Why Procrastinate?

If you’re like most other students, you procrastinate. It’s probably not a question of if. It’s a question of how much. Studies show that at least 20% of the general population engages in chronic procrastination. Based on 15 years of working with students, my guess is it’s a lot higher in that demographic

It’s one of the most damaging of emotional and time “management strategies,” and most procrastinators know deep down that it’s unhealthy behavior. But why do we do it?

Partly I think it’s because although it’s a fiendish ne-er do well that can make a mess of your personal and academic prospects, it feels like a solution.

Procrastination tricks you into thinking you’re improving your situation by putting the dreadful and annoying task off until the last minute. You think you’re sparing yourself pain and suffering, reducing your stress, managing your anxiety etc. But in reality it’s a scam, a trap, a scurvy little so-and-so who’s guaranteed to make your life worse if you let it.

I can’t tell you how many students have told me something like “I’m putting this off because doing this work (essay, research, study, hideous task from the 5th ring of Hell) is going to kill me. I hate this (insert euphemism). It’s destroying my life. So, the less time I spend doing it, the happier I’m going to be, so when I finally do it, my mental state will be a lot better. See? Also, life is short and why should I suffer for something that has no meaning to me?”

The student who tells me this is usually being totally genuous. He or she is imagining the nightmare of the ‘task’ and just wants to reduce the nightmare to a short period of time, usually, the day or two before the due date.

Here’s another one I hear a lot. “I’m putting this off because I am no good at (insert task or tasks). I’m good at math but I’m bad at this and frankly, I don’t want to deal with it.”

This rationalization is sometimes accompanied by or juxtaposed with “I have done this kind of thing before and a couple days is enough. Yeah, the teacher assigned it two weeks ahead of the due date, but I know myself and I know I can do it in a couple days. No problem.” When asked what sort of grade the student got on the previous assignment, the self-assuredness usually evaporates.

Procrastinators are often perfectionists. But one of the funny things about perfectionism is that buying into it and obeying its diktats often results in lower quality work than you would have gotten if your expectations had been lower but your approach to the task more functional.

And that’s the kicker when it comes to procrastination. it feels good to put things off until that magical moment when it’s all gonna click but the reality is, you can’t do your best when you don’t give yourself enough time.

But that’s the subject of the next blog!

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