do today while you get ready to face the day. Write down everything that needs to be completed, from whatever platform(s) your teachers may be using, whether with a pen or paper or in the notes app on your phone.
PLAN: Plan out the completion of each task, the plan for each action; when will you draft an essay? When will you submit it? etc. For work in progress, update the plan for completion if/as needed; for example, if you are doing a research project, you would first deconstruct the project guidelines before settling on a topic and then only after that would you begin your research and so on. Identify specific milestones to complete at specific times, and add them into the calendar on your phone.
DO: Do the work. Have to finish an assignment for tomorrow? Do it. Have a task due in two days but planned for completion today? Do it. Use a timer if you need extra help staying focused, set it and work until it goes off. Reward yourself with a little(!) break and then back to business until the work you need to have done today is completed. After which, you have the rest of the day to do what you like!
--Aisling O'Donoghue, Komo Consulting
2. Good habits
Procrastination is the enemy of success (or not getting good grades).
The way to fix this overtime is creating good habits.
The day is won the night before, thus creating the habit of scheduling your day the night before sets you up to win that next day.
According to the University of London, it takes 66 days to break and form a new habit, so this might be unbearable in the beginning, but the unbearable, will become uncomfortable and then it becomes unstoppable once you get past the 66 days (this is from The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod).
When scheduling your next day and study time, don't over pack your schedule. Do only what's essential and reward yourself each day you complete your tasks.
Again, after 66-days, this will become a habit and one that will get you extremely far in life.
When working with High School teens, they've share this feels uncomfortable in the beginning but does become a habit that makes life and school, much easier.
--Mike Kawula, Help A Teen
As a part of the class of 2020, I'm no stranger to procrastination.
Being a growing teenager who has a lot on her plate, school, family, friends, and work, it's hard to sit down and focus on school and study, especially if it's something I dread (mostly math).
It really feels like activities and chores scream for my attention. That can make it easy to put off papers, tests, and vital course work, which has led me to not do my best and turn in work past a deadline.
The biggest tip I have for overcoming procrastination and forcing myself to study is a bit different. I drink water! Dehydration has actually been one of the main causes of my lack of motivation, energy, and desire to complete my tasks.
When I drink water, my mind feels clearer, sharper, and more focused. It allows me to be more efficient in my tasks, and specifically when I'm writing essays or solving math problems, it makes me a lot quicker, so then I can give myself a break afterwards.
Another thing that gives me a boost and encourages me to not procrastinate is get my body moving a bit. Some light stretching, a little walk, or going outside can help you recharge and refresh, but not slack off, and then you can get right to work.
It's a work in progress, and I still procrastinate sometimes, but far less because my body feels better and less irritable.
--Elisha Fernandez, WhollyART
The key to avoiding procrastination is structure. Without regimented study time, students will waste time in countless ways. During school closures, many teachers are simply assigning reading and homework without any video conferencing support, which puts the onus on the student to create a schedule for their learning.
It’s critical that parents sit down with their children and hammer out a daily schedule that even includes activities like getting dressed (yes, they should dress up for school, even at home) and eating breakfast.
It would also be helpful for parents to help their child carve out a workspace at home, where they know they should sit down and study, whether that’s at the kitchen table or in the living room. What’s important is creating consistency. Children can even rotate spaces with each subject to add some variety.
This routine and consistency provides ways for the student and supporting adults to hold the student accountable.
--Allen Koh, Cardinal Education
5. Write it down
You can go online and google a ton of ways to stop procrastinating, but a lot of them are essentially brushing the real problem to the side. The reason you’re procrastinating.
My suggestion is to give yourself a task review. Write down what you need to do. Then answer these questions like the examples below:
- What reasons have I given for not doing this so far?
There’s too many distractions around me right now
- What am I not admitting to?
I don’t want to study because I don’t understand it or it’s boring
-What is the pay off for not doing it?
If I don’t do well in school I can blame not studying instead of trying and failing
-What is the cost if I don’t do it?
I will fail my exams, get lower grades, feel ashamed etc
-What would I rather feel
Accomplished, motivated, proud of myself
- What actions can I take to feel that way?
