Procrastination Classics


Over the past few weeks, Ben (one of the counsellors) and I have been trialing a new program we’ve developed called Studyology V2.

Well to be honest, we’ve been kinda writing it and delivering it at the same time, knowing that the program will develop faster that way.

Studyology V2 is a 4-week program designed for students who have been struggling with their studies. We’re talking the standards here like study anxiety, procrastination, low motivation – those kinds of things. Studyology (in a different form) first showed up in 2018. In 2019, we’ve turned the program from an open support group to small group workshop.

Two very generous groups of students have offered themselves up as test subjects for which we are incredibly grateful.

Early feedback suggests students are finding the program and the concepts within very helpful. What we are teaching is helping them view their study challenges in a different way and is directly contributing to them being able to take action on addressing their study difficulties. It isn’t a miracle program but it is expanding the psychological toolkit that students can use to ‘be better students’.

Many of the ideas and concepts that we talk about in the program are translatable to blog posts.

For example, in Session 2, which we ran today, we looked at the many different types of procrastination strategies people use to avoid doing their study.

The range of strategies is testament to the creativity that humans apply everyday to avoiding work. We might not feel super great about ourselves for procrastinating, but we should feel pretty impressed with ourselves as a species for how imaginative we can be in avoiding work.

Here are some procrastination classics.

Immersive distraction

I call this the Netflix group of procrastination strategies. Immersive distraction involves participating in activities that are completely immersive, genuinely enjoyable and which help us forget all the work we need to do. The goal of these strategies is to deliver us into a completely different head space – one disconnected from the realities of the work we need to do. These strategies are about helping us forget our worries and fill us with good feelings instead.

  • A Netflix binge
  • Gaming (PC or console – depending on your jam)
  • Music
  • Gardening
  • Enjoyable physical activity
  • Eating

My personal strategy is this category is YouTube. I can spend hours immersed in YouTube videos at the expense of my work (Note to boss: this is not the work that I am supposed to do during the week, but the work I do on weekends).

Substitute achievement

These strategies help us counter the shame of not getting our work done, by loading up on other activities, that would be (in the absence of them being ways of avoiding our work) counted as meaningful and relevant. The goal of these activities is to give us a sense of achievement, but without having to front up to do the most difficult or important tasks.

  • Cleaning
  • Repeated reading of notes (but not writing)
  • Helping others
  • Engaging in extensive list making and preparatory activities (e.g. scheduling)

We see this one a lot with students. Students typically aren’t lazy. Most students are actually working hard. However, often they are using other activities/achievements as a substitute for their studies. We think this might be because they get a more immediate sense of achievement from those activities, than they might do from the long-haul of study.

Over-scanning and fusion with emotions/sensations

In session Ben makes an excellent point that when it comes to paid work, most of us, even if we feel fairly ordinary, still drag ourselves out of bed and get ourselves to work. The only time we don’t is usually when we are genuinely ill and can’t feasibly do our work.

However when it comes to study, we are much more likely to over-scan our body and feelings for any evidence (e.g. mild pain, tiredness, low motivation, boredom) that we aren’t in the perfect state to study, and accordingly put things off to another time/day. Because we are primarily accountable to just ourselves, we can more easily bargain our way out of doing any work.

Fairy-tale thinking

We often assume that ‘tomorrow’ or ‘next week’ will be magically better than the present moment, so we delay everything till that magical moment in the future.

But that amazing future when everything will be exactly as it should be for you to thrive is a fairytale. Your only time to act is right now.

Turning tendencies or preferences into rules

Most of us have certain tendencies or preferences when it comes to our study. Some of us do better in the morning. Some of us do a little better in evening.

Some of us like to work in longer blocks. Others of us like to work in shorter bursts. Some of us like to work at home. Others like to work in a more public space (e.g. a library)

As we get to know our personal tendencies and preferences, we often turn them into rules that provide fuel for procrastination.

A preference for studying in the evening becomes ‘I can’t study in the morning. I’m an evening person’.

A preference for working in larger blocks of time becomes ‘I can’t get anything done in that hour before I go to work’.

A preference for studying in public settings becomes ‘I can’t study at home’.

Our preferences and tendencies get turned into concrete rules that place restrictions on how we get our work done. We then use those rules afterwards as a kind of explanation. ‘I didn’t get the assignment done cause I’ve been working nights and I do my best work at night’.

People generate all sorts of rules that provide them with a viable reason for avoiding study.


Saying ‘yes’

This one is the most sinister form of procrastination in my life.

I keep saying ‘yes’ to new projects and activities until such a point as my schedule is so packed that I have no down-time to rest and recuperate.

The constant pressure of all the things that need to be done weighs on my mind and then manifests itself as many of the other strategies described above. I distract myself with immersive activities. I seek out even more new projects to give myself a short hit of ‘being useful’ to temporarily cancel out the stress of all the things I haven’t yet done. I use any physical or emotional symptoms as an excuse to delay getting started on projects. I fantasise about a time when I will have all projects completed.

Most of us want our lives to be varied and interesting, so we often take on more than we can realistically manage. This causes us to delay or maybe even never get to those core important activities that will give our lives meaning.


Which of these procrastination strategies do you use?

Don’t feel bad if you read through these strategies and see yourself in a few of them.

Procrastination is so common that I basically assume that all of us struggle with it in some way.

We might procrastinate on different things, but it is human to procrastinate.

Perhaps you have some other strategies that you’ve noticed you engage in. I’m interested in collating the most common procrastination strategies students use, so feel free to send through the ones that affect you the most to

So I’ve identified my procrastination strategies – what now?

For the time being, just notice them. Catch yourself every time you find yourself engaging in your most common strategies and name it. Try doing it for a couple of weeks. Document all the different ways you procrastinated on doing work. See if you can take a curious and compassionate stance towards your procrastination. Noticing it without self-criticism.

“Oh – it’s lunchtime and I just spent the morning gardening instead of doing my work. I’ll call that my gardening avoidance”.

In future posts, I’ll talk about some of the things you can do, having put a name to your different strategies. In fact, in future posts, we’ll address many of the ideas that are presented in Studyology.

On that topic, if you are interested in being part of future Studyology sessions, send me an email with your name, student ID, contact number, preferred days/times and I will add you to a waiting list and let you know when the next program is being run.


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Academic skills Psychological Tools

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