If you take classes online, chances are you probably procrastinate from time to time.
Research shows that more than 70% of college students procrastinate, with about 20% consistently doing it all the time.
Procrastination is putting off starting or finishing a task despite knowing that it will seriously compromise the quality of your work – for instance, putting off a major class project until the last minute.
In fact, research has shown that procrastination can be a harmful behavior that lowers a student’s grades.
Now that so many colleges and universities are operating remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we worry that students are more prone to procrastinate because they have less access to campus facilities and structured support from instructors. We raise these concerns as researchers who study students’ motivation and engagement and their procrastination in online learning.
As professors, we’ve also heard our fair share of explanations and excuses for why students missed deadlines. Everything from “my computer doesn’t work” to “my Wi-Fi went dead.” We even had one student claim that “Grandma died” in one course and that “Grandpa died” in another course. We also have had students claim that their roommate deleted their homework.
Whether you see those reasons as valid or not, none of them really gets at why students procrastinate and end up in those kinds of situations in the first place. With that in mind, here are four tips that can help students deal better with the root causes of procrastination when it comes to online coursework.
1. Manage motivation
One of the main reasons students procrastinate is that they do not see their coursework as relevant to what they’re doing now or expect to do later on. When students find that their academic tasks are interesting, important and useful, they are more likely to try harder to get them done and less likely to put them off.
Remind yourself of the practical value of your academic tasks. Figure out the reasons you’re studying something in the first place.
For instance, instead of viewing the completion of an assignment as a way to fulfill course requirements, you can think about how to turn your coursework into something related to your life or career goals. For a computer science student, a programming assignment could be made a part of your portfolio to help secure an internship or even a job – as some of our own students have done. A research report could be turned into an academic journal article to enhance your profile when applying for graduate school in the future.
2. Manage goals, tasks and time
College life can get hectic. Many college students must juggle coursework, social events and work commitments at the same time. Getting more organized helps stave off procrastination. This means breaking long-term goals into smaller short-term, challenging and clear goals and tasks.
The reason this technique works is that procrastination is directly related to an individual’s preference and desire for working on a task. When a goal is too large, it becomes not immediately achievable; therefore, you will see this task as less desirable and be more likely to put it off.
By breaking a large long-term goal into a series of smaller and more concrete subgoals, you will see the project as easier to complete and, more importantly, your perceived distance to the finishing line will shorten. This way, you are more likely to perceive the project as desirable, and you will be less likely to procrastinate.
Second, you need to plan your time daily by listing tasks based on their importance and urgency, estimating how much time you need to complete each task, and identifying concrete steps to reach daily goals. That is, tell yourself that in the context of X, I will need to do Y to accomplish Z.
It is also important to plan your time according to how and when you prefer to study. For example, you may concentrate the most late at night, your memory may work the best in the early mornings, or you may collaborate better during the day.
In addition, you should use tech tools, such as calendar and task-management apps, to plan your time and monitor how much you’re getting done.
3. Create a good learning space
Another important way to avoid procrastination is to make sure that your learning environment is supportive for learning.
During the coronavirus pandemic, students are usually learning from home, but sometimes they study wherever they happen to be, even at picnic tables in public parks. These places may not be best suited for academic activities.
These environments have many characteristics that may be more interesting and less emotionally draining than academic tasks. Therefore, students could drift away from academic tasks and wind up instead chatting with friends or watching sports. This is why choosing or creating a good place to study can help people stop procrastinating.
Try to set up your surroundings in a way that suits your learning habits, including where you put tables and chairs and how you use lighting and block out noises. For example, some students may enjoy learning in a quiet and dark space with a spotlight. Others may learn best when they use a standing desk next to a bright window and constantly play soft background music.
4. Get a little help from friends
Friends and classmates can help one another stop procrastinating. Colleagues and other contacts can hold one another accountable and help one another meet deadlines. This is particularly important for anyone who struggles with self-control. Research also has shown that having supportive friends and other peers can boost self-confidence and make tasks seem more valuable and interesting.
[Deep knowledge, daily.Sign up for The Conversation’s newsletter.]
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students are physically isolated from most of their friends and classmates. The social support that students normally receive in face-to-face settings, such as after-class chats and study groups, has also been moved to virtual spaces. That is, it’s still available, but mainly through virtual means, such as instant-messaging apps, online collaboration tools or video conferencing software. Used wisely, these tools can help students work with friends to overcome procrastination and make the classwork more enjoyable.
Kui Xie receives funding from Institute for Educational Sciences, Spencer Foundation, Ohio Department of Education, Ohio Department of Higher Education, and Ohio Mayfield School District.
Sheng-Lun Cheng does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Authors: Kui Xie, Cyphert Distinguished Professor; Professor of Learning Technologies; Director of The Research Laboratory for Digital Learning, The Ohio State University