In my book, procrastination does not entirely deserve its heinous reputation. True, procrastination is in many ways about avoidance, hesitance, even abject fear. But I say it’s also about problem-solving. Not your best problem-solving strategy, but an attempt nonetheless. What good does it do? In the moment, you are spared the anticipated stress of doing your work. Unfortunately, procrastination produces other stresses, like feeling guilty about not doing your work, feeling rushed because you are left with less time to do your work, and ultimately the worst of all worlds: not doing your best work because you’ve run out of time and are preoccupied by remorse and regret.
So the question really is, if procrastination is a misguided attempt at solving a problem, what are other ways to solve that same problem? What solves the problem without yielding the aftertaste of guilt, regret, and stress?
First of all, let’s define what the problems are we’re trying to solve.
There’s so much on my plate I don’t know where to start.
No parents – boo yah! I can do whatever I want with my time!
I don’t even really want to be a doctor/lawyer/engineer/anything-my-parents-want-me-to-be.
Head in the sand
I’ve put it off this long, what’s one more day?
Impulse control (lack of)
Ooh look! My roommate’s cousin’s boyfriend updated his facebook status!
If I wait until it’s too late to do good work, I can tell myself my poor performance is because I waited too long. Then I’ll never have to really find out if my best effort wasn’t good enough.
Low frustration tolerance
I CANNOT STAND HOW I FEEL WHEN IT ISN’T PERFECT.
What if I can’t do this work?
What if feel inadequate?
The last time I tried, I failed, and I might fail again.
What if I didn’t understand the lecture and there’s no way I can start the pset?
What if it takes too long?
Parse your work. If you want to climb Everest, you gotta start from the bottom. One step at a time. First look at the paper prompt. Then look at your notes. Then organize your notes. Then refine your notes. Then develop your ideas. If necessary, intersperse rewards like donuts or naps in between each of these discreet tasks.
That’s right, you’re here for your education and no one else’s. So who is it really screwing if you don’t do your work? If you really want to rebel, tell your parents you want to be a veterinarian/philosopher/anthropologist instead of an engineer.
Head in the sand
Yes, it is nice and quiet down there. But since you’re not really shutting out the noise in your head reminding you that you know better, grab hold of a friend and get yourself back on track. Now is not the time to isolate. OK seriously, stop reading this blog now. Go get a friend to help you start your assignment.
When you have the impulse to check facebook, just pause for a moment, a moment, and consider this question: how did it work out for me the last time I procrastinated?
Take the risk of doing your best. Play out the whole imagined disaster. What’s the worst that can happen? Will lives be lost? See how your CS professor deals with finding out he’s not all that as a freshman at Stanford.
Know this: intelligence is malleable. It grows with effort and time on task. You will get better at learning the more you work at it. You’re not supposed to have nailed it yet.
And by the way, if you aren’t sure you’re procrastinating, ask yourself if you have ever said these things to yourself:
“I work best under pressure, so I’m waiting until I get that adrenaline surge at 3am the night before it’s due.”
“I don’t know how to start this p-set, so I’m waiting until I know how.”
“YOLO.” Closes books, begins partying.
“I waited until the last minute last time and it worked out okay, so why not this time?”
“Relax. The world won’t end if this doesn’t get done.”
“I always spend the first 4 hours staring at a blank screen. I might as well do something else for 4 hours and then just start writing after that.”
“If I work on this, I’ll miss out on…”
“Writing that other paper at the last minute — that was a fluke.”
“I’m burned out.”
“I’m reading The Duck Stops Here for the fourth time this week because it’s SO much more approachable than my physics homework.”
Yes, dear. You are procrastinating. Now it’s really time to stop reading this blog, and get to work.
As always, stay calm and stay tuned.
Next time: Scrap time