We’ve all begun working on an assignment and then delayed doing it. We’ve all regretted it too. Procrastination is postponing doing a task. It can stem from something as simple as not knowing how to start or complete a task. However, if you don’t address procrastination, you can end up spending more time on tasks than you’d like. In this post we’ll explain what procrastination is. Then we’ll offer some ways to start and finish: thinking time, time management, and using an editing process to be less inhibited as you start writing. 

Procrastination: what to do when you’re unsure what to do

Procrastination can be explained as being a kind of “maintaining factor” (Kuyken & Dudley, 2009). Maintaining factors are the actions you take (or don’t take) which actually keep a problem going. While maintaining factors make you feel better in the short term, they do not actually make a problem go away. Your assignment is still there and needs finishing. This causes you to have feelings of anxiety or not knowing what to do. You then decide to adopt maintaining factors like procrastination in order to cope with your feelings of anxiety related to the assignment. However, procrastinating results in you prolonging not only the task, but the feelings of anxiety which are causing you to procrastinate in the first place! So then it goes around in a vicious cycle (Beck & Beck, 2011).

The best way to combat this cycle of procrastination and overcome feelings of not knowing what to do for an assignment, is to ask for help. Don’t be afraid to ask your teacher if there’s anything you’re not sure about. Email any assignment questions to your teacher or post a message to your unit’s Moodle discussion forum. You can also take advantage of informal networks such as study groups with your peers or Facebook groups to ask questions. If you have a peer mentor, you can also discuss this topic with them. Most students have experienced feeling unsure about an assignment. Your friends may be unsure about the task too. By posting questions on the unit’s Moodle discussion forum you’re potentially helping others. Seeking advice when you’re starting an assignment means you don’t risk misinterpreting the instructions.

Procrastination makes you feel better in the short term, it does not actually make a problem go away. Your assignment is still there and needs finishing.

Thinking time, before you start writing 

A good way to get started on assignments is to underline the content words in the assignment instructions. Content words describe the themes the assignment tackles; content words are the words you’ll need to define in your draft. Use the content words to search for sources using the Library’s Search or a subject database. Once you find resources and decide they’re relevant, start reading these sources. Begin a document to make study notes. Jot authors’ arguments, definitions and evidence. Doing this will help you to formulate the examples you’ll use, the ideas you’ll apply, and your main argument.

By beginning reading, note taking and thinking early, you’ll give yourself thinking time to help digest information. Incremental effort over the semester is a more effective study technique than fewer, larger blocks of study time. Working incrementally, you’ll find yourself developing more sophisticated ideas, seeing other viewpoints, identifying considerations, and questioning assumptions. These ideas might come to you when you least expect it, such as when you’re doing exercise or getting ready in the morning. 

You may start rehearsing ideas in your mind. You may talk about your ideas to teachers and friends. You’re learning multifaceted concepts, and you’ll benefit from giving yourself time to absorb them. Journalists, novelists and speech writers will usually have an angle, a hook, or theme in their head, before they sit at their computer (Clark, 2006). When you sit down with an idea in mind, the assignment becomes that much easier to write. Utilising this thinking time technique is also helpful in preventing procrastination.

Manage your time

Once you understand what to do, the next step is to break down the assignment into the individual, achievable tasks you can complete. Doing this activity helps you to beat procrastination, as it encourages you to focus on completing one step at a time. This should help you to feel less overwhelmed by the assignment at hand, and help create momentum to propel you forward towards completion.

When working on assignments, note that some tasks may require more time than others. Don’t underestimate how long it takes to write a draft! A useful writing goal is to draft 1,000 words per week. Create a weekly study plan to help you keep up to date with your work throughout the semester. List all the tasks you have to complete for the assignment, and allocate a timeframe for each task to help you stay on track. If you aren’t the type of person that plans hour-by-hour, that’s okay, just slot in days that you’ll work on specific tasks. 

Once you make a study plan, commit to adhering to it. A study plan will not only motivate you to complete assignments, it will also help you prevent the problems associated with a last-minute panic: stress, working outside your productive times, and not achieving your full potential. Remember to give yourself small rewards along the way as you complete tasks. 

Drafting, editing & feedback

Drafting and rewriting is an important part of completing an assignment. Include this step in your study plan. Writing competencies like spelling, grammar, and coherent structure are also important to your finished assignment. However, writing is a creative process, and these things can inhibit you as you begin working. The key is to let your creative writing flow first, for example when writing your first draft. Then revisit your work later to correct any writing competencies in another draft.

After writing your first draft, revisit your writing several times, continue to refine your ideas and edit your work as you go. Including editing and redrafting stages in your study process means that you can develop your ideas first and sharpen your expression second. Seek feedback on your writing during the redrafting stage from your teacher or a Learning Skills Adviser. This will help you to know you’re on the right track. Also allocate time in your study plan to proofread your assignment. Proofreading your assignment allows you to better engage with your assignment topic, thus aiding the learning process.

Perhaps this editing and proofing process seems counterintuitive to beating procrastination; it seems like it’s a time-consuming task in itself. However, by having in mind that you’ll do an editing process once you’ve completed a draft, you can reduce inhibitions. It allows you to get started without having to worry too much about the end. Anne Lamott’s (1994) term for this way of thinking always makes us laugh: SFD (Shitty First Draft). The SFD doesn’t have to be perfect or do all the things the assignment instructions ask, but it will get you going. 

 

Further help

Monash Library has librarians and learning skills advisers available on weekday afternoons at virtual drop-in sessions.

If you would like some help on improving your study or writing skills, check out the Research and Learning online tutorials: Reading and note taking and Writing. Further advice on improving your written expression is available by exploring the English Connect online resources.

Monash University has a range of mindfulness programs available to help you calm your mind, stay focussed in the present moment and beat procrastination. Help is also available from Monash Counselling services if you need further advice on managing stress or anxiety.

 

Authors:

Dr. Tim Alves is a Learning Skills Adviser and Dalia Malaeb is a Librarian. Both are based at Caulfield Library.

 

References:

Beck, J. S., & Beck, A. T. (2011). Cognitive Behavior Therapy: basics and beyond (2nd ed.). Guilford Publications. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/monash/detail.action?docID=735600

Clark, R. P. (2006). Writing tools: 50 essential strategies for every writer. Little, Brown, and Co.

Kuyken, W., Padesky, C. A., & Dudley, R. (2009). Collaborative case conceptualization: working effectively with clients in cognitive-behavioral therapy. Guilford Press.

Lamott, A. (1994). Bird by bird: some instructions on writing and life. Scribe Publications.