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You know what, lets start this article tomorrow. Just kidding, let’s do it now.

The school year is here and we’re all aiming high in both our academic and personal goals. Unfortunately, with an increasing workload, it becomes difficult to manage all our courses at once, along with the demands of our personal lives. Now add procrastination, a word many of us are all too familiar with. We also believe that after a good semester of procrastinating, the solution is to buckle up and… cram. However, as tempting as it seems (and even as beneficial as it has been so far), cramming is not an effective method for getting good grades. But the solution is also not just as simple as deciding to stop procrastinating; it involves a very disciplined approach towards setting goals and building our motivation. This article features some information that has helped me gradually overcome procrastination and achieve my academic goals, instead of simply settling for the outcome of last minute cramming sessions.  

What Exactly is Procrastination and Why Do We Procrastinate? 

Contrary to popular belief, procrastination is not another word for laziness, and it often does not stem from a lack of motivation. The scientific definition of procrastination is the avoidance of tasks and duties by focusing on activities that provide more satisfaction. Many people believe that their procrastination habit stems from an unmotivated soul and an overall lazy personality, but procrastination can be explained by some of the chemical events occurring in the body. Our brain houses two important areas: the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex. The limbic system is responsible for emotional responses and contains the pleasure center. This means that all of the time that we spend watching YouTube videos, the limbic system is helping to evoke feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. On the other hand, the prefrontal cortex dictates planning and decision making, such as when we decide to sit down and study. This seems simple, but the prefrontal cortex is less developed and is weaker than the limbic system. This is bad news for us; it means that the limbic system will win in any tug of war taking place between the two, which leads to us being more inclined to put off important tasks that need to be done.   

This does not mean that there is no solution; there are many ways to combat procrastination. Below are two powerful concepts that may help change the mindset that often leads to procrastination. By altering our mental thought processes, we can master the art of getting things done. 

Master Your To-Do List 

It’s common to procrastinate when you have a long list of items on your to-do list. Writing down assignments to do, completing readings for class, and studying PowerPoint lectures are just a few examples of things that students place on their to-do lists. However, these tasks are too generic and broad, making them seem intimidating and difficult. Having items on the list that are large in scope will lead to increased feelings of anxiety and cause us to become overwhelmed. The trick to forming and effectively using a to-do list is to break down large tasks into small, manageable tasks. For example, if you have to finish a set of lecture slides that is 40 slides long, a good way to get them done is to study 10 slides each day over the course of 4 days. This will make the task seem more manageable and less overwhelming. Another advantage of breaking tasks up this way is that it allows you to study your readings and notes as the semester progresses, which keeps you on top of course material.  Another important tip for making a to-do list is to make sure that it is only four or five items long; the longer the list, the more anxiety will be associated with completing it.

Motivation — Does it Work? 

There is a very common misconception that motivation is what leads to action, and that successful people are able to do a lot of things since they’re highly motivated. However, the truth is that motivation and action follow a cyclical pattern. To get motivated, we need to have an initial action. When starting a task, your thought process should not be “I need more motivation to get through my to-do list,” but rather “I need to start going through my to-do list to get motivated.” For example, imagine a scenario where you need to read a chapter of your biology textbook. You can wait until you feel like doing your readings, or you can just sit down and start reading. The first option will probably lead to you putting off your readings until they become more urgent. However, the second option will lead you to start your readings right away. Even though your action was not the result of feelings of motivation, once you start your readings, you’ll start to feel motivated. Starting your readings will lead to an increased desire to finish the chapter and learn more about the interesting things that the chapter has to teach. So, the takeaway here is to just start the work! Motivation will follow; this is true for most situations. An effective method that has helped me to implement this tip is to sit for five or ten minutes working on a task, even when I would rather relax. Chances are very high that you’ll feel like working for even longer and you’ll end up completing the task that you started. 

Although the above two concepts are not difficult to implement, they do depend on the amount of discipline and consistency that is involved. Your progress towards less procrastination will involve struggle and maybe even some failed attempts, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel. As long as you try to be consistent in implementing the above tips, you will find yourself on top of your course material and you’ll see improved study habits.   

Starting on a journey towards ending procrastination will not only improve your grades, but will also improve your mood, since you’ll know that you are actually putting forth your best performance.

Now, the next time you get an assignment, just try and start! Let’s abandon the phrase “I’ll do that tomorrow” from our vocabulary, because tomorrow just never seems to arrive.

Rimshah Abid

U Ottawa '23

A biomedical sciences student who has a passion for writing, science, and art. Hobbies include soccer, bullet journalling, and painting.
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