Procrastination Pitfalls for Students (and How to Avoid Them)

Let’s face it: no matter who we are, how good we are, or how much self-discipline we have (or don’t have), procrastination can sneak up behind us. Sometimes, we get lucky – we’re able to fight it off and continue working, without much trouble at all. But sometimes, it can cause some pretty big problems that impact our grades, mental health, or even graduation. 

But don’t fret, all is not lost! There are some simple techniques that students can use to avoid procrastination and get back on track. If you want to stop procrastinating both now and forever, and want to unlock your potential as a student, keep reading!

The Short-Term Pitfall: The ‘I’ll Do It Tomorrow’

It’s 10 pm, and you have a test tomorrow morning. You’ve just spent the whole day cleaning your room, taking the dogs for a walk, and meeting up with friends. Sure, these are all great things to do… but deep in the back of your mind, you know that you only did them to avoid studying for your test. 

So, you crawl into bed, thinking ‘it’s fine – I’ll wake up early, and study in before I go to sleep.’ However, when your alarm goes off at 6 am, studying is the LAST thing you’d ever want to do! So, you hit snooze once… then again, then again. Before you know it, not only have you not studied one bit, you’re also late for class!

If this sounds like you, don’t feel bad. In fact, you’re just one of the 95% of students who have fallen into this trap. Not to mention, you’ve made it here which means you’re looking to improve and better yourself, which is step one of overcoming anything. 

The following three simple methods will reduce the likelihood of engaging in overnight procrastination:

Break down your task into smaller, more manageable pieces

I’ve definitely been a victim of working myself into a frenzy and letting a task get the best of me. This is pretty much the definition of making a mountain out of a molehill – nine times out of ten, the task isn’t actually that big and scary.

Pull out your laptop, phone, or notebook, and write down key elements of your task. For example, if I know I need to be able to identify the bones in the arm, I could split my work into learning the hand, the lower arm, the upper arm, and the shoulder. 

This way, I’m no longer approaching this as a big, huge, and terrifying task – instead, I have four small tasks that seem way more doable. Even if I only end up studying one part, I’m still going to do better on the test than if I had studied no parts at all.

Know how long your task is going to take

Time management can be tough, and there are many long-term solutions to managing your time successfully. But, for now, all you need to do is write down a few numbers. 

In your notebook or list, write down how long you think each task will take, as well as how long you’re willing to spend. 

For example, if I have a list of thirty words to learn, I would split this list into three groups of ten words. I think each list will take about 15 minutes to learn – however if I’m having trouble, I will allow myself up to 25 minutes per list. I know that if I end up not being able to learn a list in 25 minutes, I just need to move on to the next one. 

Suddenly, even though I have a daunting list of 30 words to learn, I know that I’m not going to need to spend hours upon hours going over it – in fact, I’m not going to let my study session exceed an hour and fifteen minutes (at the absolute most). This makes it way less scary, and since I know it’s not going to turn into an all-nighter, I feel just a little bit better about doing it.

person holding a alarm clock

If nothing else – just show up

Scrolling through Instagram and TikTok is a dream. Watching your favourite Netflix show is an adventure. Lying on your bed staring at the ceiling… well, it’s better than studying… right?

Obviously, the answer is no – spending precious time doing these things is just going to increase your stress levels and make you feel bad about yourself. On the other hand, I certainly can’t blame you for choosing to do literally anything but studying.

The answer to how to choose to study over doing things you enjoy far more is a complicated one, but for now, you can do something simple – put those distractions in another room, get out of bed, open your work, and just sit there. Yes, just sit there. 

You can put on some simple study music, but make sure you don’t give yourself anything else to do. This will force your brain to choose between option A: being bored and filled with stress and anxiety, and option B: getting work done, feeling better, and reducing stress.

Your brain will more than likely choose option B, and your worries will be in the past. If this doesn’t work the first time, it’s okay – go for a walk, clear your head, come back, and try again. You’ve got this!

The Long-Term Pitfall: The ‘I Don’t Want To Fail, So I’ll Just Stop Trying’

‘I can’t believe I waited until the last minute again. I am the worst person in the world! I wish I could just stop procrastinating. I’m so stupid.’ Does this sound familiar to you?

The internal monologue of a student can be one of the meanest things you’ll ever come across. Think about it – would you ever tell a friend, or even a stranger, that they were stupid because they procrastinated? Of course not! It shouldn’t be any different when you’re talking about yourself.

