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5 Timely Tips for Pushing Past Procrastination

Counseling Center Staff Encourages Self-Compassion, Support Systems to Avoid Stress During Finals Week

By Annie Krakower

person scrolls on phone while alerts pop up on Post-It-covered computer screen

As the semester wraps up, UMD Counseling Center staff offered five tips to conquer procrastination, which can stem from factors ranging from perfectionism to anxiety.

Illustration by iStock

A blank document that needs to magically turn into a 10-page research paper by the end of the week. A comprehensive exam covering a dozen chapters of complicated equations. And … gulp … the dreaded group project. Amid that deadline desperation and tornado of a to-do list, it might feel better to take out endless squads of terrorists in CS:GO, catch up on episodes of “Love Island” or scroll through about 4,000 TikTok videos.

Especially with finals starting on Saturday, such procrastination—which could stem from factors ranging from anxiety to decision-making difficulty to perfectionism or self-doubt—is a common reaction for Terps and college students nationwide, said Allison Asarch, staff psychologist and coordinator of consultation and outreach services at the University of Maryland Counseling Center.

“Procrastination is one of the issues that students talk about most often, whether they’re struggling with their mental health and coming to the Counseling Center, or not experiencing mental health issues but still experiencing this behavior,” she said.

It’s one of the topics covered in the Counseling Center’s virtual Wellness Workshops, which started during the pandemic and remain popular to provide proactive strategies for boosting mental health and well-being.

In the run-up to finals, Asarch and Jihee Hong, the staff counselor who runs the “Conquer Procrastination Now” workshop, shared five tips to tackle tasks on time, even if it seems overwhelming at first:

Be self-compassionate: “We often beat ourselves up over procrastinating, which only perpetuates the procrastination cycle,” Hong said. Instead, take three steps to show yourself some compassion: Acknowledge your uncomfortable feelings, recognize the common humanity of that experience (“Who wouldn’t feel uncomfortable in this challenging time?” Hong said), and then encourage yourself like you’d talk to a friend.

Use apps: Stressed students can take advantage of several downloadable free project management tools to help prioritize their work and focus on what’s due soon, Hong said. Examples include Asana, a project management platform with calendar and list views for organizing tasks, and Trello, a similarly handy list-making application.

Write a “crappy rough draft”: Sometimes you just need to start working, even if the initial results aren’t pretty, Hong said. Acknowledging that your paper or project doesn’t need to be instantly perfect can help you get over the procrastination hump.

Build a support system: Recruit a study partner, who can double as an “accountability buddy” to further motivate you to do the work, Hong said. Social support can also include friends and family to lean on if you become overwhelmed—or to make fun post-deadline plans with as an extra incentive to check things off your list.

Reward yourself: Give yourself positive reinforcement along the way, like meeting up with friends or indulging in a sweet treat. “If you break some tasks down into smaller tasks, which students are sometimes unwilling or unsure how to do, it makes rewarding yourself a little bit easier because it’s not about rewarding yourself when the entire project or assignment is done,” Asarch said. “It's about ‘chunking’ your tasks and rewarding yourself for each task completed, which can be a very minor task, but it adds up over time.”

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