Rethinking Procrastination

When we think of laziness, procrastination often comes to mind. After all, putting off work sure looks lazy to parents and teachers. But psychological research tells us that when people appear unproductive, they are in fact likely to be under too much strain. The more pressure we experience and the more we care about doing well, the more likely we are to procrastinate. So the cause of procrastination is often performance anxiety—not laziness. And when anxiety is the issue, the last thing we need is to feel more pressure to work harder. Instead, it can be helpful to walk away from the task and engage in a relaxing activity. Some ideas are included in the “Materials” section at the bottom of this episode.

The Chunking Method

One super common cause of academic anxiety is having a big project where the first steps are unclear. Most of us aren’t born knowing how to tackle big school projects. That doesn’t make us lazy!

It can be really helpful if you have an understanding teacher or parent who can sit down with you and help you figure out the best way to go about dividing a project into smaller steps with mini deadlines.

But even in the best circumstances, most of us don’t begin a task feeling highly motivated. Motivation and momentum are things we have to foster. To foster momentum, it can help to divide a task into the smallest chunk that feels manageable. This is a productivity technique called “chunking.” For example, if you have a 10-page paper to write, maybe you start by opening a new document and typing your name. And if you find that this step gives you a bit of energy and momentum, you might add on the “While I’m here, I may as well…” technique, and write a whole paragraph. Whether you start with one word or one paragraph, the idea is to chip away at the daunting project so that it’s not as intimidating. I hope this strategy helps you feel a little less overwhelmed!

Thanks so much for completing this episode. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to tag me in a Class activity post (@taylor). I’d love to help!