How to beat procrastination and become a more active learner

The urge to put off studying affects just about everybody. So let’s look at why you procrastinate and how to stop doing it.

Lazy cat with remote OUA logo

When it comes to online study, people tend to procrastinate out of fear. They fear failing, or not living up to their own expectations, especially when they’re in charge of their own learning.

While this is a totally normal reaction, we promise you can train your brain to stop thinking like this, and to start doing. Just follow these easy tips.

Overwhelmed by your workload? Make a weekly date with your LMS

Do you log in and out of your Learning Management System (LMS) at irregular times? Because it doesn’t take long for those important discussions, learning materials and lecture videos to pile up. And when you feel swamped by work, you often procrastinate out of panic.

Break this cycle by scheduling in a time when you have to log into your LMS every week, just like you’d schedule in a doctor’s appointment or haircut. When you have an official timeslot for study, you're much more likely to do it. Telling friends or the people you live with about your study time can also make you stick to it because most of us don’t like looking ‘lazy’ or getting caught out in front of others.

Don’t think you can do it? Break down the task

It’s also common to procrastinate when tasks sound too big and daunting, or you’re anxious that you won’t get the outcome you want. Like maybe you have to tackle a 2,000-word essay that counts for 40% of your final grade and you feel too overwhelmed to even start. If that happens to you, try breaking the job down into little, manageable tasks instead.

For example, you could break the essay down into stages that you can check off on a list: 1) plan the topic, 2) write an outline, 3) do the research, 4) draft each section, 5) create a reference list, 6) edit the essay. If that still doesn’t help, break those stages down even further until the steps are so simple, it’s easy to make progress. This stops you from looking too far ahead and forces you to focus on the task at hand.

Completely unmotivated? Chat with someone you admire

Some people have a certain joie de vivre. You just want to spend time with them, because you feel energised by everything they have to say. If you’re in a study funk, seek those people out and have a conversation with them about your goals and dreams. It doesn’t matter if they’re a parent, friend, boss, colleague or mentor—they’ll quickly remind you what you want to accomplish with your study, motivating you to get stuck in.

It doesn’t even have to be someone you know. Think about famous professionals you admire, or topics that ignite your passions, and spend half an hour watching inspiring talks. Some great places to start include TED Talks, university commencement speeches, and podcasts (here are 18 motivational options recommended by Mashable).

Unsure about the topic? Start in the shallow end

You might also procrastinate when you’re faced with something unfamiliar. If you’re reluctant to dive into dense course content, try easing into the topic with a basic overview, which you should be able to find on Google, Wikipedia or YouTube. Doing this prompts you to start coming up with questions and ideas, which is sometimes all you need to get going.

If fear or confusion are holding you back, don’t be afraid to get in touch with your tutor directly over email, or through the forums in your LMS. They’ll help you deconstruct a topic or an assignment task and get across what’s required. They want to see you succeed, so keep that in mind when you’re feeling stressed.

Ultimately, you can beat procrastination by working out why you want to put something off, and then addressing that root cause. Whether it’s stress, conflicting deadlines, a lack of motivation or a lack of confidence, there’s always a way to coax yourself through your to-do list and to take a more active role in your learning.

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