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Planning and procrastination

Planning and procrastination

When you study at a university, several learning processes are active at the same time. One learning process regards the content of your own subject – there is a lot to learn in order to become an expert in your field. The other learning process is about how you study. Students tend to use the same way of studying as before. Previous ways might have worked well in the past when studies were less demanding. However, these ways might not be sustainable anymore. As your studies progress, you need to take more responsibility for your own learning while the study material becomes larger and more multidimensional.

Are distance studies challenging for you? Here are some tips to create effective study routines and strategies for yourself.

Distinguish between studies and other activities

  1. Try to arrange a place at home where you only study. Decorate it as pleasantly as possible.
  2. Plan clear study sessions for your week and take breaks.
  3. Can you dedicate a specific day of the week to your studies?

Create routines to be able to focus

If you have good study routines, your memory is relieved, and you have more energy to focus. Planning is also crucial for you to stay focused and get things done.

  1. Draw up a schedule for yourself and make a to-do list for each week.
  2. Divide the tasks into smaller parts so that you can tick off the to-do list after and many times during the day, such as reading 5 pages, writing 200 words. When you complete an item on the list, your brain gets positive feedback, you feel like you’re succeeding, and it makes you more motivated to tackle the next item on the list.
  3. To get started easily, make sure that the first point is easy to complete so that you get your first cross in the list early on.
  4. Focus on one thing at a time, don’t try to do several things at once. (see Brain-friendly ways of working)

Create a calm environment

  1. Put your phone away when you are studying.
  2. If it is possible for you, make sure that you are not interrupted and can study in peace and quiet.

Whether you have a lot to do or you just don’t have a good grasp of when to do things, it’s a good idea to plan your time. It may sound trivial, but the calendar is one of the most important tools for a course participant.

  • Find a calendar that works best for you, either a physical or an electronic calendar.
  • A general guideline might be to allocate about 8 hours each day to work (including breaks), 8 hours to leisure, and 8 hours to sleep. As an adult student, you may need to think that your studies are part of your leisure time.
  • How many hours can you study each week? It may be better to plan fewer hours of efficient work than a full day of procrastination.
  • Also think about what time of day you get the most done. Do you work most efficiently after breakfast, in the afternoon or in the evening? Are evenings or weekends better?
  • Try it out to see what suits you best!

Start by completing timed activities such as lectures, seminars, and group meetings. Then, fill in deadlines, book due dates, and similar milestones. Next comes the most important step, plan your independent work.

While study techniques might seem a bit boring at first, they are, in fact, very worthwhile. If you reflect on and improve your study techniques, the effort will repay itself many times over in time, energy, and how much you learn.

A specific technique that many find helpful is the so-called Pomodoro Technique. It builds on the fact that we humans are not very good at staying concentrated for long periods. Generally, we tend to get tired and lose concentration after about 25 minutes. If you keep working longer than that, chances are that your productivity will diminish drastically. Luckily, even a short break can help us recharge!

Here’s how the technique works:

  1. Figure out exactly what you are going to do. It is crucial that you have a clearly defined and limited goal!
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes and work intensely on your task. You can use the timer on your phone, or install a plugin in your browser (search for “Pomodoro”).
  3. When the timer rings, take a break for 5 minutes. Give yourself some sort of little reward, for example, compliment yourself for working hard or get a cup of coffee.
  4. After 5 minutes, set another timer for 25 minutes and get back to work!

You might notice that you get distracted by something as you are working, for example, you might start thinking about something else than the task at hand. Try this: keep a piece of paper or a notebook nearby, and jot down what distracted you. Get back to work, and return to the distraction (if needed) after your time is up.

If you choose to try the Pomodoro Technique, it can be beneficial to note how many 25-minute shifts you complete in a working day. It can be encouraging and rewarding to e.g., write an “X” in your calendar for every completed shift. How many X’s did you get today? Can you manage to get one more tomorrow?

Tools for better focus

If you easily end up on web pages or social media when studying, you can help yourself by using a timer tool or blocking tool for your work shifts. Below are some tips on tools, but note that these are not part of Åbo Akademi University’s services but are used at your own risk.

Timer tools:


Blocking tools:


For a study diary


Keep a diary of your days. You can write down how you feel, what routines you have performed to maintain motivation, and what you have done, etc. At the end of each day you can write down what you were most happy with during the day and if there are important things to remember for the next day.

The study diary becomes a framework for your working day and helps you to structure your time and the content of the studies.

Examples of what the diary can contain:

  • Start of the day: What are you going to do today? Set intermediate goals.
  • Problem: Describe the problem. How could you solve it?
  • To-do list, uncheck and check when they are ready
  • End of the day: What have you done / conclusions? How should you continue to work?

Based on Lund University’s tips for its students


Do you also find it difficult to deal with what you should be doing and get it done?  Studies have shown that about half of students have problems with procrastination.

Sometimes it can make sense to postpone a task, e.g. if you don’t have time at the moment, or if you have more important things to do. On the other hand, if the task is important and you actually have time (e.g. when you are working on an important essay), but still don’t get anything done, it is likely that it is a case of procrastination.

Every situation is unique, but procrastination is often related to avoiding something unpleasant. We humans are often guided by short-term rewards. If the task causes discomfort, such as boredom, insecurity or anxiety, your brain thinks it’s an excellent idea to avoid the discomfort by e.g. scrolling on your phone or going for coffee with a friend. But even though it feels good in the moment not to have to acknowledge the discomfort, the long-term consequences can be troublesome. On the one hand, you don’t get anything done, and on the other hand, it can feel even worse to deal with the work the longer you put it off.

What can you do about it then? Here’s a possible three-step approach:

  1. Notice what happens in you in that particular situation when you procrastinate. What discomfort do you want to avoid? What thoughts run through your head? What feelings do you have? How does it feel in your body?
  2. What is the long-term goal of you studying? Why is it important for you to do the task? Maybe because it’s a step in getting an interesting job? Maybe because you think it’s important to develop and learn new things?
  3. Are you willing to let the discomfort be there while doing the task, as doing the task aligns with your long-term goals? Can you actively choose, for example, to sit down and write your essay while you have difficult thoughts and feelings?

The most important thing is usually to get a start on the work. Feelings of guilt and frustration that you should have already done more are sometimes heavier than the work itself. One way to make the beginning easier is to break down the task into very small goals. Instead of posting the “write the essay” goal, you can set up many small goals, such as “go to the library,” “sit down at a computer,” “open the document,” “take out book X,” “read chapter 3,” “summarize the theory in chapter 3 of the document.” Breaking it down into small goals makes the task feel more manageable and can also be rewarding as it becomes clearer that you’re making progress.

Remember, there are always a thousand reasons not to study. But instead, stay focused on the reason why you should do it!

Updated 18.12.2023