By Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC  |  05/16/2023

how do i stop procrastinating in online school

Procrastination is the act of postponing tasks or actions that you need to accomplish. Students procrastinate for a myriad of reasons. Often, procrastination creates adverse consequences or stress, but the following article will provide a few of the many tips available to overcome procrastination.

Students procrastinate for many reasons, such as actively avoiding work, putting off tasks, or simply failing to effectively prioritize tasks. College students procrastinate on a regular basis and often put off important assignments on their to do list, so initiating some time management skills is a good plan for overcoming procrastination.

So, do you wish to stop procrastinating? If so, take an inward look at your study habits. Student procrastination in college can be caused by various factors, such as:

  • Fear of failure or imposter syndrome
  • Lack of motivation, interest or self control
  • Poor time management skills
  • A tendency to prioritize - and focus on - short-term pleasure over long-term goals and an important assignment
  • 'Boring assignments'
  • A due date that seems way off in the future (when it isn't when one considers the breadth of a degree program)
  • A busy schedule that interferes with one's school work

Student procrastination is a common experience - especially for online students - and research shows that it can interfere with productivity, academic success, and overall well-being. Also, procrastination can cause an online student to waste time, have additional expenses if it is necessary to make up a class, and experience stress. Procrastination is often one of the main reasons that students fail.


Procrastination Is Common for Online Students

Procrastination is a common challenge for many online students, since online students find they must be self-motivated to get work done. The lack of face-to-face interaction with an instructor makes it easy to get distracted or put off classwork until the last minute.

Without that weekly meeting where you have to face your classmates and professor in person, it is easy to let a deadline pass and ignore the consequences.

Sometimes, the biggest hurdle for an online student is to set a goal and a deadline. If you cannot commit to both a goal and a deadline to get things done, that may keep you from academic success.

However, there are tips for college students to overcome procrastination and manage expectations.


Setting a Goal Is Not Enough

As an undergraduate student, my goal was to graduate. But because I was a full-time professional procrastinator, I never set a firm deadline for my graduation. My motivation was lacking, and procrastinating overcame me.

Like a ship with lots of speed but no rudder, it took me six years to finish my undergraduate degree. I just kept going towards that goal without a firm plan to finish my degree in a reasonable time. Procrastination hindered me on a daily basis.

I was at my university for so long that one day, a school administrator called me in for a meeting to discuss my graduation date. I went to the meeting and sat across from my administrator, who was intently focused on a screen containing the details of my academic career.

After scrolling through the screen for a while, she looked at all my classes and asked, “With all these units, why are you still here, Robert?” I responded that I needed two units of English, three units of physical sciences, and a capstone class.

She then asked, “So why don’t you take those classes and graduate?” I sheepishly said, “Yes, you are right. I will finish all of those classes and graduate.”

I loved my undergraduate experience and being a serial procrastinator. Just cruising and taking classes seemed good enough at the time.

Students procrastinate - it's as simple as that. If this situation sounds like you - and you want to stop procrastinating - you can learn a lot from my experience. There are several strategies and tips that can help you avoid procrastination, stay focused on your online coursework, and help to improve your motivation.


Understand the Power of Clear Goals and Deadlines

Power and academic success come from having goals and deadlines. Without goals and deadlines, less schoolwork gets done and you will experience more stress.

About 10 years after my undergraduate graduation, I wanted to earn my next two degrees more quickly. That desire pushed me to respect the power of specific academic goals and deadlines.

I set a goal to complete my master’s in two years and my doctorate in three years. I completed both my master’s and doctorate in less than six years. That’s not bad for the person who took six years to earn a four-year degree.

My achievements in earning my master’s and doctoral degrees proved that goals are useful in being less of a procrastinator. In addition to earning two more degrees, I have also used goals in writing things such as several books and book chapters. In addition, I have earned several graduate certificates and become a professional coach.

When you’re setting goals, make a schedule or to-do list, outlining the academic tasks you must complete and when they are due. Break down more significant task assignments into smaller, manageable tasks to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Students should stay motivated, set themselves reasonable goals and incorporate timely study sessions in order to meet deadlines. However, students should also take a break now and then to gain a sense of how they are performing each task or assignment. So, ironically, don't procrastinate on taking a break.


Your Homework: Set Micro Goals To Manage

I like to use what I call micro goals, where you create more manageable goals to get your work done. For example, when I wrote my doctoral dissertation, I would set a micro goal to write two pages a day or 14 pages a week.

