With constant commitments to sports practices, music rehearsals, club meetings, volunteer work, and other extracurricular activities, it’s inevitable that plenty of us high school students will struggle with time management due to being busy during the week. But what about the instances where we do have free time to get work done, yet can’t bring ourselves to do so? I’ve had this happen countless times: I’ll sit down at my desk, a pile of notebooks and worksheets beside my computer, all ready to complete my assignments until I pull out my phone to check a notification… and suddenly thirty minutes will have passed and I’ll have done absolutely nothing. Writing assignments, in particular, are difficult for me to start, as they can seem like a daunting task, beginning with a completely blank piece of paper or a white screen and disorganized ideas. This causes the assignment to be pushed off to another day, resulting in stress that could have been avoided.
I know from conversations with others that these aren’t unique experiences; most students have put off work for one reason or another. It’s frustrating, exhausting, and detrimental to our wellbeing, but it’s also extremely common in students. However, by understanding what causes our procrastination, we can also develop strategies to make it happen less and alleviate the anxiety that comes from this act. The Writing Center in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has an entire webpage dedicated to helping students change this habit, but these are the main contributing factors that cause procrastination in my life, as well as the tactics that have worked best in helping me to combat it.
Causes of Procrastination
- Perfectionism: Oftentimes, the reason we don’t start writing is because we feel like if I do, it won’t turn out the way we want it to. We’re not sure where to begin, we can’t come up with any ideas, and we don’t feel like we’ll end up with anything worth submitting if we try to start right then and there.
- Boredom: Writing for school can be challenging for many, especially those without much passion for the specific topic they’re given, making it very difficult to sit down and compose full, nuanced paragraphs.
- Low motivation: Although I usually get assignments done on time, there have been instances where I’ve cut it extremely close to the deadline. Without that sense of urgency, I tend to believe I can just “do it tomorrow”—that is, until the due date comes and there is no more “tomorrow”, leaving me in a frenzy to finish the task I could have done days before.
- Because it can work: Building off of the previous case, the last factor that pushes students to continue this habit is that even though we do it, things (usually) turn out fine. This cycle of reinforcement causes a continuation for the behavior, making us think that since it worked last time, it should work this time too.
Helpful Strategies to Address It
- Create a productive environment: What environment do you focus best in? Some prefer to work alone in a completely silent space, while others prefer to listen to music in their room or sit outside and enjoy the fresh air. Personally, I like working in my room, but I find it very hard to focus with my phone next to me, so I combat this by putting it away in a drawer until I’m done.
- Break into smaller tasks: Having to write an entire essay in one sitting can be overwhelming. But breaking it into chunks—for example, deciding to just work on the introduction or a body paragraph—can relieve these feelings and make the assignment seem more manageable.
- Write a rough outline: This has probably been the most helpful tip for me. Just scribbling or typing down ideas in bullet points can give me a clearer picture of what I want to say and help me formulate how I intend to write a paper.
- Set a time limit: For most people, me included, it’s unrealistic to be able to work on a single task for hours straight with no breaks. Instead, it’s much easier to choose a period of time to write (for example, twenty minutes) and allow a break after that (or keep working if you’re still motivated). This helps to at least get the paper started and not feel dread towards having to write for several hours.
Still, no one is perfect. Breaking a habit like procrastination doesn’t happen overnight, involves trial and error, and takes persistent attempts, so it’s important to not be too hard on ourselves. I’m definitely still in the process as well—in fact, I even had trouble starting on this blog post because I was having trouble deciding on a topic. But with slow and steady efforts, we can all spend less time staring at a blank screen and agonizing over assignments, and more time writing creatively and doing other things we love.