How to beat procrastination
Help and advice
One of the biggest differences between school and university is the freedom you have. You're responsible for your own time at uni and it's up to you to finish your work and meet deadlines.
It’s easy to put assignments off until the last minute, but this can increase your stress levels and lower the quality of your work. You'll struggle to do your best if you have to rush to finish several projects at once because you didn't start them sooner.
Our tips below will help you plan your time and beat procrastination.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination means putting something off. This could be starting a piece of work, studying for an exam, writing an application or something else.
You might feel like you just are a procrastinator and can't change. This isn't true. Figure out why you procrastinate to challenge it.
Common reasons people procrastinate
- Not knowing where to start
- Not knowing where to go next
- Worrying the outcome won't be perfect
- Getting distracted
- Lack of confidence
- Deadlines and goals feel far away
How to beat procrastination
Ask yourself what is stopping you from working and decide how to beat it. You’re more likely to procrastinate if you don’t feel confident. Are you unsure about your subject or how to structure your assignment? Speak to your lecturer or visit our study skills pages to build your academic skills. If you're worried your work might not be perfect, get started anyway. Starting now gives you more time to review your work.
It's easy to get distracted when your results seem far away, but you'll be glad you started your work early when you reach your deadlines. You might not feel like studying for only half an hour today will make a difference, but 4 half hour study sessions a week is an extra 2 hours study every week. This will help a lot in the long term.
If you’ve already put something off, don’t beat yourself up. If you’re approaching a deadline, don’t worry about what you haven't done. Use the time as a rest and refresh your interest in the subject so you’re ready to get going.
Use the tips below to stay focused.
1. Be prepared
Get into the right headspace to work and decide what you’re working on.
Learn what works for you. Do you work better in the morning or the evening? Do you prefer working independently or in a study group? Some people prefer to work with music, or by a window or outside.
Plan your time
Plan ahead to use time effectively and reduce stress. Use your deadlines and exam dates to write a revision plan.
Schedule regular study time across the week. You might prefer to book study time before or after your classes, or have a break before revising. You don't need to study at the same time every week, but try to do something every day.
Use your deadlines to plan. Schedule buffer time before submission dates or exams. Aim to finish your work at least a few days before the deadline in case you need to revisit a topic, ask questions or make changes. Schedule a weekly catch up for work you didn't finish in your regular study time. If you're up to date, use the time to reward yourself with time off or to get ahead.
Get up early to take advantage of morning study sessions. Waking up early can help you feel refreshed and gives you uninterrupted study hours. Study spaces like the library are less busy in the early morning.
Break down your workload
Make a list of your essays, assignments and exams and break your work into chunks. This will help you schedule your time, keep on top of how much you need to do, and see what you've done so far. If you're revising for an exam, try splitting your revision sessions into topics, or break an essay into the introduction, middle and conclusion.
Give yourself deadlines for small tasks before your submission date. Try to finish your research 3 weeks before your work is due or finish your bibliography a week before handing a paper in, for example.
Write a to-do list and prioritise your tasks. High priority tasks include big submissions, work that's due soon, or steps you need to complete before you can move on. Most apps or electronic to-do lists will let you re-order your items. If you use a written to-do list, try writing what order you'll complete the tasks in the page margin. Try completing some smaller tasks first and cross them off your list.
Larger jobs like researching a dissertation topic or putting together a portfolio might need more time than smaller tasks. Schedule your time to reflect this and block out longer periods to complete big tasks. Knowing you have time to tackle a project will help you focus on other tasks in the meantime.
Set up a work station
If you know what environment you work best in, take advantage of it. If you aren't sure yet then university is a great time to find out.
If you're likely to work at home think about where to position your desk. Consider facing away from your door so you aren't distracted by housemates walking past or sitting by a radiator if you're likely to get cold. Set up near a plug socket.
If you work best with others, you and your housemates might be able to work as a group, or you can meet up with friends at the Library or in a University study room. If you're working online, you can meet up in an online meeting room like Zoom or Google Meet. Working on campus usually means you won't have a designated space for more than one session but you can use the tips below whether you're working from home or not.
Try to automate tasks you do a lot – if you always open the same tabs in your browser, save them as favourites in a folder and open them all at once.
Setting the scene to study
- Have everything you need – laptop, notebook, pens, headphones and research books
- Remove clutter from your work station – get rid of food wrappers, unrelated books and games controllers
- Make a productivity playlist or listen to someone else’s – listen to our chilled study playlist
- Move for a change of scenery if you're struggling to focus
2. Reduce distractions
Once you've settled down at your work station with your books open in front of you, you might find it easy to get on with your project. Or you might not.
If you struggle to ignore interruptions like social media, take precautions to limit the distractions around you. You might not be able to stop yourself getting distracted completely, but you can reduce the distractions and encourage yourself to focus.
If you're easily distracted by other people, consider working in a room where you're less likely to be disturbed. The upper floors in the Library are for quiet work.
Whether you're working at home or on campus, an organised work station will reduce the distractions. Clear clutter away before you get started and make sure you can reach everything you need.
Set reminders to focus on your phone or laptop. Decide whether you want them to ring. If your reminders pop up silently on your phone they won't disturb you if you're still working, but will remind you to get back to work if you're using your phone. Set these as regularly as you like.
Restrict use of your phone and apps
Put your phone out of sight and consider turning it off. If you're at home, try putting your phone in a different room. If you're studying on campus, put your phone on silent at the bottom of your bag.
Take a look at your web history and what apps distract you. Apps and browser plugins like Cold Turkey and Freedom can block you from opening specific programs or websites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can turn the restrictions off once you're done studying.
3. Take breaks
Regular breaks are important. Breaks help to increase focus, reduce stress and improve productivity. Take breaks away from the computer to rest your eyes, stretch and move around. If you're working with a friend, have a chat and take your mind off work.
Try to take short breaks often instead of working for long periods, and set a timer for your break so you know when to get back to work.
Consider using the pomodoro technique to time your study sessions and breaks. Pomodoro sessions are 25 minutes long followed by a 5 minute break, with longer breaks of 15-30 minutes after 4 sessions. You can adapt the times to work for you.
4. Be accountable
Sticking to your study plans is harder than it sounds. Holding yourself accountable means studying when you say you will and admitting if you don't. If you missed a session then ask yourself why – did you put off your revision for something else? Did something outside of your control stop you studying? Try to answer honestly. Staying honest means you can avoid skipping sessions unnecessarily.
Set tasks to finish every day and focus on one thing at a time to get the most out of your time studying. Tasks won't always be large projects or essay submissions – it's just as important to schedule time to email your lecturers, find new resources or revise your lecture notes. Crossing something off of your to-do list can help you stay focused and feel accomplished.
If you struggle to hold yourself accountable, arrange to work with a friend, or speak to a family member and ask them to check in with you. You could start a study blog to share your success and goals.
If you're struggling to keep up with your study timetable for a long period, consider changing it. Does the work take longer than you thought? Are you losing time getting from your lecture to the library, or finding resources? Are all of your favourite subjects packed into the same day, so you're struggling to motivate yourself on other days? Make your study schedule work for you.
5. Reward yourself
Reward yourself for doing well – have a small treat once a week and something bigger when you finish an assignment. Breaks are a great treat when you're working well and a good opportunity to look after yourself.
Ideas to reward yourself:
- Have a sweet snack
- Go for a walk
- Draw or colour
- Listen to music
- Call a family member
- Meet up with a friend
- Take a trip
- Watch a film
- Have a day off