Dedicate a time slot in the morning to study, then I can feel accomplished for the rest of the day. Set up a study group with friends to be held accountable. Reward myself for studying.
- How committed am I to doing this on a scale of 1-10?
When you get an understanding of what feeling you’re trying to avoid while procrastinating, you will find it easier to fix it!
--Tessa Hull, No Right Way Ltd
Celebrating the small wins really helped push me through studying for my very logistical Google Ads certification. I entered each chapter of my study guide into a free website called Asana ( it's basically an online to-do list organizer).
Each time you complete a task in Asana, a rainbow unicorn shoots across your computer screen! It's way more motivating than you may think. I can genuinely attest that that little unicorn helped keep me turning pages in my studying for the exam. Not to mentioned, when the time came - I passed with flying colors!
--Alexa Kurtz, WebTek Computer Company
7. Set and Meet goals
Here are my top study tips:
1) create a review sheet while studying. When studying, it often seems like there's no end, which can sap motivation. By setting a goal to make a comprehensive review sheet, there is an actual end goal in site.
Creating the review sheet will teach you most of the material, and whatever you don't know by the time it's created will now be accessible in a clear, concise place.
2) Set a hard rule: no studying after 11 PM.
All nighters are an easy trap to fall into. However, studying done when exhausted isn't nearly as effective, and if you don't get a good night's sleep before a test you won't be on top of your game.
If you set a hard rule of not letting yourself study at night, you'll force yourself to take studying seriously during the day, since there won't be any time to catch up on study time if you goof off.
--Max Kimmel, One Shot Finance
8. Overcome Procrastination
Procrastination is the thief of opportunity. When people procrastinate they are missing opportunities to gain things such as time, money, skills, and knowledge. As an educator for over a decade, I find a lot of my students and parents are procrastinators. The best way to get over procrastination involves some reasonable practical behaviors.
1. Set 3 small intentions for the day and write them down. Literally write them down and make them visible throughout the day. Many of us are working from home and can easily get distracted from our intentions for the day or our goals for our live. As a result, many people are behind on their bills, dreams, and goals.
2. Set alarms on your phone with a special ring. Also, have the alarm linked to your email throughout the day to remind you about your intentions or goals for the day. When you are reminded every two hours or throughout the day to stay on task or you know the alarm is coming up, people will put a small amount of pressure on themselves to get the task completed.
3. Celebrate. Yes, celebrate your accomplishments of getting a task done. Reward yourself with a little something. Don't over do it!
4. This should probably be number one, but uninstall social media on your phone until the task are completed. Meanwhile, block incoming calls until you've completed one of three tasks or goals for the day. Social media is the biggest distractor. You can reinstall it after the tasks are complete.
5. Use positive affirmations that involve management of your time.
I always complete my tasks for the day.
I use time wisely.
I always finish what I start.
6. Visualize your tasks complete throughout the day. I use visualization with my students all the time and it works like a charm. Visualizing what it looks like to have a completed task by a certain is important. Visualize how you feel when the tasks are complete. Visualize how much time you have left after the tasks are complete. This is a lot of fun too.
Those are just some practical ways to overcome procrastination. Procrastination is usually linked to a deeply rooted fear. If it's that bad, seeking professional help is advised.
--Theresa Brown, @Tooeducated on IG
9. Be Accountable
A huge key to anything related to self-improvement is accountability. It's easy to hit your snooze button and skip a morning workout, for example - but maybe not if you know a friend is planning to meet you at the gym and will be upset if you're not there on time.
The same thing goes for studying. It's easy to procrastinate if you're only accountable to yourself, so make yourself accountable to someone else. Tell a roommate, friend, or parent what your study goal is and tell them to not let you come out of that room until you've proven you completed it.
Get creative, give them your wallet and tell them that you can't have it back, and that they can take a bill out of it every hour past your target goal, until you're done. Or plan a reward - a movie, a pizza, a trip out on the town - for when you're done so that they're invested in making you get things done efficiently.
The key is to be accountable to someone else; our consciences have a much harder time letting someone else down than letting ourselves down, so harness that social pressure for good.
