Whether you are a new or returning student, procrastination can be tricky to deal with. While everyone has procrastinated at some point in their lives, chronic procrastination can have negative impacts on your academic performance and mental, emotional, and even physical health.

To learn more about procrastination and how students overcome it, Trace Yulie, Director of the UCI Learning and Academic Resource Center, sat down with Jonathan Flojo, PhD, Senior Staff Psychologist at the UCI Counseling Center, for his professional insights.

Trace: Welcome Jonathan, and thank you for meeting with me! To start, can you talk a little about your background, role at UCI, and areas of expertise? 

Jonathan: Sure. I am a psychologist and have been at the Counseling Center for almost 18 years. At UC Irvine, I provide individual therapy for students, consult, train, and teach. Much of my professional work centers on connection, belonging, and relationships and how these help us navigate a bruised world. I also spend time discussing how to reimagine joy amidst burnout and grief in our communities with students, organizers, and leaders. I went to UCLA as an undergraduate and obtained my PhD from the University of Oregon. I am a child of Filipinx immigrants and am an “indoor kid” that spends time outdoors.

Trace: Thank you for the introduction. Moving on to the topic of procrastination: so many of us are challenged by procrastination during the busy quarter. What’s the root of this difficulty?

Jonathan: Most, if not all of us, procrastinate! I procrastinate and avoid. In fact, I procrastinated on this interview! I believe that the root of procrastination is fear. Fear of being judged and being found out as an imposter. Fear of not living up to the hopes and expectations of family, loved ones, and coworkers. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of succeeding and experiencing overwhelming pressure to continue succeeding. I conceptualize procrastination as a reflex to run from our fears.

Trace: How do we manage the urge to procrastinate? 

Jonathan: Rather than focus on the enormity of the entire task, I encourage students to just focus on starting the task. For many people, starting a task is the biggest obstacle. Once they start, they can continue to work on the assignment. So, rather than waiting for an unrealistic and unattainable level of motivation to occur before starting a task, I believe that taking small actions to start a project can steadily reduce fear and increase motivation.

I also recommend reaching out to our friends and communities for support and accountability. We need emotional support to manage being overwhelmed, and we need our community to remind us of the meaning and importance of the work we do. Knowing that we have our loved ones on our side can help alleviate some of the fears that can lead to procrastination.

Finally, I suggest paying attention to any personal clues that you are beginning to grow anxious, fearful, and/or stressed prior to a task. Sometimes awareness (in a mindful and compassionate manner) can help us avoid running from our fears. 

Trace: I’ve heard about a practice called “urge surfing” that helps some people sit with unwanted urges for a few moments and wait for them to pass before choosing a more desirable behavior. Do you think it could help with procrastination? 

Jonathan: This is a great way to manage procrastination. I see “urge surfing” as a form of mindful awareness, perhaps a form of meditation, that can help slow down the reflex to procrastinate. Urge surfing is a technique where one mindfully observes an urge (such as the urge to procrastinate or avoid) and chooses to not engage in the urge. 

It is typically more helpful to be aware of an urge rather than ignore or be oblivious to it. By practicing urge surfing, one notices the thoughts, fears, and urge to procrastinate with compassion and without judgment while steadily focusing on one’s breath. With practice, one can notice the urge appear, rise, and then fade without giving into the urge.

Trace: I believe that motivation plays a significant role in avoiding procrastination—specifically intrinsic motivation. What’s the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and how can we cultivate the desire to engage? 

Jonathan: Intrinsic motivation involves us being motivated to complete a task because it is inherently satisfying. A good way to think about this is learning for learning’s sake. Extrinsic motivation involves us being motivated to complete a task to earn a reward or avoid punishment. For example, learning to obtain a high grade and improve our chances of going to graduate or professional school.

In an ideal universe, we would be primarily motivated by intrinsic motivation. However, we live in a complex, nuanced world where we navigate both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. What might be helpful is examining the “big picture” of why we are doing specific academic tasks. For instance, we can ask ourselves, “How does this small task help me get closer to what I most desire or find most meaningful in my life?” Finding meaning in tasks that we might otherwise procrastinate on can help us develop the motivation to get started. 

Trace: That great insight, Jonathan! I want to thank you again for sitting down with me to discuss this important topic. To end our conversation, would you like to recommend some resources for our students?

Jonathan: Thanks for having me, Trace. And absolutely! The UCI Counseling Center and the LARC host many workshops and programs to help students with procrastination. I encourage students to visit the Counseling Center and LARC websites for an updated list of workshops. 

One Counseling Center program that might be helpful is the Academic Boot Camp workshop series, a series of weekly workshops that focus on increasing motivation to start and work towards completing academic tasks, reducing avoidance of difficult projects/assignments. This program will restart at the beginning of Spring Quarter 2023, so please keep an eye out for signup dates.

For more assistance with avoiding procrastination or studying more effectively, turn to the LARC team for assistance! Meet with one of our academic coaches one-on-one, sign up for a LARC tutorial, or check out our best learning tips. For more study strategies, check out some of the resources The Learning Scientists has to offer.

Please don’t hesitate to contact us for additional information.