Helping students develop anti-procrastination skills

0 0 1,840

While I structure my course—and provide direct instruction—on time management, I generally do not address procrastination head-on. Although, when I taught face-to-face, I’d wear this t-shirt to class: “Procrastinate today! Future you won’t mind the extra work.” As far as interventions go, it was low cost: $19.99 plus shipping, and it was one day I didn’t have to weigh my different clothing options. Did it help students reduce their procrastination? I don’t know. I never measured procrastination in classes that saw the shirt and those that didn’t. It wasn’t because of procrastination, though! It just never occurred to me to do it.

An article in the August 2022 issues of Current Directions in Psychological Science has me thinking about procrastination again. Akira Miyake and Michael J. Kane suggest several small-teaching interventions that can help students develop some anti-procrastination strategies. Their suggested interventions are based on a self-control model of procrastination (Miyake & Kane, 2022).

One reason we procrastinate is because doing the task is aversive, and so we regulate our emotion by doing something less aversive instead. James Gross has done the most thinking about and the most research on emotion regulation. A freely available article he wrote with Kateri McRae for the journal Emotion provides a nice overview of the topic (McRae & Gross, 2020).

Doing something less aversive than the thing we should be doing is not always a bad thing. I’m a fan of productive procrastination. For example, yesterday morning I was going to write this blog post. While I don’t usually find writing aversive (although, I did as a college student—big time), if I have done several days of writing, sitting down in front of my computer monitor can feel like an insurmountable lift. That was yesterday. Instead, I did a whole list of household chores, including shoveling gravel—admittedly, not a typical household chore. Now, the shoveling of gravel was something I had been procrastinating on. With the heat we’ve had and, well, it’s shoveling gravel, the task was pretty aversive. Or at least it was until something else became more aversive.

To help with task aversion, Miyake and Kane suggest instructors teach students about the pomodoro technique: set a timer for 25 minutes, work for those 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break, repeat. They also suggest teaching students the scientifically not-validated 5-second rule where when the inclination to work on the task hits, you have five seconds to act before the feeling passes. I would add to this my strategy of getting out everything I will need and set it up so that when that inclination hits, I am ready to go.

To also reduce task aversion, Miyake and Kane recommend that instructors can do more on our end. When students see value in their assignments, the assignments are less aversive. For example, we can ask students to write a few sentences on how an assignment can be personally meaningful to them. We can also break large assignments into smaller ones. While it would be great if all students could already do this on their own, they don’t. When we break larger assignments into smaller ones, we are modeling the practice. It would probably also help if we were explicit about why we are doing that. While we’re at it, it probably wouldn’t hurt to describe big projects that we’re working on now and how we’ve broken those projects into smaller, more manageable pieces. Doing this can also help students stop thinking about the end outcome and focus on the process involved in getting there. I’ve had plenty of students who were so focused on what their end grade in the course was going to be, they forgot that the purpose was to learn. I remind them that if they focus on learning, the grades will follow. That reminder doesn’t help everyone, but it seems to resonate with some.

In addition to task aversion, we may also procrastinate because we lose sight of our goals—or don’t have goals at all. As a student (high school, college, and grad school), I was firmly in the latter category. I had no goals beyond making it through each class I took with an A or a B. Those were good enough goals for me as I’ve done well enough in my career. At no point, though, did I have a long-term goal to become a college professor. I just kind of fell into it. Once I got into this career, though, I did develop some career goals, and I’ve checked a bunch of those boxes.

Miyake and Kane suggest helping students create goals, and then teach students how to use planning tools such as a calendar, a to-do list (e.g., Trello), and reminders (e.g., to help them reach those goals. They also suggest instructors use their learning management system (LMS) to send reminders to students. Again, it would be great if all of our students had the skills to create reminders for themselves, but they don’t. Now I wonder if it would be effective to remind students to set up reminders—meta-reminders. There’s an empirical question.

Miyake and Kane’s last set of suggestions for helping students work toward their goals is to teach students to use when/then statements to propel them toward their goals. For example, “When I leave class, then I am going to go to the student union, order coffee and a scone, and start reading the next chapter.” They also recommend encouraging students to remove distractions. For most of my students, it’s their phones. For others, it’s their family or others they live with. They’ve found going to the library or a coffee shop helps reduce distractions. My favorite was my student who would go to the food court at IKEA: not many people on a weekday, free wifi, cheap snacks, AC, and a great place to take a walk during a break.

While managing negative mood states and attending to goals are important, Miyake and Kane also recommend reflection and community building to help students adopt some of the strategies discussed above. For reflection, instructors can ask students to periodically reflect on their study habits, e.g., what’s working and what’s not. Creating a supportive class environment where students can support each other in their anti-procrastination efforts provides a space where students can share their strategies and celebrate their wins.

Lastly, Miyake and Kane recommend that we evaluate effectiveness of our interventions, preferably with objective measures rather than self-report. For example, are students submitting their work earlier than they did in previous quarters?

If you’re game for adopting some of the strategies suggested by Miyake and Kane for your Intro Psych course and are interested in working with other Intro Psych instructors to gather effectiveness data, visit the collaboration page at Regan A. R. Gurung’s Hub for Introductory Psychology and Pedagogical Research (HIPPR) website. If you’re the first one there, fill out the HIPPR collaboration form.

Do you use any of these or similar strategies to help students develop anti-procrastination skills? Or do you know of any peer-reviewed articles that have evaluated anti-procrastination strategies in a classroom or work environment? I invite you to use the comment box below.



McRae, K., & Gross, J. J. (2020). Emotion regulation. Emotion, 20(1), 1–9.

Miyake, A., & Kane, M. J. (2022). Toward a holistic approach to reducing academic procrastination with classroom interventions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 31(4), 291–304.




About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.