How to deal with procrastination while preparing for your KFP, AKT or MCQ Fellowship exams
…the act of replacing high priority tasks or actions with enjoyable or less meaningful tasks.
Procrastination has also been defined as voluntarily delaying an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for having done so. Putting off important tasks often results in feelings of guilt that may cause a loss of motivation and/or productivity. It can also lead to anxiety and stress as a result of not meeting commitments.
Almost everyone is guilty of procrastination occasionally. However, if you feel uncomfortable justifying to yourself or others why you are not getting on with your Fellowship exam preparation, then you need to accept that you are probably procrastinating.
The trivial tasks you are completing instead of the required tasks or behaviours may make procrastination hard to identify, as it’s easy to justify. Afterall, you may be getting lots done! The underlying issue is that what you’re doing is avoiding the important (studying) for the less important or enjoyable (visiting Aunt Beth who you haven’t seen in a year).
Procrastination is not a character flaw. It is a learnt behaviour that has ‘worked’ in the past to manage emotions – it works…….. but only in the short term! The good news is that it can be ‘unlearnt’. Identifying your trigger(s) is the first step to overcoming the behaviour, as procrastination often has a root cause.
Understanding your triggers for procrastination
Do any of these common triggers for procrastination sound familiar to you?
- Boredom (you find studying boring)
- Confronting the task (you find studying very difficult)
- Resentment (you feel resentment about needing to study ‘again’)
- Overwhelmed (you feel overwhelmed by how much you need to read or review)
- Unsure how to proceed (You don’t know where to start)
- Fear of failure (fear of failing the exam(s), often associated with not feeling smart enough)
- Fear of success (fear of passing the exams, often associated with imposter syndrome or not feeling worthy)
Identifying your personal triggers is the first step. Then you can develop specific strategies to better manage.
- Schedule boring topics / tasks at the time of day when you are most energised.
- Plan to reward yourself after you have completed a boring task.
- Some people find exam preparation confronting due to past exam failures or negative remarks from colleagues… the first step to overcoming this is to confront those past experiences.
- Practice self-compassion and positive self-talk.
- Resentment is considered a symptom rather than a root cause of procrastination. It is a sign that you are holding onto past anger, so it is recommended that you let go of the past and deal with your feelings so that you can move on.
- Studying for Fellowship exams seems overwhelming to most candidates because there is so much ground to cover! Just remember that Fellowship exam preparation is a marathon, not a sprint. So, break it down into manageable chunks. For example, break the monumental task into manageable smaller goals or tasks that can be completed in a day or week. Then focus on the immediate task rather than getting bogged down in the enormity of the overall objective.
- Sometimes we may procrastinate because we are not sure what topics to study, what study resources to use, or what level of detail is required in terms of knowledge. The best way to address this uncertainty is to seek clarification by understanding the College’s Curriculum and guidelines. For example, the RACGP and ACRRM websites have examination guides, reports and other exam resources. available.
Fear of failure
- These feelings may be a symptom of feeling overwhelmed or more commonly, perfectionism. If you avoid getting started with your study because you don’t think that you can do it ‘perfectly’, then you need to work on addressing the rigid rules you have set yourself. Where to start? Start by accepting that mistakes are a natural part of life and actually help us to learn. And remember…you don’t need to study every topic ‘perfectly’ to pass an exam. There is no one ‘perfect’ method of exam preparation.
Fear of success
- This fear highlights that success may bring both positive and negative consequences, as well as doubts about our abilities. Consider if you have underlying low self-confidence or self-doubt, such as imposter syndrome.
Remember, procrastination is usually a set of behaviours that have developed over time because it’s rewarding in some way (it offers immediate relief from stress or anxiety) and therefore has likely been a part of your life for some time. The good news is, as it is a learned behaviour, you can learn different behaviours to manage your time differently and be more efficient. If you are still struggling, get support to address this, like from a Fellowship Exam Performance Coach or psychologist.
Here are some general tips for managing procrastination while you deal with your specific triggers:
- Manage your time by creating a personalised study plan which is realistic; ensure to include your regular commitments into the study plan and be specific about exactly when and how long you intend to study. When you stick to your study plan for the week, reward yourself with something special (e.g. coffee with a friend, movie date).
- Try the Pomodoro method: set a timer to study a topic for 25 minutes and when the timer goes off, give yourself a 5 minute break…. and then repeat.
- Choose the study task which you are expecting to be unpleasant (e.g. a topic you find confusing) and do it first!
- Minimise potential distractions: if you know that your phone or children are going to distract you, then find ways to minimise these distractions (e.g. put your phone away, study at the local library).
- Identify particular topics or tasks that you are procrastinating about completing. Often people exaggerate the difficulty or unpleasantness of a task. Instead, try talking yourself into doing the task (e.g. I’ll feel better once it’s done or if I start now I won’t be so stressed later).
- Ask for help if you need it! If you get stuck, seek help or advice from your partner, friends, colleagues, supervisor, medical educator or contact us at GPEx. We have a team of medical educators and an organisational psychologist who is an experienced Performance Coach.
Be persistent but patient. Breaking a bad habit can be difficult and takes time. Don’t expect to go from chronic procrastinator to “Fellowship Exam Preparation Specialist” overnight. Find the strategies that work best for you and practice them. Notice and reward small improvements. There is no quick fix – it takes time and effort. Good luck!
- Edith Cowan University (2020) Tip sheet: 20 strategies to overcome procrastination. Australia
- Paul Newton and BookBoon (2014) How to overcome Procrastination
- Dan Mager 8 Strategies to Work Through Anger and Resentment