According to PR Newswire and StudyMode, 87% of high school and college students procrastinate. Of those students, 45% say that their procrastination is regularly damaging on their academic performance. High school students in this study said they were most likely to procrastinate writing a paper (with over half of those students completing their paper the night before its due date).
The study goes on to detail the things students are likely to do as a means of procrastination. Unsurprisingly, watching television, browsing social media, and playing video games ranked in as the most popular ways to put off homework.
Common Sense Media indicate that the average American teenager spends almost 7 hours a day looking at a screen (and that excludes screen-time for educational purposes). A majority of high school students also multitask while doing schoolwork, with over half using social media and/or watching television during study time.
Perhaps you’re a student who’s had a few too many sleepless nights cramming for exams and writing last-minute papers. Maybe your grades are taking a hit but you can’t seem to break the cycle of procrastination and its repercussions, no matter how hard you try. If our 5 Study Habits of Successful Students article wasn’t quite enough for you to break your bad habits, and you’d like to learn from the mistakes of your procrastinator’s past, there are some ways you can work towards improvement.
Effective studying and maintaining focus so often go hand-in-hand. If you work hard on one aspect, the other will improve alongside it. Here are several ways you can work toward a focused, effective academic life.
- Get Organized: Student Agendas and To-Do Lists
Being organized drastically decreases stress levels and lays out expectations and responsibilities clearly. If you’d like to be more organized, but tend to struggle with it, an excellent tool is a student agenda. Instead of having to flip through several binders to find out when something is due, all of your important dates are kept in one neat and tidy place. Every time you see that upcoming assignment, you’ll be forced to wrestle with its content a little bit and will gradually formulate ideas based on that prompt.
For instance, a procrastinator may be left with the unfortunate task of coming up with a paper idea and writing it all in one go – but an agenda-user will have asked his or herself several times: “What am I going to do that paper on?” An agenda-user will engage in a gradual process of formulating ideas, rather than a pressured process.
Another great tool for organization is creating a to-do list. Every day can be a productive day if it’s aided by a good to-do list that’s based off of your agenda.
Looking at the tasks that need your most immediate attention, write down two to five of them that are your goals for the day. Cross them off as you go (and revel in the satisfaction of a job well done). This process helps you see not only what you have to do, but also allows you to appreciate what you’ve already accomplished.
It’s especially helpful to write out your to-do list the night before, which helps you de-stress before bedtime – it eliminates the “look at all the things I have to do tomorrow!” mental scramble – and will help you wake up with purpose and direction for your productive day.
2. Create a Productive Work Space
As mentioned in 5 Study Habits of Successful Students, each student has a learning style and multiple intelligence that should be drawn upon for productivity. In creating a productive work space, evaluate what makes you feel comfortable but productive.
Though Common Sense Media indicates that 76% of American teenagers listen to music while doing schoolwork, auditory stimulation can actually be incredibly distracting and inhibit one’s ability to focus. Try doing schoolwork with and without music, and adjust your study space accordingly.
When setting up a framework for success, it’s important to remember that physical spaces have a significant impact on one’s mental state. If you try to work in the same place that you relax or spend leisure time (i.e., your couch, your bed, a coffee shop you often visit with friends), it’s hard to shift from a recreational mode to a productivity mode. It’s easy to lapse into your usual habits while your space is enabling feelings of relaxation. Make sure you separate the places you write papers and the places you indulge in Netflix marathons as much as possible.
3. Set Goals and Reward Yourself
This step toward enhanced focus and better study habits is one that goes well with working toward better organization. The things you put on your to-do list can count as your short-term goals for the day, like “finish reading for class,” and, “write the first three pages of paper.” As you reach each goal, reward yourself with more than just the satisfaction of crossing it off your list. Allow yourself to indulge in some leisure time as a pat on your own back for a job well done.
Though not all goals are long and difficult processes, some may be. For instance, a longer-term goal may be to get better marks in a class you’ve been struggling with. In making this long-term goal, you should be sure to make it a SMART goal – that is, a goal that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. If you want to improve your grade in that class, specify: you want to increase your grade by five percent. Measure your progress as the term goes buy and record that journey. Make sure your goal is attainable (considering your own abilities and the context of the goal). If your goal is relevant to a larger goal (like getting into a good college), you’ll be more likely to stick to your long-term plan. Lastly, ensuring that the goal is time-bound is a good way to check in on your progress and gives you a deadline for success.
4. Separate Work-Time and Entertainment-Time
One of the most serious impediments to productivity is disrupted focus. Although you might rationalize that watching TV and doing homework simultaneously is a way to make studying more fun, it’s far more likely to draw out homework time. Your homework won’t be done efficiently, and you won’t be able to wholly enjoy the show you’re watching.
Just as a physical space is important for productivity, mental space is important, too. Phones and social media are an incredible source of distraction that are designed to grab your attention.
A good way to negotiate the divide between entertainment-time and work-time is to utilize the goals-and-reward system. Setting a timer for 30 minutes of study time on your phone is a great way to enhance productivity and experience a reward. Every time you get through the 30 minute timer, reward yourself with time on social media or answering text messages. This keeps study time productive and entertainment time entertaining, instead of muddling the two for an unproductive and distracting combination.
Honing study habits and building focus is a task that takes dedication and a commitment to making it a habit – but it comes with high rewards. Once you have built good study habits and focus, you can effectively manage your time to balance work and play in the most efficient way possible. Working with these few tips will set you on the path to productivity and the end of procrastination.