I sit on my computer chair with my laptop directly in front of me. The time is 8:07 p.m on a Thursday.I have a whole evening in which to complete my work and I am not worried at all. In fact I’m on the prowl for any type of distraction, no matter how inane. After what seems like hours I glance at the clock: 8:16 p.m. It suddenly occurs to me that I literally have hours before I must hand in the fruits of my labour. After what seems like minutes I glance at the clock again. It is 2:00 a.m, and the word “conclusion” is not in sight.
Time is a temperamental mistress for a procrastinator.
With a simple Google search of the word “procrastination” it quickly becomes apparent that I am likely not the only one awake at ungodly hours. It also becomes apparent that I am the only one who doesn’t seem to mind.
Procrastination has gained quite a villainous reputation. Some of the websites that pop up are entitled “Beating Procrastination” and “Overcoming Procrastination.” While I expect further description on whether procrastination is an upper or a downer, the articles instead describes the type of person guilty of this sin. “Low-self confidence”, “perfectionism” and “fear of failure” are all tell-tale signs that you too, may indeed have procrastination.
According to the Psychology Today website, 20 per cent of people identify themselves as procrastinators. While procrastination is not limited to any specific demographic, a plethora of university and academic websites offer tools to help students get rid of this dirty little habit.
But is procrastination such a terrible vice?
Speaking as a student who procrastinates on a regular, nay, daily basis I can honestly say I am rather attached to it. I admit there are times that in a fever of sleep deprivation I renounce my ways. But three days before my next assignment is due I am inevitably puttering around my apartment, delaying until the eleventh hour. And I am all right with this.
But, according to the Academic Advising Center at the University of Toronto at Scarborough, such study habits do not place one on the path to success. Academic advisor Kathy Fellowes, who has 18 years of experience in her field, defines procrastination as “putting off something you have to do for no good reason.” She says that are multiple factors behind why students procrastinate.
“It’s not just because they don’t want to complete their task, there are reasons underneath. It may be because of misunderstanding, or because they don’t like the subject or it might just be a time management problem,” she says.
Either way, she strongly advises against cultivating this habit. If a student is looking for help, an academic advisor can assist with any of the above problems one might face. Even though these may seem at the time to be insurmountable hurdles, they may actually be good indicators of a need for larger change.
“Procrastination may be a sign that a student is not connecting with the material, that they could be in the wrong program,” says Fellowes.
One University of Toronto student who begs to differ is English major Ruwaida Mortuza.
“I enjoy my courses, I love my English classes but I always end up procrastinating. I have all this time to do something, but I usually don’t do it until the last minute,” says Mortuza, who is in her third year.
A handout available at UTSC’s Academic Advising center outlines just some of the multitude of reason not to procrastinate. But Mortuza does not feel that some of the factors, such as added stress and anxiety, further complicate her life.
“Essays bring stress in general. I’ve been procrastinating for the past three years and I always manage to pull it off,” says Mortuza.
Mortuza also says that she gets satisfaction from being able to get the same grade on an essay from one night’s work as someone who spent two weeks in preparation.
Fellow University of Toronto student Israa Nasir considers her procrastination to be a reflection of a deeper problem.
“Honestly, I lack motivation. Because I feel I can do it at the last moment, I’m not motivated to excel. I also feel like I’ve become lazier and lazier” says Nasir.
But this psychology student also feels she has improved during her time at university.
“More and more I don’t procrastinate with school. I’ll start studying for an exam two or three weeks beforehand,” she says. “Procrastination hinders progress, but I don’t view it as a huge problem.”
The psychological reasons behind why a person procrastinates are complex at best. But, according to psychologist Dr. Joanna Mitsopulos, attributing it to sheer laziness is not necessarily a correct diagnosis.
“I don’t think there’s necessarily a connection between the two. I think it [procrastination] is more a feeling of being overwhelmed by what you have to do. Others
might view it as laziness but that’s an evaluation of what other people have of your behaviour,” she says. “I think it’s the feeling of just too much. ‘I can’t handle this, I can’t cope and hopefully it will go away.’”
UTSC student Breni Varatharajah’s worst case of procrastination certainly involved feelings of anxiety and stress.
“This one time I was up until 3:30 a.m, and that was beyond late for me. Also, my lab partner was psychotic, he stayed up later than that. But I’m a procrastinator so once I finish things I’m done. I don’t re-read,” says Varatharajah, who majors in neuroscience.
While I’m sure many students can nod in sympathy at this story, admitting that you are a procrastinator does not seem to be the first step to recovery. Many of the students that I interviewed freely admitted they are procrastinators. Like Pope John Paul II Secondary School student Nisha Saba, who is in her final year.
“We just had exams and I procrastinated on my final project. I did it in a week,” she says. “I usually end up on TV, MSN or Facebook.”
But, like Nasir, she says that she is getting better.
“I used to sit the period before something was due and finish it. But now I do it the night before.”
Fellow student Eric Caparas also says that he has changed his study methods in order not to procrastinate like he did last semester.
“I’ve set up a time-table so that I have a certain time where I have to go to bed each night.”
Ah, sleep. All but a distant memory for most procrastinators. Instead of being cozily tucked away in their beds at night, like the rest of the world, they’re scrambling to string coherent sentences together while imbibing any and all forms of caffeine.
With the exception of Caparas, the common denominator of the above mentioned procrastinators is that they are aware of their problem and believe that they have improved their study habits, but still presently procrastinate.
“I keep telling myself that it will be OK,” says Varatharajah. “I keep saying that I still have enough time.”