Tips on overcoming procrastination

March 2023

It’s easy to procrastinate when you are immersed in your studies. But having clear targets and a consistent approach can help you achieve your goals, says Nasheen Wuisman.

Picture it: an important exam is approaching, but you put off studies in favour of cleaning your house, chatting with friends or, really, anything that doesn’t involve studying. But delaying these essential tasks is inevitably followed by negative emotions such as guilt and self-doubt, resulting in stress and anxiety. This can become a cycle which is hard to break out from.

The good news is you can overcome procrastination by identifying your triggers, creating productive habits, and setting specific goals. At CIMA, study support is readily available. Check out the CGMA Study Hub for many more free resources.

Start with self-awareness

A vital first step is to realise that you are avoiding study, and that this will leave you short of time to attain what you can and want to achieve.

Focus on the bigger picture. Why are you studying? What is the end goal? How much do you want it? These positive thoughts will pave your journey between now and the exam.
Once you’ve gained insight and awareness as to why you have been putting things off, you can start taking action.

Identify your triggers

With self-compassion, ask yourself what’s hindering you from getting started. Are you worried that the task is too complex, and you won’t succeed? Maybe you lack motivation?

People believe the root cause of procrastination can be laziness or lack of time management skills but that is simply not true.

Often it is about regulating your emotions.

Anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, and confusion are all possible triggers for procrastination which, in turn, becomes a coping mechanism to avoid these unpleasant feelings.

If you are a perfectionist then you may be especially prone to procrastination. The fear of not being able to complete a task perfectly may drive you to put it off as long as possible.

To counter negative thoughts, focus on completion over perfection and celebrate your micro-moments of achievement. Remember that trying something and doing it OK is better than not starting at all. In time these small steps will result in a steady pace of progress, which brings contentment and the motivation to reach your goal.

Create productive habits

When caught in a spiral of procrastination, getting started can feel insurmountable.

To overcome the first hurdle, make it easy to act by planning your week ahead of time — using a diary, allocate date, time, and duration to each study session. This will make the journey less daunting and instantly more achievable.

A useful strategy is to tackle the most critical task first each day. The positive effect of accomplishing a constructive study session will snowball into increased productivity and create the momentum you need to keep going.

Set a timer for each study session. You can start with a 30-minute session and increase it by five minutes daily until it reaches 50 minutes. When the timer is up, take a break. Go for a walk, grab a snack, or watch an episode of your favourite TV programme — anything that helps you to unwind.

When you stick to a set schedule, you will build a solid anti-procrastination habit. If you deviate, it’s ok, stick to the plan for the rest of the week.

These productive study sessions and the strong work ethic that they will create are essential to accomplishing your goal of passing CIMA’s CGMA exams.

Set specific goals

We are all prone to procrastination, it is part of our human nature. The brain is wired to prioritise short-term needs ahead of long-term goals; there is an ongoing fight between your present self and your future self.

The present self prefers instant gratification, not long-term payoff. But by procrastinating, the future self is paying the price.

To pass your CGMA exams tomorrow, your preparation starts now. Set yourself a few goals, some short term, some long term. Decide when you want to achieve them by. Write these down and put them in a place where you will see them often. This will remind you of your aspirations and exactly what steps you need to take now to achieve them. It will connect your present and future self. Imagine how great it is going to feel when you’ve finished your tasks.

Always keep your big picture ‘why’ in mind. Remind yourself of why you want to achieve the CGMA designation. When you get distracted, the ‘why factor’ will motivate you to stay focussed on your studies and create a meaningful connection to the tasks you need to carry out.

It is more than possible to overcome procrastination by understanding why you do it, building consistent habits, experiencing the satisfaction of completing tasks and thereby making solid progress towards your end goal.

• Nasheen Wuisman is a Senior Manager of Global Academic Progression at AICPA & CIMA, together the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants