Ways to Avoid Procrastination in College

Alex Merritt / York College of Pennsylvania »

Any college student knows that college can be overwhelming. Multiple new classes every year bring new professors, new class structures, and new assignments. Different professors hold students to different expectations in terms of assignments and class work, and for many students, the stress of keeping up can become suffocating and lead to last-minute work and missed deadlines. However, college does not have to leave you drowning in a sea of dread and due dates.

As a high school student, I considered myself a full-time procrastinator. My assignments were left untouched until the night before they were due, and large projects and exams weren’t even thought of until three days before. Unfortunately, I had to quit this lifestyle upon entering college. I spent my first semester at York College of Pennsylvania lazing around and doing the bare minimum to pass my classes. By the end of the semester, I was sleep deprived from completing entire assignments hours into the night and experiencing constant anxiety from being overloaded with never-ending deadlines. As the last thorn in my side, the results of my work were below my personal expectations.

Four Guidelines to Avoid Procrastination

I spent the next semester kicking myself into shape by creating and following guidelines for myself that I now call my four major rules to avoid procrastination: keep an organized schedule, create timelines and set goals, seek help when necessary, and leave time for yourself.

1. Keep an Organized Schedule

One of the biggest reasons my work was never completed in an appropriate time is because of how busy my schedule was. I never had to balance classes, coursework, jobs, and other involvement before and was overwhelmed with the wish that there were more hours in a day. 

Keeping an organized schedule helps me track where I am supposed to be and when and allows me to see when I have free time to work on coursework. I can schedule time to work on specific assignments based on the due dates that are laced within my schedule.

There is a lot of trial and error that goes into figuring out which method of schedule tracking is the best for you. Some of my favorites are Google Calendar, a monthly whiteboard, and a paper calendar to write on. I also keep a daily To Do List on paper of tasks to complete by the end of each day. These help me stay on top of my responsibilities so I don’t end up prioritizing the wrong tasks.

2. Create Timelines and Set Goals

Another key piece of advice, specifically when it comes to coursework, is to pace yourself. Becoming overwhelmed is much easier when every professor assigns projects during the same week or when classes overlap with multiple assignments. I have found that creating timelines and setting goals is the best way to handle this.

Big projects that are due in months can be the easiest to leave until the last minute; however, they end up leading to the most stress down the road. In these instances, I prefer to create timelines that tell me what I need to accomplish for the assignment by a certain deadline. This way, I avoid leaving the entire project until the night before when I realize that I won’t be able to complete it in time. It lessens the load of how much work I have to do at once and lets me produce the best quality work.

Additionally, setting goals within these timelines motivates me to continue. They can be small goals such as three straight hours of studying or larger goals such as turning in a menacing final project. I usually follow these goals with rewards: ten minutes of social media, a day off from studying, etc. Setting these goals paces my workflow, and looking forward to the rewards help me strive to achieve these goals in a more timely manner.

3. Seek Help When Necessary

A frequent factor that has caused me to put off school work has always been a lack of understanding for the assignment or prompt or not knowing where to start. Especially in the first years of my college career, I found myself not quite grasping what the professor was looking for or being so overwhelmed by an assignment that I simply did not know how to begin. So I would set it aside to revisit at a later date. Unfortunately, more than once, it ended up being much too late to start.

To avoid this type of procrastination, I decided to join the offensive and reach out for help. If I am unsure of a prompt, I ask my classmates for help or what their interpretations are. I will also go to my professors’ office hours or send a quick email for clarification. These methods give me clarification on what is asked of me and lets me jump into the assignment without confusion.

At times when I don’t know how to begin, I try to utilize the resources offered to me. Fortunately, many colleges offer support for their students such as tutoring or academic coaching. I find these resources helpful in guiding me down the right track for stressful assignments. Try to discover what your school has to offer that could ease your worries and put you on top of your responsibilities.

4. Leave Time for Yourself

My last guideline to avoiding procrastination is to leave time for myself. Although it may sound basic or ineffective, I find that I am much more motivated to complete work and stick to my schedule when I am fully rested and recharged. As a chronic introvert, my energy and effort becomes drained very easily. In these moments, I find it easiest to pretend all of my responsibilities don’t exist; however, this can be the most harmful.

Working rest days into my schedule or taking a few hours to watch my favorite movie can be the perfect medicine to aid my exhausted mind. It reminds me of my priorities while letting me build up the energy to jump back into what needs to be done.

Whether you are still in high school and shopping for the perfect university or a senior in college on the verge of career life, it is never too late to fight against the pull of procrastination. The scariest part is starting, but don’t be afraid to try something new. Whether it be setting a daily alarm or following a study schedule, take the time to find what works best for you, and the positive results will follow.

After all, based on personal experience, I can say that leaving behind the last-minute lifestyle has taken a huge weight off my shoulders. I experience less stress, fewer sleepless nights, more time for myself, and the highest grades so far in my academic career.