At Colorado State University, we often ask our students to offer tips to their peers about how to succeed in an online or distance learning environment. What is an answer given over and over again by our students? Don’t procrastinate!
“It’s a Time Management Thing.”
After reading several student stories on our blog, a theme emerges from students’ advice: It’s a balancing act. As a non-traditional student with a host of responsibilities outside of school, you have to learn to balance work, family, and your education, so these important aspects of your life are not neglected. Aside from these priorities, you want to relax, have fun, and enjoy life, right? Not suffer panic attacks because you’ve procrastinated until the last minute.
“It’s a time management thing,” commented Adam Fletcher, a father, husband, Air Force Captain, and recent graduate of our online MBA program. By managing your time wisely, you can keep life in balance and avoid the stress and anxiety of procrastination. Waiting until the night before an assignment is due may work for some, but you’ll leave yourself little time to edit your work. You may end up turning in a rough draft – which may be too rough for your professor – or you may be late and your grades will suffer. You’ll also perpetuate an endless cycle of anxiety and stress if you get good grades despite procrastinating.
Wealth of Advice – But You’ll Read It Later
So, how do you break the cycle and stop procrastinating? There’s a wealth of good advice online from universities and psychologists, including an intriguing technique called structured procrastination by Dr. John Perry of Stanford University that has worked for me in the past. I enjoyed reading Psychology Today’s procrastination blog while putting off writing this post, which includes a funny story about The Greatest Procrastinator in History. You can also buy a self-help book on breaking the cycle, but if you’re a procrastinator, the book is probably going to collect dust as it becomes one more thing you’ll put off until later.
It’s a Growing Problem
After conducting a meta-analysis of the causes and effects of procrastination, Dr. Piers Steel of the University of Calgary notes in an article published in Psychological Bulletin that “problems associated with procrastination and lack of self-control appear to be increasing” (2007, p. 84; click here for the full article). At the same time, jobs are becoming less structured, and opportunities to procrastinate will only increase in the workplace. When was the last time you played solitaire or engaged in Internet messaging instead of working?
For online and distance students, the problem of putting off work increases when you’re only responsible to yourself and your professor for getting the work done. There’s no boss looking over your shoulder while you study, and with the option to study at home, you have ample distractions to compete for your time and attention. Getting organized and managing your time is essential to avoiding procrastination and succeeding on your assignments.
Most Students Do It – But You Don’t Have To!
In his article, Dr. Steel cites studies that estimate 80-95% of college students procrastinate and 75% consider themselves to be procrastinators, so if you procrastinate, you’re not alone. But as an online or distance student engaging in the “balancing act” of work, family, and school, you have to be extra responsible to avoid what Dr. Steel calls the “quintessential self-regulatory failure.”
It’s National Procrastination Week, so now is a great time to break the procrastination cycle and hit the books. I know you want to, but it’s sooooo nice outside today…