Picture this: you get assigned a long history project, due in two weeks. As a result of this extensive due date, you think the assignment isn’t so hard to do – so you make the mistake of deciding put it off until tomorrow, then the day after, and so on, and so forth. Come the night before it’s due, you work all night and/or write a sad, late, and non-assertive e-mail to the teacher, in hopes that you might get the sweet extension that you, probably, won’t use to its full potential (except for that small interval between 12 PM and 3 AM on the new due date).
Though this scenario might seem familiar to you, the concept of procrastination is, just like many others, more complex than it seems. First, I believe we should strip away some of the superstitions regarding the matter, by asking a few questions:
- Is it really true that you believe the project is easy when you start putting it off?
- Do you truly not know what would happen if you keep procrastinating?
- Why is it so bad to do things last minute, anyway?
To help answer these inquiries, many studies have been performed, regarding this particular issue – all of which have come to similar conclusions.
Procrastination is pretty old news – around 2800 years old, to be exact – so you are neither the first nor the last person to only do work when the deadline is close. In fact, there are tons of people who share the same behavior, and the number has been increasing over the past few decades. In response to this, many psychologists, such as Joseph Ferrari from the American Psychological Association (APA), started investigating the phenomenon.
Their conclusions suggest that when you procrastinate, it’s not just your productivity that suffers, but also your well-being. You probably experienced it before: you’re stressed, exhausted, yet somehow more engaged in your work. This self-induced adrenaline rush is something humans enjoy – that’s one of the reasons we choose to leave work to the last minute.
It’s been found that the desire for that instant satisfaction seems to be proportional to the degree of procrastination. People who enjoy this last minute excitement will choose to procrastinate, disregarding the consequences of doing so. This is perfectly linked to the increasing number of people who put off their chores in the past few decades. You could say that the fast pace of human life, though often beneficial, has lessened the importance of forward-thinking. But not all procrastinators are sensation-seekers, nor impulsive. Another interesting motive that people have is known as ‘self-handicapping’.
This is a method of self-protection, displayed by humans in all the activities they engage in. People do these negative things to themselves in order to have an ‘escape route’ in case of failure. If you purposefully do a bad job at something, negative responses will be excusable in your mind. Like if you purposefully delay the completion process of a project and, as a result, get a bad grade, you’ll think: “If I would’ve started sooner, I could’ve definitely done a very good job.”
This leads me to the following point: procrastination is what psychologists call a ‘self-regulatory failure’ – an educated way of saying ‘creating your own obstacle’. One of the reasons we would do something like this is presented above, but there are many others, as school counselor Oddny Bakke underlines.
“It [procrastination] is a natural response,” says Bakke. “Your body always tries to take the path of least resistance, why shouldn’t your mind do the same? If you think about it, we [humans] have come from simple survival to leisure activities, or activities we are just not interested in.”
In addition to this, Bakke describes how different a student’s means of procrastination can be, depending on each person’s educational background. “Maybe a person is too confident and neglects a task because of overestimating his/her ability, but there is no reason to think there isn’t a person that is not confident at all, whose anxiety prevents him/her from working on time.” She also pointed out that all of these possible causes is what makes dealing with procrastination so difficult, adding, “Staying on task is a practice, it doesn’t come naturally, and all possible help is appreciated.”
Maybe all of this talk seems depressing to you, and that I can understand. Even more so when all of us have to constantly wonder about what the future holds, instead of paying attention to the details of the present. But this is a topic for another time.
If there truly is anything I would like you to remember from this 10th grader’s bit of information, is that procrastination, just like everything else, is not invincible. It may be bad, and you might not be able to get rid of it, but there is always a way of moving past it – just like how you managed to go through your previous school years by working so close to your deadlines. If you’ve been able to cope with all of that, you should be able to pass through life adapting to the situations you face.
But anyways, who am I to speak? I am, after all, submitting this article a month after my deadline…