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Now, not later

Procrastination is the nightmare of every college student. Chandana Chandra has tips on how to tackle it

Puja Shaw had her exams in a month's time. So she sat down at her desk that Sunday, determined to start preparing. "Then I found that the syllabus was huge," she says. So huge in fact that she was too intimidated to wade in. A couple of days went by in starting a chapter but then she gave up as she was too stressed about the workload. "I started working after I made up my mind to tackle the toughest chapters first and deal with the easier ones later." The tough chapters were also the longest ones, and not her favourites. She took much longer to master them than she had thought. "I found that I had no time to revise," says the third-year student of Scottish Church College, Calcutta. Since she had not mastered the syllabus, she lacked confidence and performed poorly even though she is a bright student. If only she hadn't repeatedly postponed preparing for her exams!

Procrastination is a trait that is very prevalent among students, and not just in India. An American study estimates that over 70 per cent of students "exhibit this behaviour". Rebecca Olsen, a doctoral student of Victoria University at Wellington in New Zealand, had struggled to overcome academic procrastination too. That is why she chose to focus on the why of procrastination and the how of tackling it in her thesis. She says that not just students, many adults too suffer from procrastination. This is because people have trouble giving up small rewards to work towards long-term goals - be it studying, healthy eating, exercising, quitting smoking or saving money.

"For example, when students procrastinate, they are choosing a smaller immediate reward such as watching television over larger rewards that are received in the future, like getting a good grade," Olsen explains.

Take Srijita Banerjee, first-year student of J.D. Birla College in Calcutta. When she finds the pressure of studies oppressive, "I prioritise my work and focus on a specific one," which is usually something she has to finish earlier or she likes to study. Procrastination can also be subject-specific - you study a subject you like and procrastinate on the one you don't. This leads to a lower grade and even more dislike for it.

Procrastination is not always bad, especially for perfectionists or those who aim for outstanding results. "Students of MPhil, PhD often finish their experiments with good scores. But it takes a long time for them to write the thesis. Sometimes, they can't start writing the first chapter because they haven't found the perfect way to begin and sometimes they can't proceed to the next chapter as they are not satisfied with the first one," says Subhrangshu Aditya, faculty at Centre for Counselling Services and Studies in Self Development, Jadavpur University, Calcutta. Quite often, they begin to feel guilty about all the time they have wasted and that, instead of getting them to start writing, leads to more procrastination. They usually get a flash of a "creative idea" when the deadline is perilously close and then stay up for 48 hours straight, fired up with a strong motivation, to finish their work. This gives them a feeling of achievement and satisfaction.

Students are anyway handicapped when it comes to self-control: According to Dr Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation, in the early 20s we are still developing the pre-frontal cortex, which is the home of will power.

So how can we stop procrastinating? Olsen says we can do that only when we learn self-control and can focus on long-term gains rather than immediate rewards. Her suggestion is that you vividly imagine a future event after you achieve your long-term goal for motivation. She has also studied whether people understand the impact of immediate rewards on their own behaviour and believes that we don't know how difficult it is to be self-controlled until faced with that choice.

So set a goal first - visualise a pleasing incident around it - and then set up a routine to help you achieve it. Set a deadline for each piece of work - a little earlier than the official last date - and stick to it. Practise finishing homework and projects as and when you get them. Do not leave work pending and, if you do procrastinate once in a while, do not be too hard on yourself. You will soon see that you have got the better of procrastination.


7 WAYS TO BEAT PROCRASTINATION

Give yourself a reward every time you complete a task. This can be time to go on social media, eat or go outside

Put your phone on aeroplane mode. The less time you spend on your phone, the faster you can get through your work

Let a friend or family member know what task you're aiming to complete that day. It will keep you on track

Listen to music to bring your energy levels up. But make sure to switch to music that will help you focus as well

If you randomly end up shopping online or in a YouTube hole, how about turning the WiFi off on your laptop? If that's too much for you, download an app that blocks distractions on your computer for a fixed amount of time

Think about the result. After you complete an assignment or your exams, you are one step closer to receiving your degree and all the hard work would have paid off

Remember that this is just a small pain for a lifetime of gain. After you're done, you no longer have to think about this again

Source: Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand

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