Procrastination, Motivation and Goal Setting

By: The Academic Success Center at Oregon State University

This module on academic success explores procrastination, motivation, and goal setting. Most people, including students procrastinate. We know that by setting achievable goals and discovering what motivates us, we are better able to combat procrastination and move towards what it is we want to achieve. To start out this module, we'd like you to briefly reflect on the following questions. Do you procrastinate? What do you do when you procrastinate? Why are you avoiding your work? What can be done to combat procrastination? We will structure this module around these four questions. Let's start with the first question, do you procrastinate? Procrastination is to put something off until a later date or time.

It is our belief that every person engages in different levels of procrastination at some point in their life. Even people focused on academic success may procrastinate by engaging in other chores and tasks, such as cleaning, eating, and taking time for themselves. Acknowledging that you procrastinate in some form or another is the first step to learning how to combat your procrastination tendencies. Many of us procrastinate not because we aren't busy - we are - but because we're trying to avoid what really needs to be done, like studying. When we look at the next question, what are you doing when you procrastinate? We might catch ourselves doing a number of things. For example, some people clean or organize when they have work to do. Rather than reading the assigned readings or beginning the draft of an essay, students do their laundry or organize their closets. Cleanliness and organization are both useful to students - having clean, organized environments helps students to focus on their academics - but engaging in these tasks on a consistent basis in order to avoid doing homework or study for an exam is something to pay attention to. Another avoidance- tactic students report is binge-watching TV or movies, and putting aside everything else in order to find out what happens. When we have mid-term exams to study for, we may not want to focus all of our attention to TV and movies. While we at the Academic Success Center also appreciate TV and movies, we know that if we don't set and maintain limits such entertainment can get out of hand and negatively impact our abilities to study course materials.

Finally, a very common procrastination tactic is food preparation. While we know that proper nutrition takes time and planning, we also know that often when studying or working on projects, many of get lost in food preparation because, in reality, we don't want to do what we need to do. Rather than spending hours preparing meals and baking, we might want to buckle down and complete our homework. It's important to note that we're not always procrastinating from working on our academics. Sometimes, we can be ultra-focused on our academics so we put off exercising to complete a homework assignment or we avoid calling the dentist's office to make a dentist appointment because we are trying to complete our reading for class. Becoming aware of how and when we procrastinate is important so we can figure out how to combat our tendencies to avoid doing what needs to be done.

That leads us into our next question for procrastination: why are you avoiding your work? There are a lot of reasons why people avoid doing their work. Sometimes, we avoid doing the work because the sheer amount seems like too much to handle. We haven't taken the initial steps yet and we can't find the motivation to do it. David Burns finds that when we actually begin a task, we begin to become motivated.

Procrastination, Motivation and Goal Setting

Motivation doesn't actually need to be present before that initial starting point. Burns also finds that skill deficits are one of the most basic reasons for procrastination. We avoid doing work because we don't know how to do it.

When skill or knowledge deficits are causing procrastination, it's important to identify what the problems are. Once you know the problem, you are better able to seek help and figure out ways to solve it. Lack of interest also plays a large role in procrastination. We all experience lack of interest in different areas of our lives. When we don't find immediate interest in a particular class or on a certain assignment, we might find that we often delay studying or completing the assignments for this class. One way to get past this is to just do the work. When you work on an assignment and get it over with, you may have more time after the assignment to do something you are naturally more motivated to do. Our fourth question is how to combat procrastination. We've found that combating procrastination involves four different steps. The first is to monitor what you do and what you avoid. Like we mentioned previously, we are probably procrastinating in various spheres of our lives: our academics with homework and readings, our personal time with laundry and watching TV, and our personal health with exercise and dentist appointments.

When we acknowledge our procrastination activities, we can begin to think about the next step which is to think about why we procrastinate. As previously discussed, people procrastinate for a variety of reasons. If we want to truly tackle our procrastination tendencies, we need to know why we avoid completing our tasks or work. The third step is to find motivation. When you think about completing an assignment, what motivates you to finish the assignment? Is it the free time you'll have when it's done? Is it the grade? Or perhaps there is something else that helps you push to complete your work. The final step is to set goals. Goal setting helps us find a direction and a focus for our energy and will often help us combat procrastination. Feist and Rosenberg define motivation as the urge to move towards one's goals and to accomplish tasks. They also differentiate between types of motivation. There are extrinsic and intrinsic types of motivation.

Extrinsic motivation consists of the external incentives, pressures, etc. And intrinsic motivation consists of the internal drive you have to do something. There are also positive and negative motivations which interact with the extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. Positive motivation is the motivation towards something and negative motivation is the movement away from something. This figure provides examples of the four types of motivation. Extrinsic positive motivation can be illustrated by the following situations: writing a report in order to receive a bonus or writing a paper to secure scholarship money Negative extrinsic motivation includes situations such as writing a report or getting fired. Intrinsic negative motivation sounds like "I don't really want to write this report." This motivation comes around on occasion when we haven't worked to find value in certain classes or assignments. Sometimes, we can combat this form of motivation by reframing the situation.

Deciding that you will learn something from the report may bring positivity to the table. The final form of motivation is positive intrinsic motivation which sounds like "I really want to write this report because I know I will learn something valuable in the process." Now that we've discussed the different forms of motivation, it's time to think about what motivates you. Let's begin by thinking about studying for an exam. When we study for exams, many thoughts and different motivations may stream through our consciousness. An example of positive extrinsic motivation would be that we want to get a good grade on the test. This is probably one of the most common motivations for studying for an exam. Grades are set up to motivate us to study. Reframing this as a negative extrinsic motivation would be that if we don't study for this test, we will fail. When we look at the intrinsic and inner motivations that encourage us to study for exams, we can begin with the negative, if we don't study for this test, we don't learn any of the information.

