Procrastination Control: Success Tips for Adult Students

by Shayne Rivers

It was a nightmare that I have repeatedly. I sit at my desk; piles of textbooks with pages marked, sit next to me. On my right is a half
eaten bowl of ice-cream. On my left are the instructions to the class assignment, due tomorrow. I wish for nothing more than to be in my bed, all books closed and study lights dimmed. Instead, the nightmare drags on, often until 1 A.M. when I finally complete the assignment and stumble into the blankets, trying not to wake my husband.

I blame my habit of procrastination on my children, on the dog being sick, or sometimes even on the dirty dishes still piled in the sink. In the end I had to admit that it was fear. It was a deep fear that I was not good enough, that I was not knowledgeable enough, to write the assignments for the class. Once my professor reads my inept thoughts in black and white I’ll be finished. He will know me for the childrearing, house cleaning, dog walking woman I am and will banish me to the back of the classroom. Worse he will know that although I desperately want to succeed and pass every class with an ‘A’, my studies do come last.

As a psychology major, recognizing the fear for what it truly was enabled me to combat it. I created a list of study tactics that removed my excuses and ended the nightmare. Simple and straightforward, you can use these tactics to keep yourself on track. I know they will help you as much as they helped me.

1. Set aside time. The very first thing that you must do is set a schedule for yourself. If you are taking one class or many, mark the assignment due date on your calendar, then work backwards. Set a date for when you need to have the rough draft completed; then the deadline for your research to be finished. Once these dates are posted in your calendar, stick to them. If you fail to plan you plan to fail.

2. Make a habit of it. What are your daily habits? Is there a time that you can squeeze in 15 or 30 minutes for school work, and only school work, with no interruptions? Schedule it on your calendar. If your children are younger, study before they get up by setting the alarm clock a half hour earlier or set your study time to correspond with their nap time. If your children are school-aged, study time should start after they leave in the morning, before you tackle housework or errands. If you are lucky enough to be an empty nester turn off your phone so you won’t be interrupted by any calls. My husband goes to work 30 minutes early and uses that time to do his course assignments. The office is quiet in the early morning hours and he has relatively few interruptions.

3. Do it now. First thing in the morning check your calendar for what activity you need to accomplish today and then do it. Do not get side tracked by other work. You made the schedule – you complete it. I have found for myself that every semester there is one class that I just don’t want to do. It could be because the subject is new to me or is a subject I just don’t like. I found that I pushed that class to the bottom of my list. I would finish assignments that were due weeks down the road so that I had a good excuse for why I didn’t work on the hated classes assignments due tomorrow! When I stick to my schedule I don’t have any excuses. You made your schedule and you are going to stick to it, no excuses!

4. Be flexible. If you get behind, Do NOT, I repeat, Do NOT, throw the whole schedule out the window. Readjust your study plans and get yourself back on track. Everyone fails. It is those people who pick themselves up and get back to work that succeed.

5. Be accountable. If there are other adults in the house let them know this is your study time. Tell someone what your goals are so that you will be held accountable. Even better, tell your teenage son or daughter when your homework is due. “Mom, is your homework done yet?” That will get any parent motivated!!

6. Be Prepared. I admit that I eat during my study time. Set up what you need before you get started. If you know that you work better with snacks or even a glass of water, get it first. Of course, don’t forget the necessities, textbooks, papers, pens. Gather everything that you will need first. You waste valuable time getting up and down looking for items that could have been collected together. Once you sit down to work you should have no reason to get up until the job is done.

7. Pace yourself. Get yourself a timer, one with a loud ticking noise, and set it next to you. This will help to remind you that your time is precious. Hearing the ticking will keep your mind focused and on task. Set it for how ever long you have to get the job done and don’t stop until it rings.

8. Reward yourself. When you were a child at school your teacher would give you stickers and stars for getting a good grade. You would get your name written on the board to be let out early for lunch for helping her in class. Though these are small rewards they work. Put a big star on your calendar or syllabus when you have completed your work. WARNING: never reward yourself with a day off from your school work schedule. This is a slippery slope and will lead you to a long night at your computer.

9. Be a friend. Finding or creating a study group can also be helpful for keeping you on track. Peer review is a great source of help and advice on fine tuning your work. A word of caution: remember the importance of association. If you want A’s, study with others who not only want A’s but are willing to do the work to get an A.

10. Stay motivated. What motivates you? Why do you want to do this? You could be camped out on the couch watching CSI, but instead you have taken a huge step and enrolled yourself back in school. What dream is this going to accomplish for you? Find a picture that helps you think of that dream and tape it where you will see it everyday. I place one on my fridge and a second picture next to my computer. When I am struggling to stay focused I take a moment and I look at my pictures, letting my mind daydream. If I can imagine myself there, I can get there and I will start now.

11. Believe in yourself. Affirmations have been proven to work for everything from quitting smoking to having better self esteem. Listen to the affirmations that you are giving yourself everyday. Do you say, “I can’t do that,” “I’ve never been good at that subject,” “It’s too hard”? If this is what you hear, you are feeding your brain with very bad junk food. Recognize and acknowledge your negative thoughts and then turn them into positive thoughts. Here are some of mine to get you going. See what you can come up with on your own.

Negative thought: “What was I thinking when I decided to take this math class?”
Replace with: “I have two teenagers, math doesn’t scare me.”

Negative thought: “I’m too old to learn new things.”
Replace with: “If the professor, who is younger than my youngest child, can teach this class, I can pass it.”

As a wife, mother, business owner and adult student I have been asked how I do it all. I happily admit that these tips have been my saving grace. I hope that they help you in your quest for higher knowledge and greater experiences. It is a difficult but worthwhile road.

Shayne Rivers is a freelance writer, mother of two and a Ph.D. student living in Northern California.

bluearrow-3080348See also Win the War Against Procrastination.