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February 6, 2012, 12:00AM PT in Exam Preparation Blog  |  0 Comments

6-Step Plan to Avoid Procrastination

how to avoid procrastination

Most of us vow we won’t procrastinate, but we inevitably end up...procrastinating. It seems to strike even when we’re excited about a goal.

For example, the package of study materials arrived a few weeks ago for the ACE Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor, Heath Coach or the Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist certification, but a bunch of friends are off to see a terrific new movie. Can you imagine procrastinating on your studies? Yes.

More than 70% of college students procrastinate and more than 20% of the general population put important things off until “tomorrow,” “later,” or “when I feel like it.”Â

Procrastinators, it seems, follow the words of Mark Twain: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

Let’s take a look at what procrastination is all about and equip you with the proven tools you need to put off putting off your studies. They’ll work if you give them a chance and truly want to become an ACE-certified fitness professional.

Simply said, procrastination occurs when you know it would be better to start studying, but instead make a decision — for no valid reason — to delay doing so. Instead of studying, you do something that is less important and can have truly negative consequences for you. It starts with good intentions and ends with a delay — and worry, depression, regret and stress. There are health costs to procrastinating as well, including compromised immune systems, gastrointestinal problems and insomnia.

Why We Procrastinate

Here are some typical reasons for procrastinating:

  • Fear of failure and being evaluated
  • Lack of motivation (internal and external) or enthusiasm
  • Forgetfulness
  • Too many distractions
  • Poor time management and organizational skills
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Don’t blame “perfectionism.” It’s not predictive of procrastination and in fact, perfectionists actually procrastinate less frequently.
  • Don’t blame a lack of productivity tools either. They will help you get things done, but they fail to help you get started. The engine that drives the automatic problem habit of procrastination is deep within you, in your mind.

The Self-Talk of the Procrastinator

Procrastinators lie to themselves. They overwhelm themselves into doing nothing by magnifying studying so large that it seems impossible to start. They inaccurately believe that they must study for hours and hours in one sitting instead of breaking it up into manageable parts.

They believe they will feel more like studying “later,” but don’t.

They erroneously believe, “I work best under pressure.” And they ruminate and obsess about all that has to be done — and what they haven’t done — until they are emotionally thwarted from action. They label themselves as “lazy” and thus expect very little from themselves (“labeling”). They inaccurately predict that they will fail and so don’t even try to study (“fear of failure”).

3 Types of Procrastinators
Thrill-seekers Avoiders Indecisive
Enjoy the rush of waiting to the last minute and may overestimate the degree of difficulty to add to their adrenalin pump Overly concerned with what others think of them, avoid possibility of being seen as a failure. They ignore studying hoping they won’t have to Can’t make key decisions so free themselves from accountability by letting short breaks become big ones, focusing on one part of studying to the exclusion of other parts, and spend too much time in extraneous studying

The 6-Step Plan to Avoid Procrastination

  1. Enhance your motivation to change: Pump yourself up by dwelling on success not failure, increase your rewards, study with others, ask others to check on your progress, identify the unpleasant consequences of not studying, keep focused on the satisfaction that comes with achieving ACE certification, use plenty of short-term goals and rewards, and note the progress you are making in self-tests. Praise yourself for what you’ve done, accept compliments from others who are proud of your efforts, and perhaps even wear an ACE shirt while you are studying for added motivation!
  2. Set SMART goals: Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound goals might be, “I will study (read, take notes and review) pages 1-20 alone today from 2:00-3:00 this afternoon with a 15-minute break. I will study with my study group this evening in my home from 7:00-8:30, being fully prepared with answers to the ten questions I agreed I would answer.” Don’t set unrealistic goals for your study plan. If you can’t lift 150 pounds, don’t try lifting 200 pounds. Unsure what you should be studying each week? Enroll in the free ACE Study Coach program, which provides weekly emails that will let you know which chapters to read and which study tools you should be using, as well as what key concepts you should be giving attention to.
  3. Monitor your own progress: A simple to-do list that you keep daily will allow you to cross off tasks as you go. Seeing achievement each day is inspirational and motivating.
  4. Thinking in time versus self-management: Think in terms of self-management, not time management. You don’t manage time; you manage yourself in time. Plan realistically by counting days and weeks backwards from the test date to mathematically make it possible to insure you and your group cover the material. As soon as you get the materials, chunk it down into manageable segments, doing the most displeasing parts first each time you study. Prioritize using the, “what’s urgent?” and “what’s less important?” model. Deadlines for each segment will help.
  5. Rid yourself of unrealistic beliefs: Ask yourself, “How will I enjoy what I am doing?” or “What one small step can I take today?” Tell yourself you “want to study” instead of you “have to study.” Focus on progress, not perfection. Ask yourself, “What belief(s) am I holding onto that are unhelpfully holding me back from studying?” Or, “What other belief(s) can I hold onto that will be more helpful?” Then challenge, dispute and debate the validity of those beliefs and replace them with more accurate, helpful and positive thinking.
  6. Relapse prevention: It’s essential that you recognize when you start to procrastinate. Deal with the initial urges you have to engage in distracting behavior immediately. Agree with yourself that you are going to tough it out, work through the feelings you have, and keep studying until the urge to procrastinate fades. Keep a 3x5 card with your inaccurate self-talk and list of diversionary habits on one side, and on the other list your tactics for curbing procrastination, and then, read it daily. Keep a positive accountability partner.You have taught yourself that you can tolerate the desire to put off studying...and not put it off.

By Michael Mantell
Dr. Michael Mantell

Michael Mantell earned his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania and his M.S. at Hahnemann Medical College, here he wrote his thesis on obesity. He’s served as the Chief Psychologist of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego and the Chief Psychologist for the San Diego Police Department. He provides breakthrough strategies to help business leaders, athletes, individuals and families create healthy, fit and happy trajectories in life. He is the Senior Consultant for Behavioral Sciences for ACE, an international behavior science fitness presenter, an Advisor to numerous companies and fitness organizations, on the Sports Medicine team of The Sporting Club of San Diego and is featured in many international media outlets. He is listed in the greatest.com 2013 “The 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness.”