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Soft skills: Build a killer work ethic during your bachelor’s to beat procrastination

James Davis

Careers Commentator
Getting passionate about doing good work can make all the difference as a student and future professional. We’ll help you get there.

Picture this. You’ve got an assignment due by midnight and it’s 9.00 pm, still not started. You figure there’s plenty of time left, so give Facebook one last check. Maybe check your emails a few times. What? 10.00 pm? How is that possible! Well look, there’s still two hours left; maybe just a quick Reddit browsing session. 11.00 pm? Agh! 

If this strawman depiction of a university student hits too close to home, don’t worry. Plenty of students start the same way. Not everyone begins their uni career as a superstar. Indeed, many never even get there! So for this article, we’ll walk you through what a good work ethic entails, how it can help you stop procrastinating and what you can do during your bachelor’s to turn things around. Let’s get cracking. 

So what is a ‘work ethic’ exactly?

It’s the belief that hard work is virtuous and those who work hard deserve good things. It also entails work being valuable for self-improvement. Believers in work ethic argue work has the ability to make you more skilful and resilient. Here are just a couple of signs of a good work ethic.

  • Keeping promises. Those who say they’ll get something done by a certain time and do so often have a good work ethic. This goes hand in hand with…

  • Punctuality. Showing up on time or early to all functions is a sign of caring about the commitment. An aspect of...

  • Time management. The mark of a strong work ethic is the ability to set monthly and daily plans or achievable goals and regularly meet them. The opposite of regular all-nighters!

  • Humility. You need to understand your own limitations to have a good work ethic. Being able to acknowledge when you’re at fault, or when someone other than you did something valuable, is key to this. 

  • Drive. Perhaps the most important aspect of work ethic. This is the inherent desire to succeed, regardless of other stimuli, be they salary packages or grades. Those who have an ingrained desire to succeed, where success is a worthwhile pursuit in and of itself, are the ones with the greatest work ethics. 

How can a good work ethic stop you from procrastinating? 

The components of a good work ethic necessarily discourage time-wasting behaviour. By enacting them, you’re making it extremely difficult to do anything other than the task at hand, whatever that task may be. The trick is learning all these tricks and internalising them. Here are a few ways to do just that, keeping those dot points in mind. 

Get into the habit of keeping promises

Or if you aren’t sure you can keep one, don’t make it, to begin with. Your word is only as good as your track record. If you’re someone who gets into the habit of making idle commitments and not keeping them, people just won’t take you seriously any more. 

You can get better at this by making minor adjustments to your behaviour. If your friend asks you if you can study with them, yet you know there’s little chance of making it, don’t give them replies like ‘yeah maybe, we’ll see’ or otherwise. Just confront the question head-on and be honest. They’ll appreciate the honesty much more. And if you can make it, great! Similar can be said of academic commitments, particularly when you’re accountable to other students in a group. If you’ve just had a group meeting and been assigned a small task to be completed before the next, go ahead and let them know if you can’t. You may feel naturally inclined to say ‘yeah sure’, but that’ll just do more harm than the good long term. 

The gist of this is: seek opportunities to keep promises in your personal or academic life and this quality will come more naturally in your professional life. 

Do everything in your power to stay punctual

This can even apply to assignment deadlines but can be as simple as getting to that lecture a few minutes early. Think about how long it usually takes to get somewhere, what the likely inconveniences maybe that could get in your way and plan around them. If you can’t do that, just take your time estimate and double it to be safe. You may thank yourself for the leeway! 

Get better at time management

There are plenty of ways to do this during your bachelor’s. One simple method is just keeping lists. Go to Officeworks, buy a notepad and pen and just come up with daily lists of priorities, making sure to tick them off one-by-one. There’s something to be said for writing lists out by hand rather than typing. No matter how you do it, list-making is a way to stay on top of your priorities and not let any slip through your memory. It’s also a way to assign mini-deadlines to each item for the day. You want to get X done by 10.00 am and Y done by 3.00 pm. Bow to the power of the list!

Another great technique is to just set up alerts for various deadlines. Go into your university’s Course Management System (CMS), pull out any and all assignment specifications and stick them into a Google calendar or software of choice. That way, you can get notified of any upcoming deadlines and prioritise accordingly. 

You can even use the Pomodoro Technique to track the amount of time you’ve spent on each task. This famous method is basically about spending 30 minutes on a task, taking a five-minute break, putting a checkmark next to that task and then spending another 30 if it’s required, repeating the process until the task is complete. Once you get to four checkmarks, you can take a longer break. It’s a way to reward yourself with regular breaks and not feel guilty about planning your distractions! By tracking time input, you can devise more reliable time estimates for similar tasks in future.

Build your humility

Humility is more a character trait than skill, but building it is still doable and worthwhile. A great way to do this is by being attentive to the accomplishments of others without inserting yourself in any way… even if you had a part to play! 

It also pays to catch yourself reacting defensively to criticism. Do your best to first listen and understand a critic, while considering if their ideas have merit, before rebuking them. This is very hard for most people, but it’s an essential component of professional life you can get started on right now. 

When you make a mistake, particularly in situations where you’re accountable to others, get better at acknowledging it and just asking for help where required. Prideful people remain prideful, but humble people always grow. 

Finally, learn to listen and only speak when necessary. This may be the most difficult element of this article if you’re particularly chatty (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), so aim to be this way in professional or academic contexts at the very least. It’s much easier to learn by listening than speaking after all! Furthermore, you’re putting what others have to say first. 

Develop your drive

This is something many never achieve, but doing so is the cornerstone of any good work ethic. Finding your drive is a matter of learning what motivates you, which we’ve talked about at some length in our article on finding purpose, available here. For this, you’ve just got to reflect on what you enjoy and what makes you value life most. That’s a bit of a deep turn, we know! Still, it’s pretty integral for finding that ‘drive’ if you haven’t got it already. Many students end up deriving their early sense of drive from the reasons they pursue their degree. If you want a career to come out of it, focus on that. Know that your results could directly impact your ability to get employed in that dream role. If you’re studying to satisfy an interest, think about all the things you can do to cultivate that interest after graduating and building your knowledge base. This really is unique to you. 

Whatever you land on, just know that finding that ‘oomf’ to get up and go in each morning is unique to each person. So don’t compare yourself to others who may have already found it. Your sense of drive may be just around the corner. And so too your very own killer work ethic.