--Brian Galvin, Varsity Tutors
10. Don't stay stuck
Procrastination is something I really really struggle with. Some days it wins. But I’ve developed a few good (and some bizarre) strategies:
1. Study for 2 minutes. That’s it. I don’t commit anymore than that. It’s easier to get started if I can call it a day after 2 minutes. But, in reality, I actually study for longer.
2. When reading, take notes on the book in a notebook. It’s unusual because the book has the words right there. But there is something about structuring the words in your head and using a pen that really helps the concepts sink in.
3. If you’re stuck, stop and play the violin. Or another instrument. Or anything that takes your mind off the problem. If I’m struggling, just taking 10 minutes to an hour away doing something else helps. And it’s not just me. Whenever Albert Einstein hit a roadblock, he went away and played his violin. When he came back to his work, he found he’d come unstuck.
4. Sleep. Sleeping on it is like an extreme version of 3. There is truth to the saying “just sleep on it”. It’s even more powerful if you spend a good chunk of time wrapping your brain around a problem. If it’s difficult and the solution isn’t coming to you (and you’ve really tried), just sleep on it. When you look at it after sleep, you’ll probably see it in a new light. Sometimes, after that, I wonder why I ever struggled at all.
--James Dunne, Happy Shrimp
11. Put your phone down
In this day and age, we live in a world that's full of electronics and shiny tech which can get a person easily distracted from their main goals and objectives due to which procrastination has become a problem for many students including me.
Like every other student in college, I used to procrastinate a lot. The syllabus is tough, due dates for assignments are somehow always the next day and to top it off, there's just so much reading material. To tackle this, I developed excellent time management skills and self-discipline which made my life a bit easier in college and every assignment/project didn't feel too overwhelming.
Whenever I used to get my syllabus I used to read and write down all the due dates in my planner so I know what my deadlines were. If I had to prepare for a test and a lot of reading material, I used to count the pages that I need to go through, read and learn it and note down how many days it took me to learn X amount of pages in my planner. That gave me a timeframe and an idea of how much work I have to put into for a particular assignment or test.
My cellphone always was and is a big distraction, when it came to studying I used to leave my phone in a locked drawer or when I was at home, on the kitchen table (It's easier to get distracted when your friends are commenting on a meme that you posted on your Facebook).
I still have exams and tests even after all these years, if I have a huge test coming up I will divide the pages into sections, for instance, if I have 50 pages to go through I'll divide them into 10 pages that I have to read in X amount of days/hours. I will sit in front of one pile, go through it, memorize it and the final step is to close my eyes and read it out loud and see how much I remember. For me, breaking down a huge assignment or test has always been easier.
Furthermore, I always have a reward myself after completing a paper, sometimes it's as simple as watching a late-night movie or going out with friends to have a double chocolate fudge gelato.
--Ameerzeb Pirzada, Z Dental Studio
12. Manage your time
I’m a time management and productivity coach with a lot of experience helping people to do the things they don't necessarily want to do in the moment and to overcome procrastination.
In reference to your query on Effective study tips, here are some tips:
Use a timer to help you focus. The Pomodoro Technique is a timer-based technique that can help you get started, and focus. Set a timer for 25 minutes, pick a task, and work on that task uninterrupted (no phone, no email, no Slack) until the timer goes off. Take a short break and repeat.
Break down the work into bite-sized chunks. We are much less likely to procrastinate when what we need to do is straightforward, and broken into chunks. So, don't tell yourself I need to read this 300 page book by the end of the week. Instead say I will read 43 pages per day to finish this book by the end of the week. Likewise, don't tell yourself you have to write a 10 page paper. Break the project down into phases (research, write an outline, write section 1, etc.)
Use the 3-2-1-Blast Off method for just getting started. As silly as it seems, if you just have to get started, say out loud (or in your head), 3-2-1, Blast Off and then just start. We are conditioned as kids that once you reach 1 you just have to go (jump off the diving board, start the race, etc.), and this strategy works surprisingly well for adults also.
Reward yourself. Set up predefined breaks and rewards. After reading 2 chapters, you get to watch an episode of Tiger King and so on.
