Carnegie Mellon University

Student Academic Success Center

Office of the Vice Provost for Education

I’m a perfectionist; all details need to be perfect, and it’s difficult for me to finish tasks.

Being a perfectionist can be a blessing or a curse; attention to detail is something that is highly valued in both academic and professional settings. Ironically, however, perfectionism can lead to procrastination. Even if you would love to get a perfect score on that last homework assignment, it may not be a feasible goal if you have three other assignments due that week. Click the link below to learn more about how to prioritize and set realistic goals.
Strategies
If you’re a perfectionist, focus on realistic instead of ideal goals. It can be helpful to divide and conquer larger assignments; make each task something you can accomplish in 15 minutes or less. For example, if you have a Calculus assignment that consists of 20 problems, perhaps work on five problems at a time. Prioritize your tasks and accomplish first what is most urgent and important. You can visualize and track your progress by creating checklists, crossing off each item as you complete it.

Also, make sure you reward yourself for reaching your goals – but remember, a reward must be something you would genuinely withhold from yourself otherwise. When you legitimately reap your reward, notice how you feel; you may realize that your favorite things are more enjoyable when you’ve earned them!

I’m a worrier; I have a fear of failure, am anxious about expectations, and prefer my comfort zone.

Worrying is a difficult emotion to control; it accomplishes nothing, yet affects everything. If worrying prevents you from starting assignments, or if you feel hopeless when faced with studying for a large exam, there are measures you can take to make things more manageable.
Strategies
Break down tasks into smaller, easier to accomplish sections. Instead of focusing on your challenges, look for things you enjoy in your work or remind yourself of why you’re taking the class. Try to avoid thinking “what if” – focus on the present, take one step at a time, and don’t worry about the future. And finally, work in groups or go to your friends for support – you’ll quickly realize you’re not alone, and that your worst fears usually aren’t as bad as you think. A failed exam, or even a failed class, will not be the death of your career; remember that you always have the power to turn your failures into success stories.

I’m a crisis-maker; I work best under pressure and am usually finishing tasks at the last minute.

One of the most common excuses for doing things at the last minute is, “I work best under pressure.” For example, if you have a paper due in two weeks, you may not have the motivation to focus, write, and make measurable progress. Whereas if the paper is due the next day, you have no choice – you have to write fast and uninterrupted if you want to turn the assignment in on time. This strategy, however, can lead to rushed, sloppy, or incomplete work, especially if you misjudge how much time an assignment is going to take.
Strategies
It’s important to strive for balance when managing your work; instead of trying to complete an assignment all at once, break it into smaller parts and create your own deadlines. Remind yourself that it may take starting a task to become interested in it; try using the “Five Minute Plan,” or sitting down with the intention to work on an assignment for just five minutes. If you find yourself making progress, continue to work for another five minutes, etc. Also, if you need adrenaline in your life, find activities to fill that gap, such as competitive sports and clubs.

I’m a dreamer; abstract thoughts are more appealing than real life tasks.

If you’re this type of procrastinator, you probably find yourself thinking more about the future than the present, making it difficult to follow through on tasks. For instance, instead of completing your homework, you may spend your time browsing the Internet, looking at meaningless websites or researching far-off possibilities for jobs or activities.
Strategies
To prevent this type of procrastination, we advise planning out your assignments and commitments in writing. It can be helpful to keep a weekly schedule and to-do list, checking off items as you complete them. If you really need time to “daydream,” specifically plan it in your schedule. Additionally, use alarms to keep yourself on track; sit down to complete an assignment, set an alarm for an hour from that time, and work without distraction until the alarm goes off. As always, make specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timely (SMART) goals, which can help turn your dreams into reality.

I’m an over-doer; I take on too much, it’s difficult for me to prioritize, and I can’t say “no.”

Although being hard working is a good thing, it can also lead to overload. You may want to be the best student possible, never let your friends or family down, or simply not miss out on anything in college. Either way, your activities and classes will be much more manageable - and enjoyable - if you choose them wisely and learn to say “no.”
Strategies
Practice saying "no." Check your schedule before saying yes to a commitment, ensuring that you actually have time to attend that meeting or help your friend. Write down and rank your priorities; think of your work and activities in terms of what is urgent and important. If something is both urgent and important, put that at the top of your to-do list. Conversely, if something is neither urgent nor important, place that at the bottom. If you realize that all your tasks are urgent and important, it may be time to re-evaluate your commitments. Additionally, if you’re the head of an organization or leader of a group project, try delegating some of your work to others. And finally, make sure you plan time in your schedule for relaxing and enjoying life - that can be urgent and important sometimes too!

I’m a defier; tasks seem unfair or unnecessary, and I like to maintain control of situations and my sense of individuality.

We tend to prioritize tasks that we find most enjoyable and interesting. If something seems irrelevant, pointless, or unnecessarily difficult, we may put it off until the last minute, possibly spending more time complaining about it than actually working on it.
Strategies
Identify your options before acting; is procrastinating on a seemingly unfair assignment worth the consequences? If the work has to be completed regardless, it is best to get it done and out of the way as soon as possible - or, as we like to call it, “eat that frog.” Practice self-calming, keep your long-term goals in mind, and express your individuality through extracurricular activities.

line drawing of monthly calendarSchedule a Consultation

This site supplements our 1-on-1 consultations. Staff members are available Monday-Friday, 9:00 am - 5:00pm EST for a virtual consultation to help get you connected to the appropriate resource or resources. Use this calendar to schedule a 30-minute Zoom meeting.