For my 200-page dissertation, these goals put me at a first draft in a little over 14 weeks. That goal put me on the track to get that dissertation done.

My ability to accomplish goals and get schoolwork done also made a difference during my dissertation. When I went to select my dissertation chair, he was a little reluctant at first. However, that instructor eventually agreed that he should be the chair of my doctoral committee since he was influential to many college students in the doctoral program.

He said, “I will accept being your chair because I know you will get this done quickly.” I thought his statement was odd at the time. But he was enormously bright and a doctoral student is not in a position to question a doctoral committee chair.

After graduation, I found out that instructor had cancer and lived for only about a year after I graduated. He was reluctant to be my chair because he was worried that his health would deteriorate and I would have to start over with a new chair and probably a new committee. The lesson I learned from that experience was never forget how much other people can motivate you toward your goals.


Find a Task Accountability Partner

If you tend to procrastinate when it comes to taking online classes, connect with other students who are taking online courses and hold each other accountable for completing assignments on time. For example, check in regularly with each other and offer encouragement and support and tips to assist each other. Most students work well in tandem with other students - breaking tasks into lists for each to take on.

For my master’s degree, I was part of a group of three college students that held each other accountable. We would try to take the same classes and motivate each other - but procrastinating would still rear its ugly head.

I found that group to be a great experience; it really helped to keep me going. There’s nothing like a friendly competition to get people to try harder!


Minimize Distractions That Make You Procrastinate

Create a dedicated study space to keep you focused and designate a specific area in your after school work or home to study. Also, keep your workspace tidy and free of clutter to minimize distractions.

Once you’re in that study space, turn off notifications on your phone (airplane mode is not just for airplanes) and turn off your computer. In addition, avoid browsing social media platforms and other non-essential websites while you’re studying.

Going to an online library rather than doing your research on Google or other search engines will keep you more focused and less distracted. With a Google search, it is all too easy to be led down the Internet rabbit hole, so take a break from that distraction whenever possible.


Stay Organized

Online college students procrastinate and often feel worse when they start seeing lower grades creep in, so you must be very organized to make progress in their academic journey.

Keep track of your assignments and due dates by using a daily planner or digital calendar. Many students find that a planner or calendar can help prioritize academic tasks.

Don’t be that student who has to ask for more time to complete an assignment. Falling behind will likely make it harder for you to do well in an online class, because you will then have multiple class assignments to complete - and may procrastinate even more!

I once had to move and decided to get an extension for my class. However, it was so hard to get all of that work done in addition to my regular classwork. By remaining committed, that dedication and self confidence will allow you to avoid a lot of stress and rewards all of your hard work.


Stay Committed

Stay committed to whatever time period you set for your online classwork. For instance, set a timer and work on your schoolwork without interruption until the timer goes off. Start with small tasks. Take a short break, then repeat the process - and perhaps take on a tougher assignment.

Think back to when you were in high school - or even middle school - when you had homework and procrastinating was usually not a viable option.

It’s also an important task to remain firmly committed to your long-term goal, which is - of course - to graduate on time.


Reward Yourself for Reaching Goals and Avoiding Procrastination

Rewards motivate people. For example, celebrate your accomplishments in school - even small wins like getting a good grade - by treating yourself to something you enjoy, such as a favorite snack or a fun activity.

Connect that reward to reaching a specific goal, such as completing 25% of your degree. Similarly, plan a big event or reward when you get something you want, such as your degree or certificate. Tips like these can help with your procrastination problem.


Patience and Persistence to Avoid Procrastination

Remember, to avoid procrastinating, it takes practice and persistence. Keep trying different strategies to overcome procrastinating and see what works for you. You should eliminate distractions. For example, put your phone away and start studying; instead of watching tv, take a look at your course material.

Don’t give up if your first attempt an overcoming procrastination is not successful. Commit to trying something three times before you decide it’s not for you. It is possible to avoid procrastination and stay focused and motivated as an online student by developing good habits.

People procrastinate in all facets of life. However, I am sure that once you achieve your chosen goals, you will stop procrastinating over time.


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About the Author
Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC
Dr. Robert Gordon, CPC, is a faculty member of the Reverse Logistics Management and Government Contracting and Acquisition programs at the University. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from the University of California, Los Angeles; a master's degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix; and a doctoral degree in management from the University of Phoenix. Dr. Gordon also holds graduate certificates in information technology project management, information technology security and logistics management from American Public University.

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