Time management is perhaps the single most important and challenging skill to develop as a student. In an environment in which nobody will hold your hand, or tell you precisely what you should be doing and when, the art of managing and meeting personal deadlines – both social and academic –must be mastered sooner rather than late.
Some people like to plan things early in fine detail so that everything is ready in plenty of time; others positively thrive on the pressure of meeting a last-minute deadline. Whichever kind of person you are, you will need to keep on top of a range of different tasks at the same time, so you will need consciously to manage your time one way or another.
Procrastination, or putting off tasks which need to be done, is a major challenge of time management that can have a major impact on our levels of stress and anxiety. Rather than simple time-wasting or laziness, procrastination is a genuine psychological response to workload demands, and is particularly common at university.
Defined as a form of voluntary, irrational delay that has negative consequences on the procrastinating individual, procrastination is a habitual form of postponing action to a later date. Procrastination happens at different times for different people, and depends on where you struggle to convert your intentions into actions (Pychyl 2010). Some students find themselves procrastinating at the start of the essay writing process, distracting themselves with research and reading in order to put off sitting down to write the essay. Other students might start essays early, but struggle to meet deadlines that are far in the future, while their classmates might prefer to leave everything to the last minute, in the hope of using the pressure of a close deadline as motivation.
If procrastination is something that you are struggling with right now, or you’re keen on preventing it, the first step towards beating procrastination is reflecting on why you tend to procrastinate. Procrastinators come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s worth trying to spot where you might go wrong now, so you can try and prevent it.
Have a look at the Beating Procrastination worksheet to identify some ways to beat the habit. Think specifically about how your lifestyle as a university student contributes to your procrastination. For example, how do you deal with large gaps in your timetable for independent study? Are you often distracted by housemates or social commitments?
'Eat the frog'
Often there is a single simple task that gets in the way of all others: email your tutor; meet your supervisor; compile your bibliography. Mark Twain once said: 'Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.' Try tackling your most unpleasant or awkward task first thing in the morning and the rest of the day will seem much easier!
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