Procrastination (Putting things off)

IntroductionOne of the commonest problem worrying  students is the tendency to put thing off until the last moment - or to beyond  the last moment. Of course it is not only students who have trouble with this  habit. Probably every one of us has tried to avoid some unpalatable task at some  time - it is a natural human reaction. However university students are  particularly vulnerable, possibly because of the amount of work expected of  them, the lack of formal structure in university and the range of tempting  distractions on campus.

We all have our own preferred way of working. If letting the tension build up  a bit before you get started works well for you, then there is no reason you  should change. However if you get increasingly behind with your work and end up  feeling wretched about yourself and your course the problem needs  addressing.

Signs of procrastination

Signs of Procrastination

Do any of the points below  sound familiar to you?

Difficulty in making a start on a piece of work or revision  

Do you find yourself constant putting back your starting time and  never actually getting going? Are you often waiting for the "right moment" to  start or for inspiration to strike you?

Craving diversion 

Does the need to tidy your room, do  the shopping, phone home and so on become irresistible whenever you contemplate  getting down to work? Are you easily distracted from your work by friends and  social opportunities?

Ineffective working 

Do you spend time in the library but  end up with little to show for it? Do you stare at a blank piece of paper rather  than being able to start writing?

Last minute rushing 

Is all your work finally done at a  breakneck speed the night before the final deadline or the exam? Do you often  think you have not left yourself time to do the work justice?

Missed deadlines 

Do you feel you are always requesting  extensions and making excuses? Are you losing marks on work because it is late?  Do you find it hard to get to classes?

Nagging guilt 

Is your social and relaxation time spoilt  by the continual feeling that you ought to be working? Do you often feel you  have got a lower grade than you should have achieved?

Disappointment and self-reproach 

Do you feel you are  letting yourself down by putting things off? Do you think of yourself as lazy  and as a poor student? Do you compare yourself unfavourably with others because  of your procrastinating?

If you answer yes to many of these questions, you may well have developed the  habit of putting things off. Read on to learn why you do this and how to help  yourself.

What causes us to procrastinate?

Before looking at possible remedies, we offer some explanations about what  may have led you into this habit. Understanding some of the causes of the  trouble may help you avoid blaming yourself and calling yourself lazy. Instead  it can help you look at constructive solutions.

Over-Aversion to Discomfort 

Being a student is certainly  not all easy and enjoyable. Much of the work needs effort to get started and can  be demoralisingly difficult to complete. In addition the lack of structure  places a considerable demand on the student. The reason that a degree is a  highly respected qualification is because of the volume of hard work which goes  into getting one. It is normal to find the work uncomfortable - and if you can  face up to this discomfort, you can expect to get the knack of dealing with it  surprisingly soon and so cease to notice it so much. If however you have got  into the habit of putting off work whenever it feel too challenging, you never  get good at doing uncomfortable things. It is as thought you are never breaking  through the "pain barrier" to the comfort beyond.

Lack of Self-Confidence 

Facing up to a complex essay or  to a pile of demanding revision is never easy. It is made more difficult if you  see the natural problems that arise as a sign that you are not very good student  rather than just as a sign that the work is hard. If you tend to blame yourself  when problems arise, you then may not feel able to ask for help and to overcome  the difficulties. This makes the problems worse. Perfectly able students can  convince themselves that they are "impostors" who do not deserve to be at  university at all when in fact they are capable of a high level of  achievement.

Getting Overwhelmed 

If we sit down to write an essay and  find there is a lot to research, it is natural to feel a bit swamped. There are  practical ways of solving this. If however you tend to lose direction, maybe  reading books haphazardly without having a clear idea of how they can help you,  you may get more and more overwhelmed until you put off starting the work  altogether. Similarly if you have got all your work in a muddle, you may not  know how to start getting it back in order.

Under-Developed Study Skills 

Study-skills are the tools  a student uses - the ability to scan books and articles fast; to summarize  succinctly; to evaluate arguments quickly. If your skills are rusty or have not  been sharpened, you will be like a carpenter working with blunt tools -  everything will be much harder work. This problem may be made worse if English  is not your first language. If you don't recognize this as a simple study skills  problem and take steps to remedy it, you may become demoralised and unable to  face working.

Unrealistic Expectations 

Some people decide they should  never get less than full marks and that any grade below a first is a mark of  personal failure. Unfortunately most of us are not capable of such sustained  excellent performance and will soon grind to a halt if we put this pressure upon  ourselves. Unrealistic ideals can lead us to shy away from producing work that  reflects our true ability. By leaving everything to the last moment we can keep  alive the hope that we really could get a first in everything if we just got  started.


Possibly you are not impressed by The  University of Liverpool in general. Maybe some aspect of your course has proved  to be a disappointment. Perhaps the course you are on was not your first choice  and you resent that you could not do what you really wanted. You might have felt  pushed into going to University against your will by parents or teachers. In  situations where we feel wronged or let down or coerced but we cannot clearly  see who is to blame, it is natural for us to express our resentment by not doing  the work which is asked of us. It is a sophisticated form of sulking.

Habituation and Lifestyle 

If you have become totally  used to putting things off and to getting extensions, it can be immensely  difficult to take the first step towards breaking the habit. The situation can  be made worse if you have got in the habit of sleeping in very late, or of using  drink and soft drugs to distract you.


Inability to concentrate and lack of  motivation can be a symptom of depression. If you have other symptoms, like  sleeping problems, lack of energy and appetite, weepiness etc. you may wish to  see our page on Depression.