--Alexis Haselberger, Alexis Haselberger Coaching
13. Listen to music
These tips are coming from a student with a 4.0 GPA who spent the entire last term in a coronavirus quarantine.
1. Life is hard. Boohoo. Wear a helmet. We are all facing a brand new reality. Sometimes life as an adult can be one difficult task after another. The sooner you wake up and face this the better. We face a future where our shared survival is more important than ever. Personal improvement is a huge part of this. Are you still waiting to enroll in school? Don't. We don't know when this will all end. The worst thing on earth you can delay is personal improvement.
2. Baby Steps. I break every single important goal in my life into small easy to manage goals. Sure a mountain looks high when you think about the distance to the peak. Climb a little every single day.
3. Buddy System. Enlist a friend in helping you get your tasks done whether they be weight loss, cleaning or education. We all need an accountability buddy at times. This is why in the military units conduct physical fitness in the mornings together as a group. No, jogging doesn't magically become fun. However, your friends will keep you going.
4. Leave Self Messages. Hide messages to yourself around your home encouraging yourself to get goals done and visualizing the benefits. See the point below about a vision board. Everybody loves a surprise!
5. Reward Based. Set rewards for yourself for getting tasks done. Everybody responds to reward based tasks and you aren't any exception. Work for an hour and take 15 minutes to play your favorite game. Give yourself a snack. These truly help with building discipline.
6. Visualization. Using visual aids like a vision board is incredibly creative and fun. Along with posting encouraging messages to yourself, use photos of what benefits you'll get from getting tasks done!
7. Disconnect. In today's coronavirus age, we easily get oversaturated with social media. This can absolutely wreck your day and keep you glued to your computer or phone all day. Limit yourself to social media exposure at a set time every day so your brain and morale can both rest and recharge. Your brain will thank you!
8. Playlist. Music is an amazing motivational tool that keeps you distracted and motivated. Put together a nice playlist of your favorite music to keep spirits high so that when you accomplish difficult tasks, you aren't focusing on how much you may dislike doing things.
--Tim Mitchell, University of the People
I remember when I was a student where I dreaded exams because I simply wasn’t motivated to learn and stuff information in my brain that I think are unimportant. Thankfully I had my competitive nature and good friends that I could compete with during my college years.
The technique I used to do back then was making a competition out of exam scores. My friends and I would make little bets or rewards for whoever had the best scores. This was simple rewards like ice cream or having the other friends do your chores for a week.
The reason why people are unmotivated by exams is because it doesn’t hold much stakes for them. At least it did for me, so if you’re like me, you have to make your exam results a little bit interesting. And one way to do that is by competing with other people, preferably your close friends.
--Kenny Trinh, Netbooknews
15. Know your priorities
1. Decide for a Schedule and Stick to it
In my final Master's year I came across this tip by a friend - and I used it throughout the entire year - for a 3-months thesis with 3 months of prior field research, and 6 months of 1 practical examination presentation (Textiles & Clothing Tech) and 4 oral examinations to be followed by the next one every 8 weeks.
Here the Suggestion: Schedule your day of study (I took 6 days to study per week). Then, set a timer. And stick with the timer- when it sounds, stop studying, when it sounds again, stop your break and go back studying.
1 hour studying / 10 min break / 1 hour studying / 10 min break / 1 hour studying / 15 min break (and this feels so long all of a sudden)
=> In short, you break whatever amount of time you want to study into portions of 3.
I actually did always four (as you wish personal examples) - like this for the morning & afternoon with a longer break for lunch:
1 hour studying / 10 min break / 1 hour studying / 10 min break / 1 hour studying / 15 min break (and this feels so long all of a sudden) / 1 hour studying / 10 min break
As for a week's schedule: Take always a day off - even if no one else in your college does. I've lived it, and it's possible even with exceeding results nevertheless all negative comments.
Actually, a schedule sticked to makes your confidence in yourself increase. Why so? You know by time that you will be getting things studied off when sticking to a schedule almost every day. That also increases sober judgement on when I'm free to spontaneously interrupt the schedule because I know I'd take it up again the next day and will being able to catch up.
The whole issue of personal discipline creates predictability in oneself. This enhances the learning experience to a positive period in life, even though you need to be prepared for a long run, like it is in the final year.