There’s a key element to procrastination that most people tend to overlook, or just not realise at all. Procrastinating doesn’t mean you’re lazy, bad, or worse than anyone else. Let me repeat that for you: procrastinating doesn’t mean you’re lazy. It doesn’t mean you’re bad. And it doesn’t mean you’re worse than anyone else. In fact, procrastination stems from a fear of failure. 

Once you understand this, you can understand what your procrastination is rooted in, and why it happens to the best of us. You have high expectations for yourself, so you don’t want to do badly – that’s great, and you can do well. 

The first thing you need to do is embrace your fear, understand your reluctance to do badly, and forgive yourself for procrastinating, according to Tim Pychyl, associate professor at Carlton University. This isn’t just some silly emotional stuff, either – a Canadian study found that students who are able to forgive themselves for procrastinating are the ones who are able to eventually overcome it.

If you want to become one of these students who overcome their fear of failure and stop procrastinating, try to implement some of these simple steps into your routine.

Practice positive self-talk

Set a notification on your phone that repeats every single day, reminding you to engage in some form of positive self-talk. This might look like repeating 5 positive affirmations every day before bed, listening to a podcast about self-love, watching motivating TikToks, or using a guided meditation app to keep your mind from filling with negative thoughts.

Here are ten examples of positive affirmations and thoughts: 

  • I don’t waste my energy worrying about things that are out of my control
  • I will focus on my goals
  • I act with courage and confidence
  • I think the work I must do is exciting and interesting
  • I will work with abundant enthusiasm and confidence
  • I am smart, I am strong, and I am confident
  • I naturally turn procrastination into productivity
  • I am worthy of good things
  • I can focus and concentrate at will
  • I will be in the present moment

Stop validating yourself through others

Much of the pressure we feel to do well stems from the expectations of others. Or, at least, the expectations we perceive others have for us. But think about it – do you think less of your friends if they get a bad grade? No, you don’t. 

It’s the same for you – your friends and peers aren’t going to view you as less valuable or less worthy if you don’t do as well as them, or if you get a bad grade. In fact, what’s the worst that can happen – that you might have to do a paper or class again? 

As you make your way through high school or university, you’ll realise more and more that grades don’t define you at all, and ‘failure’ is just a way to embrace new opportunities. Also: as much as you think they might, most people really don’t pay that much attention to you! Especially when it comes to your grades.

Letting go of false expectations is difficult, but will help to ease your fear of failure, and eventually help you to stop procrastinating.

Overcome your perfectionism

Perfectionism is commonly seen as a ‘good’ thing – it means you aren’t going to hand in work that isn’t your absolute best, you will always give your all, and you will never be satisfied. However, this can also be a detrimental mindset to have.

You may find yourself thinking, ‘If I don’t think I can get an A+, then I won’t hand in anything at all,’ or ‘if I can’t study for 5 hours like I wanted to, then I won’t do any study at all,’ or even ‘if I can’t understand this immediately, then I may as well not try.’

While handing something imperfect in and getting a B+ might take your GPA to a 3.5 or a 3.0, not handing anything in at all can drop it to a 2.0 or lower. Or, if you can’t bear the thought of handing in nothing, the stress of staying awake for multiple days to finish everything on time will take a toll on your body that’s just not worth it.

It needs to be said – perfectionism is not all it seems and can cause some massive issues. Luckily, with some consistent work and by learning how to set reasonable goals, you can overcome perfectionism and procrastination with ease. 

Here are seven tips for setting reasonable goals:

  • Visualise your future achievements
  • Don’t be afraid to reassess and adjust when necessary
  • Break them down into very small steps
  • Be specific and include detail when writing them down
  • Use the SMART framework: Specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound
  • Take your schedule and availability into account
  • Consider your limitations – time, money, other commitments, etc.


If you take nothing else from this article, take this: procrastination is surmountable, and it doesn’t have to take over your life. Using these short-term and long-term fixes, you will be able to overcome procrastination, improve your grades, and make your life as a student much, much easier. 

To recap what we’ve learnt today…

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’ll ‘get it done tomorrow’ by:

  • Breaking down your task
  • Giving yourself time limits
  • Showing up

Defeat your fear of failure by:

  • Stopping the negative self-talk
  • Not using others to determine your self-worth
  • Overcoming perfectionism

If you can follow and achieve these smaller steps, I have no doubt that you’ll be able to reach any goal you set for yourself and will be able to beat procrastination once and for all.

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Liv is a Bachelor of Laws & Arts student from New Zealand who creates study and lifestyle content for a constantly expanding audience of over 220,000 students. She is a freelance tutor, writer and content creator who loves social media, marketing, and most of all, studying and university. She is passionate about creating accessible content for students to help them achieve their goals, never feel alone, and enjoy their high school and university experience.

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