15 Strategies to help avoid procrastination (and get your marking done!)

Do you remember back in the day, in your first year of teaching, when you thought that one of the most exciting things to do (in teaching of course!) was to mark exams? I was so eager to get them marked that they were all done, put in alphabetical order and ready to hand back to my students the very next day. Oh, where did those days go?!  The thought of having to mark those damn things now prompts me to clean the house in procrastination or watch random chicken clips on YouTube! While that’s a great strategy to get a sparkling house, you can end up in that wormhole for hours and those exams just don’t mark themselves!  

I know I’m not alone in this experience and have therefore put together a list for all of my fellow procrastinators and exam/assignment marking avoiders!  These are in no particular order despite some being used more than others and the ability to combine multiple strategies at the same time! If I’ve missed any, let me know!

If you are reading this instead of doing your marking or report writing, pick one of these and get back to work! ;o)

Strategies to help you get through your marking

1.  Stand up while marking – it helps you stay focused and not be distracted by that mark on the wall.

2. Count down how many papers you have left to mark and say it out loud – it’s more fun.

3. Play motivational music like eye of the tiger – but you’ll probably want more than one song, that will get annoying after a couple of hours!

4. Give yourself small rewards for milestones – like getting yourself a coffee after 5 assignments. At that rate you may have the coffee jitters after you finish – drink coffee responsibly…

5. Mark whole exams, not sections. Don’t be trapped into thinking that it’ll be quicker if you mark the first 2 pages of each exam – it isn’t. What you end up with is a whole heap of half-finished exams and you end up losing motivation because you don’t get that feeling of satisfaction for completing some of the exams. 

6. Clean your desk/area before you start. No, this is not one of my work avoidance strategies, but when the area is clean, you are less likely to be distracted and it helps keep your mind clear for the task.

7. Sit away from others. Not in an emo kind of way, but in an ‘I don’t need to be distracted by anyone’ kind of way. It works.

8. Mark while you are on an exercise bike! I have put a small whiteboard across the handlebars of my exercise bike and slowly pedal while marking. It helps you keep focused on your task as well as keeping you fit! Winning! Here’s my office …

9. Have some brain-food snacks. Keep it light and although it seems against all common sense and general standard practice, try to avoid chocolate. I am one of the first people to say ‘yes please!’ when it comes to chocolate but not long after you eat it, your body freaks out and strips out all the glucose from your bloodstream and it leaves you tired …  and off to sleepy land before you know it! Stay strong!

10. Put your marked exams in a separate pile so you can see how much you have done – marvel in it!

11. Have a positive attitude. I know, I know, it’s easier said than done when you’re talking about marking but ‘Fake it till you make it’! Believe it or not, physiologically, your body doesn’t know when you are faking it and you can trick it into doing the work!

12. Gamify your marking. Time how long it takes you to mark one exam/assignment and then try to beat that time for each one. Get excited about beating your time!

13. Wear headphones and listen to music. Headphones are a great way to tune out all external distractions and people are less likely to talk to you because they can physically see that you are listening to music. This strategy has the added bonus that if someone needs to talk to you, they need to go out of their way to get your attention, rather than just talk! Just between you and me, sometimes I put the headphones on and don’t even have any music playing … or even have them plugged in – people just assume you can’t hear them because of the music, rather than you ignoring them to get your work done! Great strategy when working next to an annoying desk mate!

14. Alcohol! No, I’m not advocating that you are drunk while marking! However, when I asked my fellow colleagues how they get through their marking, a glass of wine (or 2) was probably the top response. It helps some people relax and get into the swing of things. HINT: it never looks good when you spill your red wine on the exams! 

15. Mark with someone else. Sharing the painful moments, like marking, can often make the task less annoying. It’s kind of like finding an exercise buddy, someone who will help keep you accountable. It iis always more enjoyable (woah, that’s a strong word when talking about marking!) but it can sometimes be a little distracting so choose your marking buddy wisely! It’s good to get someone else’s perspective on what grade to give a student, particularly if it’s a borderline result. This strategy works best if you are teaching the same subject but if you’re not, that’s not a big deal.

Thank you so much for your continued support, we really appreciate that you take time out of your day to hang with us. If you haven’t already become a member, go on, give it a run! Don’t stress, we don’t spam the heck out of you and we are totally committed to providing quality, hands-on strategies that you can actually use! Worst case scenario, you can always unsubscribe (as if you would because you’ll dig it). ;o) – press the subscribe button!

Hopefully this has been a useful list for you. Now that you’ve finished procrastinating, get back to your marking with renewed enthusiasm! Thanks for hanging out with us and we will look forward to seeing you again soon.

Vikki Grant


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