Pre-empting procrastination

Avoiding study delays

Hey 👋

This week, we’re wrapping up our William Wadsworth co-authored series on effective study with a peek at the perils of procrastination. Just commit to reading the first paragraph…

Big idea 🍉

Procrastination can be a major threat to independent study. Despite having the desire and the strategies, many students (and adults) struggle to get started. We can help reduce this risk by pre-empting procrastination.

Procrastination is the act of delaying something that we have decided to do. It is often reported by students themselves as one of the key barriers to successful study.

Procrastination arises when we find ourselves faced with tasks that are cognitively and emotionally demanding, such as those which are difficult, unstructured, and lacking in personal meaning or intrinsic reward. Independent study, revision, and project-based tasks often tick all these boxes.

Wadsworth suggests we can help students to avoid the pain of procrastination by having some strategies ready to deploy should it arise, such as:

  1. Rapid breakdown: Taking 1 minute to break the task down into bitesize (cognitively manageable) chunks and making the first step or two super easy.

  2. Quick start: Making sure there are no distractions around (phone, TV etc.) and then committing to doing just 30 seconds (often we'll keep going).

  3. Process goals: In some situations (eg. adolescent exams), it can often be more powerful to focus on studying for on a set amount of time rather than on the completion of specific topics.

  4. Paper tracking: Creating a simple chunk/time checklist on a piece of paper or sticky note, putting it in a prominent place, and ticking items off as you go.

  5. Study buddying: Having another person start and study with you, either in person, remotely, or using studytubing (but only if the latter won't lead to distraction). 

When students get into the habit of deploying such strategies, they will find themselves avoiding the pain of procrastinating less and seeking the good vibes of 'study flow' more.

Note → The more we support our students with the above via the design and setup of the tasks we give, the more likely they will succeed. However, we won't always be there, and so must also explicitly teach them to study independently.


  • Procrastination can be a threat to effective independent study.

  • It tends to occur when students face tasks which are cognitively or emotionally demanding.

  • We can help them overcome this by building procrastination awareness and giving them pre-emptive strategies.

  • Study on primary math(s) → Suggests that checking their own work improves student accuracy but not always confidence in these assessments, affecting their ability to learn independently.

  • Analysis of marking at University → Finds that students with early-alphabet names can receive higher grades and better feedback, highlighting teacher bias and the risks of sequential grading 😱

  • New version of the School’s Guide to Implementation from the EEF → A significant update bringing greater detail and extra dimensions to this popular resource.

For double the links (on teacher coaching lingo, ‘time of day’ learning effects, and helping students better remember tasks) and loadsa other cool stuff, sign up to Snacks PRO → join here

May the seconds be ever in your favour ;)

Peps 👊

PS. For Aussie folks interested in evidence informed gatherings, I’m presenting at ResearchED Newcastle on the 24th August… should be bonza.