And the positive intrinsic motivation would be that if we study for the test, we'll learn the material. While all of these might help you get to study, the positive intrinsic motivation might be a more sustainable and less stressful form of motivation. Let's think for a minute about the other things that motivate you. What helps you to make meaning of a class that isn't directly related to your major or an assignment that doesn't apply to your future field of study? Finding motivation in these situations will help us have a more positive academic experience in college. We've found that there are a few key things that help students stay motivated. The first is rewards.

Many students find that they will accomplish more if they set up a rewards system to keep them on task. Some students reward themselves with shopping, treats, or free-time for activities they want to do. Oftentimes, rewards can be built into your study routine. If you're studying for several hours, you can build rewards into your study breaks where you can watch the YouTube clip you wanted to see or view the first ten minutes of your favorite TV program. If you do either of these things, make sure you cut yourself off in time to get back to work and set yourself up for your next reward, the next ten minutes of your program. Healthy competition is another motivator for many students. Some students are naturally competitive. These students might be able to find motivation by competing with friends or classmates throughout the term. For example, whoever studied the most during the week might buy the other FroYo.

Or the person who made more questions for the study guide wins a cup of coffee. Competition can add motivation and excitement to your study time and helps build in accountability. Another part of motivating yourself has to do with mastery. We all like to feel accomplished and we find satisfaction in our success and improvements. It feels good to know that we are getting better at things.

Acknowledging that we're learning and expanding our knowledge may motivate us to keep learning. We can do this by keeping track of our accomplishments and charting our successes. Goal setting is one of the keys to helping us combat procrastination. When we set achievable goals, we give ourselves something to work towards. Research shows that goals help us to direct our attention and effort, both cognitively and behaviorally. Goals are energizing. When we set higher goals, we put forth greater effort. Goals also affect our persistence by helping us pace time and they allow us to work faster and more intensely.

Finally, goals contribute to our sense of discovery, challenge, and complex thinking. When setting goals, it's useful to think about setting small-scale and large-scale goals. A large-scale goal may be to obtain a college degree. A small-scale goal might be to read and take notes during a reading session.

Regardless of whether you're setting small or large goals, you'll want to create goals that will set you up for success. Sometimes goal setting can be tricky. Setting goals that are too out of reach will cause us to lose motivation rather than to become motivated. Rather than setting goals that are too big, we recommend making SMART goals. Smart goals are specific, measureable, attainable, relevant, and time-oriented. Take a moment to look at the three goals we have here and decide if they are smart goals. What did you decide? The first goal is not smart for a couple of reasons: it is not specific and measurable. What does it mean to "do better" and how do you measure that? You can make this goal a smart goal by reframing it.

"I will do better in school next term by getting all Bs and As in my three classes." The second goal is not a SMART goal for most college students. The smaller steps it would take to be able to acquire a commercial pilot's license are not conducive to a student's schedule, and so while it is time sensitive, it is not an attainable goal in the time frame and thus does not fit the criteria for SMART goals.. The third goal, however, would be a SMART goal because it fits the five criteria.

At the end of the next term, you will know if you have turned in every assignment on time in WR 244. You can also check your progress toward this goal each time an assignment is due. Did you meet the deadline? If not, you may want to reprioritize so you can reach your goal. Take a moment to look at the three goals we have here and decide if they are smart goals. On the Learning Corner website, we offer students a goal setting worksheet to help them through the four stages of goal setting. We're going to walk through the steps of goal setting right now.

The first step is to write down five SMART goals. Remember to make sure the goals fit all four criteria. In our example, we have: apply to summer internship by January 24th, finish writing final term paper by the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, get an A in history class, and fill out the term at a glance form during the first week of winter term. Now it's time to pick a goal.

Let's assume we're making this list during fall term. I'll pick the final term paper goal because it's probably first on the list to get done. Once we've picked a goal, it's time to break it down into smaller steps. Depending on how you plan, you could fill out this part backwards or forwards from the deadline. I'll fill it out backwards. The final step would be to email my paper to my professor the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Before that, I would need to do final self-edits, take the final draft to the writing center, self-edit & rewrite my rough draft, write my rough draft, create an outline, and brainstorm.

After breaking down the steps, it's important to fill out part three which has us look at resources, obstacles, and methods to overcome obstacles. The resources I have for achieving this goal are the Writing Center, my peers in my class, my professor, my textbook, research articles, and others. Obstacles that might get in the way could be football games, work, other classwork, family, and most likely friends. To overcome these obstacles, I might write that I will care out specific time in my schedule to work on the paper, tell my family I am working on this commitment, and stay motivated throughout the process. For part four, I get to think about my future success. Once I have achieved this goal, I will be able to sit down with my family to eat Thanksgiving without going into the other room to study or write my paper. I will be more relieved during finals week and will be able to focus on my other final exams. Thus, breaking down this goal has helped me be better prepared for multiple successes. Throughout this module, we've covered what procrastination is, what causes it and how you can combat it by setting goals and staying motivated.

What one action can you take to help yourself combat procrastination and push towards your personal academic success? Thank you for joining us for this module on procrastination, motivation, and goal setting. Please visit our website at for more information and study tips.

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