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According to Educational and Developmental Psychologist Dr Chelsea Hyde, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education, learners, including nurses and midwives engaged in  further study, are often very quick to assume that the procrastination is a negative indicator.

“There are positive and negative consequences of procrastination,” Dr Hyde says, noting that procrastination is best understood as a “key avoidance technique” that occurs when we avoid a required or necessary goal-oriented task.

“The positive consequence of procrastination is that you give yourself permission, essentially, to avoid the task that you don’t want to do and so you feel a sense of relief when you aren’t doing that task… obviously the negative consequence is the guilt that can form by avoiding that task again and again and again.”

With this in mind, Dr Hyde says that understanding the feeling or cause motivating procrastination is key before taking decisive action to address the problems created by ignoring necessary learning tasks.

“When we look at procrastination, we really do need to look at what is underneath, what is feeding that,” she says, noting that while anxiety and an associated fear or failure or lack of self of confidence can fuel off-task behaviour, it can also be an environmental response that aims to restore control over one’s works conditions.

Nevertheless, while understanding the root cause is essential, Dr Hyde, who has published and researched on the learning experiences of young adults, says that professional learning experiences, including those of nurses, midwives and students undertaking study, do give them some advantages in addressing procrastination.

“There’s more at stake in a professional capacity in terms of expectations on someone,” she says, noting that the accountability and standards required by a workplace often offer a significant pull in completing a task.

Instead, the challenge for a professional is balancing what Dr Hyde calls “competing demands”, acknowledging that factors such as family, relationships and adult independence, can both influence and mitigate against the tendency to procrastinate important work.

Dr Hyde offers three general tips that can help motivate learners to find a way forward and complete their learning requirements:

  • Organise a colleague to act as a study buddy: “If you know that you’re prone to procrastination, then getting someone else involved is really going to help that process because you’re both going to make each other accountable,” Dr Hyde says.
  • Break down complex tasks into ordered and time-friendly steps: “If we’re talking about some kind of professional learning task that’s got a certain reading requirement, or even a quiz…. really pull apart, exactly, the time commitment that is required and break it down into those smaller, more achievable steps.”
  • Be accountable to your stated rewards: Dr Hyde says that while setting a reward for completing a task often successfully negates procrastination, many often reward themselves before finishing the stated job. “You really need to be committed and stay strong with whatever your reward is going to be,” she says.

More information on Educational Psychology and Dr Hyde’s work in the area can be found at the University of Melbourne’s website.