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SPARK: Understanding Procrastination

A resource for students wanting to improve their academic and research skills.

Understanding Procrastination

Most of us procrastinate. Many people believe that they perform better under pressure and purposefully leave important tasks until time is critical. Others feel unsure what the assignment calls for, or they worry that they may not be able to do it well. Sometimes the assignment just seems too unpleasant.

Procrastination may cause unnecessary stress and leave you feeling unproductive or guilty. Managing your time more effectively will help overcome procrastination and will leave you feeling more energized and motivated. Your productivity will increase and you will achieve better results.

Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer “yes”, consider the corresponding solution. Also review Procrastination Solutions under Resources.

1. Do you wait to start your assignments until just before they are due?

Waiting to start assignments just before they are due.


It’s often tempting to tell ourselves that we can’t work on the assignment now because we don’t feel motivated enough or we believe that we perform better under pressure. But waiting may mean losing lots of valuable time. So stay motivated.

15 Minute Rule

Start with a task that won’t take longer than about 15 minutes to complete. No matter how much work we have to do, most of us can talk ourselves into doing something for 15 minutes, even if we don’t really want to. Completing a short task will motivate you to tackle the next task and get you into a productive mood.

Just Get Started

Sometimes people put off doing things because they believe that the task is just too unpleasant. Overcome this inclination by reminding yourself that your intention to accomplish the task should override how you feel in the moment. At least give it a try – you can probably tolerate the initial unpleasantness and even come to feel good that you are working.

Review Procrastination Solutions located under Resources.

4. Do you repeatedly begin writing and then immediately decide you’re hungry or need a coffee?

Beginning to write and then immediately deciding you’re hungry or need a coffee.


If you find that you are not really sure what the assignment is asking, you may be tempted to put off working on it. This trigger can occur at any phase of the writing process but is particularly likely at the very beginning when you find you don’t know where to start. There are many productive alternatives to putting the assignment aside or spending vast amounts of time puzzling over it. Consult the Understanding the Assignment module for recommendations.

If you find your procrastination trigger often leads to feelings of hunger or thirst, grab a snack and/or drink just before your homework session and have them with you at your desk so going to grab one doesn't become a distraction.

Ask for Help

When you really don’t know how to proceed, ask for help. Talk to your instructor and seek clarification on the requirements of the assignment. The Library, Writing Centre and Learning Skills Services are also there to help you figure out how to get started on an assignment or how to proceed on other aspects of the writing process. 

Review Procrastination Solutions located under Resources.

2. Do you read email, texts or tweets during the time you have set aside for writing?

Reading emails, texts or tweets during the time you have set aside for writing.


You may be underestimating the amount of time to complete assignment tasks. When you underestimate the amount of time a task will take you may end up feeling frustrated, anxious, or down on yourself for not meeting your own deadlines. And these feelings may lead to putting off the next task.

Know Yourself 

Set realistic goals and appropriate time frames in which to complete tasks. Learn from past experience how much time you usually need to accomplish a particular task. Be clear with yourself as to what you want to accomplish, think about how much time you will need based on past experience and then plan at least that much time in your schedule. If you finish early you can always use the remaining time for other work or emails.

Review Procrastination Solutions located under Resources.

5. Do you feel anxious or overwhelmed by your assignments?

Feeling anxious or overwhelmed about assignments.


Sometimes the assignment feels huge and overwhelming and impossible to do, so students don’t feel able to even begin.  

One Task at a Time

Try to avoid “all or nothing” thinking. If, when you look at the whole assignment you feel overwhelmed, break it down into manageable tasks. Use the Assignment Task Checklist located in Resources to assist you. Then focus on one task at a time and complete that one task before moving on to another one.

Sometimes it is helpful to just write something down. Even if it's just one sentence at least you have started and are not just staring at a blank page or screen. You might end up changing or deleting this sentence later, but now you have a start.

Review Procrastination Solutions located under Resources.

3. Do you believe that your assignments need to be perfect and get hung up revising your writing over and over?

Believing that your assignments need to be perfect. 


Sometimes people feel that their work has to be perfect. Comparing one’s current progress with the desired perfect outcome can lead to feeling immobilized and not getting much of anything done. Instead, it may be helpful to use the “good enough” strategy. 

Get to Good Enough  

Often procrastination comes from expecting too much of ourselves all at once. Remember that the research and writing process is recursive. Striving for perfection on each element isn’t necessarily helpful because you’re very likely to revisit aspects of your work in light of further reading and writing. Remind yourself that you can always fine-tune later. It’s easier to revise than to start from scratch.

Review Procrastination Solutions located under Resources.