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The Ongoing Battle: Concentration versus Procrastination

Stop sign at intersection of Homework Avenue and Procrastination Park

Being in college can be rough. There are so many demands students must attend to in order to be “successful.” There are the social demands, the financial demands, and of course the academic demands. So often students struggle with attending to their academics due to procrastination and a lack of concentration. Read on for tips to help improve your concentration and focus, while also addressing those pesky procrastination behaviors.

By Kearisten Gaines, M.A. 

Concentration: What is it, and how do I obtain more of it?

Concentration is the ability to devote and direct your mental ability and attention to the task at hand.

A large number of students struggle with concentration at one time or another. At times, students may even think they have a diagnosable concern related to concentration, focus, attention, etc. The truth is concentration is similar to a muscle. This means that the more you exercise or engage in concentration, the better this skill will become. Similarly, if one does not exercise or flex the “concentration muscle,” it makes sense that the muscle loses its “muscle tone,” making it more difficult to concentrate.  The key to concentration is practice, practice, practice! Be patient and realize it takes time to build up concentration stamina - you'll get there!

Staying with the exercising analogy, let’s say you are trying to strengthen your arms, and build muscle in your biceps. You wouldn’t go to the gym and do bicep curls for five hours straight, that would put too much strain on your body, and may even have the opposite of the desired results you were hoping for! Concentration is similar. Studying for five hours straight often does not produce the same results as studying for 20 minutes, taking a five-minute break, and then beginning to study again for another 20 minutes; continuing this pattern helps you commit the desired material to memory. When studying, a short 5-minute break allows your brain to reset, relax, and become refreshed so it is able to focus and concentrate on the next 20-minute section of material! Plus, who doesn’t love a 5-minute snack break, or a quick walk around the library when studying?

In short:

  1. Concentration is a skill that is built up over time. Stay patient and continue building the skill.
  2. Taking breaks allows you to maintain better focus and concentration while studying, so take breaks, and take them often!

Procrastination: What is it, and how do I get rid of it?

Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing action.

Procrastination is something that almost all students struggle with from time to time. Delaying homework, putting off studying, maybe even missing a class or two can all be examples of procrastination. Procrastination happens when we feel more inclined to serve ourselves in the present, than to think about accomplishing goals that will help ourselves in the future.

Here is an example of the procrastination phenomenon: Priscilla has an exam in two weeks, and she would like to start studying now so that she is well prepared. As Priscilla prepares for her first study session, a friend texts and asks if she would like to go to dinner. In the present moment Priscilla thinks, “It’s more fun to have dinner with a friend than it is to study.” She was thinking about her desires in the moment, rather than her goals for the future. On night six of studying Priscilla is getting ready to study but realizes the next season of her favorite show was just added to Netflix, and she thinks, “Let the TV binging begin!” 

While going to dinner and watching our favorite shows are satisfying, they can become problematic if we continually choose these actions over studying for an exam. It’s important to meet both the needs of our present selves, as well as the needs of our future selves. One way Priscilla could have met the needs of both her present and future self may have been watching one episode of her favorite show before continuing with her plans to study the remainder of the evening.

Here are some other strategies that help to combat procrastination:

  1. Develop a study schedule (using a calendar) that includes manageable study times with small breaks throughout, and STICK TO IT!
  2. Study the most difficult topic or complete the hardest task FIRST . The remainder tasks will feel easier and more manageable in comparison.
  3. If you are unsure what is the most difficult, or are having trouble finding where to start, start anywhere!
  4. Reading aloud can help you to retain information, especially when you are taking notes as you read.
  5. Review your notes directly after class, this will help to keep the material fresh in your mind.
  6. Set detailed goals for studying: “Read 15 pages,” “Study 2 PowerPoint lectures.”
  7. Reward yourself when you have completed a task or done well on an exam!

Use these tips and tricks to combat procrastination and provide a foundation for productive study habits!

There are resources to help with concentration and procrastination, as well as other common college concerns.  If you are struggling, keep in mind the following:

  • Carruth Center for Psychological and Psychiatric Services offers free group and individual counseling to students. If you find that stress is difficult to manage, and your worries are beginning to interfere with your daily routine,  schedule an appointment with a clinician to learn ways to effectively manage these concerns. Our office offers free drop-in groups specific to stress and anxiety, which are available to all students who have had an initial appointment at the center. Call our office at (304) 293-4431 to schedule an appointment and we can help direct you to the services that are appropriate for your concerns. 
  • MindFit Clinic: Learning Skills Consultation sessions are available to every student! These services are provided one-on-one with students to help you create effective habits for academic and personal success (such as improving time management, organization, and study strategies). Typically, students learn techniques and strategies that best fit their needs within three sessions. The cost is $75 for three sessions, which seems like a lot of money but is worth the investment for the long-term positive outcomes. Apply for a consultation appointment on the  MindFit website.

Kearisten Gaines

Kearisten Gaines has earned Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology and is currently a Psychology Doctoral Intern here at the Carruth Center, where she provides individual and group counseling services, and conducts psychological assessments. She completed her Master’s Degree and her graduate course work for her Doctorate Degree at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, Illinois. Kearisten will be graduating this July 2019 with her Doctorate Degree in Clinical Psychology (PsyD). Kearisten has conducted sleep hygiene workshops in other college settings outside of the WVU Carruth Center. 

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