Posted by: bclawrence | June 24, 2011

Procrastination – The Four Step Program

The “four step program” includes reflecting on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours related to procrastination.

Central questions to the program include:

1) What is your procrastination style?

2) Why is procrastination happening?

3) Is procrastination a problem?

4) What should you do?!

The goal of the program is to move you from a reactive learner to a proactive learner.

Academic procrastination is intentionally delaying or deferring work that must be completed (Schraw, Wadkins, & Olafson, 2007). According to empirical studies (i.e. Schouwenburg, 1995) over 70% of college students procrastinate regularly! So, chances are, you have experienced procrastination… Humans have perfected the art of procrastination because a) it’s reinforcing (have you noticed your output increase when you leave things to the last-minute?) and b) it can be a hard habit to break (successful procrastinators and planning to procrastinate..more on this later).Procrastination among successful post secondary students may have little impact on performance and may allow students to achieve a sustained level of “flow” and better use of their study time (Brinthaupt & Shin, 2001). On the other hand, procrastination may not always be helpful – many students may be underachieving because of regular procrastination. What is your relationship to procrastination?

Step 1. What’s your procrastination style?

The first step is to notice in what contexts and conditions you are most likely to procrastinate. Are there particular characteristics of yourself, the instructor, or the task that you can attribute to procrastination? Challenge yourself to monitor your procrastination tendencies and to keep a record in a log, chart, or portfolio of your time — you may be surprised where the time goes!

Here is a link to a website that provides a free time log template:

Step 2. Why is procrastination happening?

Many educational researchers have described procrastination in a negative light. For example, Ferrari and colleagues (1995) suggest that procrastination decreases the quality and quantity of learning while increasing stress and negative academic outcomes . However, students continue to procrastinate despite these apparent consequences. Schraw and colleagues posit that there are a not only a wide variety of maladaptive aspects of procrastination but also adaptive aspects of procrastination.

This step involves identifying your personal adaptive characteristics of procrastination. For example, in a recent study students described “cognitive efficiency” or maximizing learning in a minimal amount of time (Schraw et al., 2007). Cognitive efficiency was accomplished by a number of ways such as a) increasing focus through concentrated effort; b) identifying and gathering materials well in advance and setting them aside; c) achieving a deep state of “flow” by working under pressure or an extended period of time; d) personal challenge – the excitement and risk of fishing just before the deadline. How is procrastination useful for you?

Next, identify your personal maladaptive characteristics of procrastination. Examples of maladaptive characteristics include: laziness, fear of failure, and postponement of work. But, dig deeper when identifying these aspects of procrastination – what is underneath “laziness” – are you bored with the course context or do the tasks feel irrelevant or useless? Or perhaps you are postponing your work because of fatigue or burnout due to a long semester. Note your feelings and thoughts related to your personal maladaptive characteristics. When is procrastination not helpful for you?

Step 3. Is procrastination a problem?

After answering the questions in Step 1 and Step 2 hopefully you are beginning to have a clear picture of your relationship with procrastination. You may have noticed that you have a history of “successful procrastination” – the case in which you habitually procrastinate and maintain successful outcomes (i.e. high grades). However, when procrastination is a problem you may experience added, unnecessarily stress; you may be left with feelings of regret; or you may experience an unsuccessful outcome. Researchers suggest that procrastination may be linked to lost time, poorer health, lower self-esteem, decreased long-term learning, anxiety, and fear of failure (Wolters, 2003; Ferrari & Tice, 2000). If you are in a problem relationship with procrastination, procrastination may be impeding your academic success and well-being.

Step 4. What should you do?!

So far you have been engaging mainly in self-reflection processes (processes that occur after learning efforts and designed to optimize peoples’ reactions to their outcomes, characteristic of reactive learners; Zimmerman, 2008). In contrast, proactive learners regulate their learning more effectively by engaging in high-quality forethought, which in turn improves self-regulatory functioning. Zimmerman describes forethought processes as self-regulatory processes and motivational beliefs that precede efforts to learn and enhance those efforts.

Specifically, you could develop a self-monitoring practice. Zimmerman and Paulsen (1995) describe self-monitoring as a tool for self-improvement, this tool will help to direct your attention, set and adjust goals, and aid to guide your course of learning more effectively. This four-step program has prepared you to delve into an effective self-monitoring practice. 

General Procrastination Combat Tips (from students!)

  • Students have reported substantially higher levels of interest and learning in the 3 and 5 week course compared to longer courses.
  • When possible, choose courses with deadlines, clear quality standards and criteria for grading.
  • Work in short but concentrated intervals with deadlines
  • Create incentives (lack of incentives tend to increase procrastination) besides grades.
  • “Size up” the instructor as quickly as possible – look for A) instructors with detailed syllabus and concise evaluative criteria as well as early tests in the semesters and B) instructors with high expectations and greater accountability – students report less procrastination among instructors with these characteristics!
  • Create good study environment that eliminates as many interruptions as possible – identify an optimal time and set aside specific times.
  • Distribute the workload by working in groups or using pre-existing resources such as notes borrowed from friends or study guides. Study groups can be effective when feasible because large complex task can  be distributed.
  • Practice cognitive reframing – individuals constructed explanations for their actions that framed those actions in a positive light.
  • Remember what you are working on won’t last long and the break after will feel better once you are finished your work!


Schraw, G. Wadkins, T., & Olafson, L. (2007). Doing the things we do: A grounded theory of academic procrastination. Journal of Educational Psychology, 99(1), 12-25.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2008). Goal setting: A key proactive sources of academic self-regulation. In D. H. Schunk & B. J. Zimmerman (Eds.), Motivation and self-regulated learning: Theory, research and applications (pp. 141-168). New York: LEA.

Zimmerman, B. J., & Paulsen, A. S. (1995). Self-monitoring during collegiate studying: An invaluable tool for academic self-regulation. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 63, 13-27.


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