And so you could go for a long time without feeling exhausted. I usually did not more than 8 hours
2. Structure Your Learning Content
Study the most urgent stuff first, other content later on.
Example: If you need to write a thesis in 2 weeks - 6 hours out of 8 (3/4 of your time) will go into your most urgent project. Take the other 2 hours to collect readings, research and literature and prepare for the oral exam, or what have you.
3. Prepare for Rewarding Yourself
...as you wish personal examples. I'm female. I like beauty. So, I tell you my story: I've lived near a park where in summer there were daily 30 min of a water-and-light concert at 10 pm throughout spring and summer season (Hamburg City, GERMANY). So that was my reward. I had to study those 8 hours. I did not always stick to the schedule. However, I've motivated myself to being done somewhat earlier than 10 pm to being able to drop by the concert almost every night.
4. Don't lose sight of the Right Priorities
4.1 Studying is not life. It's just a phase in life. Has your Mom Birthday? Alright, take a break and visit her. Who knows how long she will be living (even the more in times like these).
4.2 Studying is life. It's actual the subject you've chosen to becoming your life's direction, at least in the near future. So, you won't study out of fear of bad marks or fear of not satisfying any predescribed opinions. Why am I writing this? More than often, students study to the expectations of their professor while in reality they should be focussing on what they'll be doing for the next 20-40 years, at least if based on their studies. Doesn't that motivate
5. It's all a Matter of Perspective
You'll be reminiscing those times earlier than expected. So, take the right perspective. Studying is the time of greatest freedom in an adult's life. You're not bond to opinions of parents at home or teachers at school. You're your own boss.
All too soon, you'll be done with filling your head with data, theories, companians' input or professor's boring talks. Indeed, you'll be refreshed studying when entering a 9/5 job or caring in full responsibility for a company or a family. Never forget that having time to study is not a joke but the top of personal freedom guaranteed by freedom in society (which we now see fading because of fear, losses, uncertainty).
--Janet Wunder, Flexonedu
16. Take the time off
With the additional delay of schools being reopened, people are having to reconcile that remote learning is here to stay for the foreseeable future. By utilizing a few key strategies (below), students can be just as successful as they would be during face-to-face classes. This advice also applies to remote working and can be used once social distancing is over to help maximize productivity.
*Tips for Remote Learning Success*
1. *Accept it.* You may not have asked for this or have been prepared for eLearning but it's part of your life now. Do the best you can and accept that it may not be the best the you could have done during traditional face-to-face classes. Don't let anger and frustration interfere with your learning and academic success.
2. *Ask for help*. Just because you are not physically meeting with your teachers does not mean that they have abandoned you. E-mail your teacher, post in the Q&A discussion board, schedule a phone meeting, do whatever you need to do to help you understand that material and what is being asked of you.
3. *Use available resources.* Many schools have moved their resources to a remote platform so that students still have access. Schools like Southern Connecticut State University offer virtual services like counseling, writing support, academic tutoring, library and research support, career development for students, as well as physical resources for students who lack access to technology. You'd be surprised by how many ways your school may be able to help you, so ask.
4. *Make a list*. Make a list of all of the work that needs to get done like readings, assignments, posts, meetings, and include a realistic expectation of how long each thing will take and deadlines/due dates.
5. *Map it out*. Plan out your week by first putting down non-movable items like synchronous class meetings, work, other obligations. Next, add in submission times/due dates to make sure everything is complete by that date. Then, schedule the rest of your items on your list.
6. *Add breaks.* You are not machine and you don't want to get burnt out early in the week just to get things over with. The quality of your work will suffer but more importantly, your physical and mental health will suffer. Make sure to give yourself time to eat a full meal, exercise, and reconnect with others.
7. *Have an end time.* This is probably the most important tip for productivity. Turn it off. Give yourself adequate time to walk away from school. The problem with remote learning is that it's not like a physical class meeting that lasts a finite amount of time. It is easy for school to consume your entire day because you're constantly connected.
