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Procrastination is one of the most common issues affecting students today. A recent study reports that ~95% [1] of students claim they suffer from at least some form of procrastination. As educators, we occupy an important role in our student’s lives and we have the opportunity to help students get a handle on academic procrastination.

There are many excuses students make to explain their tendencies to procrastinate, e.g. being busy or the claim that they work better under pressure. However, one of the most common reasons for procrastination is “fear of failure” [2]. This fear can easily turn into procrastination, because by delaying the start of the assignment, the student is then able to externalize their fear. If they receive a poor grade, the student can say to themselves that their failure is not their fault, rather, they just ran out of time.

While a lot of the methods to combat procrastination require that the student is willing to change [3], as instructors, we have a lot of power to help students when we are designing assignments and classes. Three simple ways to help prevent procrastination are shown below.

  • Splitting assignments: Procrastination sometime arises because students are not able to split a large assignment into smaller pieces. This weakness can be treated by breaking up the work ourselves and assigning a number of deliverables over the course of a few weeks or months. If the term paper is due December 1st, then we can help students structure their time by having the topic due in early October with an annotated bibliography of 5-10 sources due by early November.
  • Awareness/Mindfulness: While splitting up the assignment does help, it does not prepare the student to develop this important life skill. Thus, spending time explaining to the students why you are doing this and encouraging them to be mindful about their choices will further help your students see how to tackle large assignments themselves.
  • Interventions: Strunk and Spencer [4], showed that a small intervention at the beginning of the semester could be effective at decreasing a student’s proclivity to procrastinate. The researchers did this by talking with students who had turned in their first assignment late. They explained various strategies for minimizing this behavior and then observed those students throughout the rest of the semester and saw that instances of procrastination went down for the experimental group as compared to the control.

These are just a few ways to help structure your class and assignments to help students control their procrastination. Below, you will find a few sites that offer a number of strategies and tips to help overcome procrastination which may prove helpful to provide to students either during an intervention or perhaps on a policy sheet at the beginning of a semester.

  1. Procrastinus
  2. Princeton: Avoiding Procrastination
  3. Oregon State: Managing Procrastination
  4. 20 Tips to Reduce Academic Procrastination (PDF)

 

References

[1] Steel, P. (2007). The nature of procrastination. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65-94.

[2] https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/fear-of-failure.htm

[3] Grunschel, C. & Schopenhauer, L. (in press). Why are students (not) motivated to change academic procrastination? An investigation based on the Transtheoretical Model of change. Journal of College Student Development.

[4] Strunk, K. K., & Spencer, J. M. (2012). A brief intervention for reducing procrastination. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 16(1), 91-96.

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