STOP Procrastinating! Understanding the Reasons Behind Motivation

Hey ladies!

Now that midterms are over, it’s a great time to reflect on the first half of the semester and things to improve on. 

A lot of you might be getting midterm grades back and wishing you had studied more or prepared differently for your exams. In short, as you sneak a peak at those letter grades on SCORE, you may be thinking, I shouldn’t have procrastinated so much…

Don’t worry! We’ve all been there.  But why do we procrastinate, and more importantly, how do we avoid procrastination?

I sat down with Nic Voge, the associate director of the McGraw Center to get some answers to these questions and learned a lot about the deeper issues at the root of the ever-present problem of procrastination.

Laundry.  Watching TV.  Washing dishes.  Taking multiple showers. Cleaning one’s room.  Watching a movie. 

All of these things may be things we do more frequently during midterms weeks.  Although performing all these activities can be justified, it’s important to ask yourself the reasons for doing a particular task at a particular time. 

You might have to do laundry but why do you feel the need to do it the day before your huge MOL214 exam?

There are different reasons that motivate us to do certain things. 

“We might succeed to avoid failure.  We might succeed to be successful and receive the accolades,” Voge added. “They’re not mutually exclusive but they are different reasons, and the motives have different effects on us.”

Procrastination is fundamentally about avoidance.  We do certain things like watch those five episodes of New Girl or organize our binders in order to avoid studying effectively and preparing for an exam or paper.

Procrastination is also about self-preservation.  Often times, we equate our sense of ability to our self worth. 

“Procrastination is a bit of a paradox because the act of procrastination increases the chance that one will fail at the task yet the people who do it are often very driven to be successful and motivated to not fail,” Voge said.

Through procrastination, we can shift the blame of failure from ourselves to external factors out of our control.  The bad grade is not a reflection of the best you can do but the best you could do under the less than ideal circumstances.

I got a C on that test because I procrastinated.  I could have done better but I didn’t have enough time.

So now that we have a better understanding of the reasons why we procrastinate, there are some ways to avoid procrastination.


1.  The first step is to be aware of when you are procrastinating.  Ask yourself why you feel the need to watch that youtube video at that very second.

2.  Relate your work to personal or future goals.  You’re taking ECO101 because the material will help you be an informed consumer or will help you become a trade economist.  Although in the moment it may seem all about the grade, remind yourself of the intrinsic motives for learning the material.

“Intrinsically motivated people learn more deeply, remember longer, and are more strategic,” Voge said. “People who really love what they do are good at it.”

3. Keep a positive attitude by asking the right questions.  Instead of asking yourself, “Well how much can I get done in 15 minutes?” ask yourself genuine questions about how many problems you can complete in 15 minutes or how many pages you can read in 15 minutes.  Be specific.

4.  Make it easier to get started.  Leave your book open to where you last were.  Stop at a suspenseful or interesting part of your reading so you’ll want to start up again.

5.  Remove obstacles.  Place the book on top of your laptop so you can’t avoid it without checking your email or playing games on your computer.

6.  Lastly, schedule fun.  Plan fun and enjoyment and then plan your work around that.  Then you’ll feel less inclined to engage in smaller distractions that aren’t necessarily fun and fulfilling.

“If you don’t plan fun, then at some level you take any opportunity that appears because there’s no fun in the horizon,” Voge said.


With these tools and this understanding of procrastination, you’re ready to get some work done!


Nic Voge is the associate director of the McGraw Center at Princeton University.  In order to learn more about the psychological theories behind procrastination and tips, you should check out his workshops on Wednesday, Apr. 3, 8:30-10:00 p.m in Butler D028
 and on Friday, Apr. 5, 1:30-3:00 P.M. in 330 Frist.