You are more than a student. You are a person with an entire life outside of school. Nurture that person. Having a set time each day in which you refuse to do any school work will allow you to attack the next day with fresh eyes and will ensure that you don't lose the best part of yourself, YOU!
--Melanie R. Savelli from Southern Connecticut State University, LinkedIn profile
17. Check your mindset
One thing I tell my students who are trying to overcome procrastination is that mindset is everything! You must show up and take action or you will never get the results you want.
Do something -- ANYTHING to get started! Most of the time, getting started is the hardest part. While motivation is helpful, it's NOT the key to success. Once I realized that the thing that gets results is showing up even when I didn’t feel like it, something clicked for me. I decided I was going get up every day and do a 30-minute workout — you guessed it! — even if I didn’t feel like it. I committed to making better choices (not perfect!) every day. Didn’t matter how I felt, I was going to do it.
So that’s exactly what I did. Being completely honest with you here, but 90% of the time, I didn’t feel like it. Especially at first. But I kept at it… and guess what happened? I started to see results.
Those results are what got me motivated to keep at it. See where I’m going with this? Results are not a byproduct of motivation; motivation is a byproduct of results. And results? Results are a byproduct of self-discipline.
Another way to overcome procrastination is to make a list of what it is costing you. Bad grades? Future earnings? Having to pay again to retake that course you failed? Self-esteem? Confidence? Procrastination can cost us big time if we don't show up and take action to overcome it!
--Caitlin Pyle, Proofread Anywhere
18. Work your memory
My personal story starts here:
I recall the time when I had to study for the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) a few years ago and how difficult it was for me to get myself focused to study. As I had already learned that music was an effective tool for learning, I figured I would come up with methods that would be helpful for me strengthening vocabulary skills for the Verbal section and math skills for the Quantitative section.
Looking over the list of GRE vocabulary words in the back of my study guide book, I searched for songs with sentiments that could be expressed by different words on the list. Then, I would play the song and write corresponding vocabulary words on a dry erase board at appropriate times during the song. Once the song ended, I would erase the words I had written and start the process over. The repetition would help the words to stick. Further, because I already enjoyed chosen songs and knew what they were about, I was better able to remember vocabulary words based on how they connected to various parts of a song.
For the Quantitative section, I would take a concept and try to practice it two or three times. Then I would pick a song I liked and work out as many math problems with the concept as possible until the song ended. I would replay the song and start the process over to try my hand at working out previous problems more quickly. Eventually, I better grasped how to work out math problems with the target concept and at a quicker speed. Practice makes (almost) perfect, and that's what needed to fair well on the GRE!
--Jessica Bonner-Gomez, @forotherprizes on Instagram
To summarize, here are the main ideas people had for getting yourself to study more effectively:
Write a to-do list and break down each task to make it much more manageable, making it less daunting and easier to start
Focus on creating a habit of studying
Drink water and get your body moving a bit
Have a structure, ie. a consistent daily schedule
Write down what you need to do, and ask yourself some questions to identify why you’re procrastinating in the first place
Celebrate small wins, and avoid all-nighters
Set simple, achievable goals, and celebrate when you achieve them
Be accountable (see if you can get an accountability partner)
Try studying for only 2 minutes at first. Then once you’ve gone 2 minutes, you’ll probably go longer
Put your phone away, and break down your tasks
Say out loud, in your head, “3-2-1 blast off” and then start
Take baby steps, reward yourself, and listen to music while studying
Make a competition out of your exam scores with your friends
Have a very regimented schedule like 1 hour studying / 10 min break / 1 hour studying / 10 min break / 1 hour studying / 15 min break
Just focus on starting
Play certain songs for certain concepts you’re learning
About the Author Katie Holmes
I am the lead editor of OutwitTrade and an accomplished data analyst, writer and internet marketer.
I was motivated to help to build up this publication after being frustrated with most review websites being obviously biased, wrong, or which didn't seem to even test the products they were reviewing.
Now, I spend 20+ hours every week reviewing products, conversing with our contributors, and reaching out to different companies.
Before joining OutwitTrade.com I had several years of experience in online marketing, advertising and SEO before also working as an analyst at Hertz for over 2 years. In my spare time I like drawing, creating music and reading.