A student guide to procrastination

1 September 2017

Written by: Freja Johansen

Three easy steps that will help you overcome procrastination.

It’s funny how doing the thing we’re not supposed to do is so easy. Take writing this article as an example.

I sat down in front of my computer at eight this morning, with the best intentions of finishing in the afternoon. Before the clock struck three, I’d done my laundry, made myself two pots of coffee and cleaned my room – twice.

Tasks that weren’t necessary for me to do, but never the less easier in some ways than writing my assignment. It’s safe to say that I’m not the only one struggling with the problem of procrastination.

A 2007 analysis by psychologist Piers Steel shows that 80-95% of all university students procrastinate, especially when trying to do their homework.

He describes procrastination as: “To voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse-off for the delay.”

Josh Sasai is a student counsellor at La Trobe University and has worked with guiding students for nine years.

There’s actually a good reason for this. Whenever we get a task we feel is hard to do, we start to “feel anxious,” Josh Sasai explained.

Josh Sasai, La Trobe Student Counsellor

“A lot of people procrastinate because they are stressed. Another possibility is that they’re very self-critical,” he told upstart.

The brain has three major sections. One is used for thinking, emotions and language, one for movements and balance. The last section controls your body, which is where your blood pressure and your breathing is controlled. This part keeps you alive and protects you from possible threats.

“Having to do a big assignment, the last section of your brain, called the control section, is activated,” Sasai tells upstart. When this happens you have to protect yourself, so you either ‘fight or flight‘.

“The control part is blocking the thinking part of the brain, which takes over. What happens is that people can’t think clearly and end up getting stressed and anxious”.

Being self-critical, and trying to achieve perfect scores, is an experience familiar to students throughout Australia. In a national survey of 2,600 students around Australia, 83 percent reported that they suffered from stress, 79 per cent reported anxiety and 76 per cent said they had experienced ‘low moods’.

However, Sasai believes “a little procrastination can be good from time to time when you need a break.”

“As long as you don’t postpone what you’re supposed to do, you should be able to overcome stress,” he said.

1. Break it down

As simple as it sounds, breaking down our problems helps us “avoid stress” and also helps us “feel more motivated,” said Sasai.

Your first step is to make a plan for the whole semester. This will give you an overview of all your deadlines. From there, you can break your semester plan down to a weekly planner. This helps you to find a starting point, and a way to manage your study so you are meeting all your deadlines. With a weekly planner, all of your tasks will not seem as unmanageable.

2. Make a to-do list

Making a list of the daily tasks will also give you an overview of what you need to accomplish for the day.

“Creating goals for yourself and also trying to prioritise your tasks, by numbering them as to which one is more important, will help you as well,” Sasai told upstart.

3. Start with the hardest task first

Saving the hardest task for another day is not going to help you. Of course, it’s more tempting to start out with the task we find easier to do. But actually starting out with the task you feel will be most time-consuming is the better option.

Starting with the hardest task, the rest on your to-do list will seem a lot easier to get through.

To contact Josh Sasai, drop-in to the counselling service, Level 2, Peribolos East Building, La Trobe University, Melbourne.


Freja Loof Johansen is a third-year bachelor of Communication and Media. You can follow her on Twitter @FrejaLoof