As any student knows, procrastination is a fine art. The possibilities for things to do seems endless when you are faced with a work deadline. Yes, that particular task which should be at the very top of your priorities is just a bit…unappealing at this very moment in time. Maybe later.
A real problem with procrastination is that for each individual, it manifests itself in several deeply ingrained habits. Some delve into the cat-video galore that is the internet. Others tackle tasks of lesser priority because they are less threatening or easier to undertake. Some even retire to their bedrooms for a quick ‘procrasti-nap’. Personally, I am a big fan of the ‘procasti-tidy’ (you ensure your work environment is spotless; perfect for sitting down and further avoiding your essay). Yet no matter how many nonsense neologisms we dream up about this perennial work-place problem, many of us still struggle to find the source of procrastinating behaviour, and a way to stop it or at least channel it into something positive. ‘Procrasti-positivity’: let’s see where this takes us.
As noted in a 2010 study ‘The Thief of Time: Philosophical Essays on Procrastination’ (Andreou and White), procrastination is traditionally characterised as behaviours grounded in ‘irrationality, self-deception, akraisa, irresoluteness, vague goals, hypocrisy and fragmented agency’. Underneath all the jargon, this definition implies that procrastination occurs because we are hapless individuals with little sense of direction. This is, I feel, a fairly unforgiving synopsis. Historically renowned procrastinators such as Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables and Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, are examples of individuals with brilliant minds which had the tendency to wander but nonetheless produced huge volumes of high quality work. George Ainslie’s theory of the causes of procrastination takes a different perspective. Ainslie writes in ‘Procrastination: The Basic Impulse’, that it results from ‘a temporary preference to defer costs and is thus a species of impulse’. In Ainslie’s words, procrastination ‘needs no great pleasure to drive it and no activity to instantiate it. It is just the venerable sin of sloth’. The ‘venerable sin of sloth’ may sound hyperbolic, but is a rather fitting attribute for your typical student. Netflix and a duvet often have a far more immediate draw than thumbing volumes of Rousseau or battling a maths equation.
Personally, I feel that procrastination derives from a sentiment that ‘now’ is never the best time. We will be less tired tomorrow; we will feel better for resting. We will be more productive. However, we need to face the reality the tomorrow may never come. Bite the bullet today and explore these methods to tackle procrastination, or to make it more productive:
- Employ implementation intentions: In short, make an action plan of when, where and how you intend to begin your work. Do this when the work is set, before that initial burst of motivation becomes redirected elsewhere.
- Leveraging: This strategy encourages you to employ self-discipline and to consider consequences. For instance: ‘If I do not do this work now, I cannot go to the cinema with my friends on Friday night’. This makes it far more likely to consider the consequences of your procrastinating behaviour and should motivate you to get stuck into your work now to avoid future punishment.
- Have someone to hold you accountable for the work you are meant to have done. Whether this is a study buddy, friend or parent, ask someone to put positive pressure you on to complete the task, i.e: ‘I would love to spend time with you this evening, but only if you have started this work’
Still procrastinating? Here are some ways to be ‘procasti-positive’:
- While cat videos are indeed a joy to behold, unless you are undertaking research in the correlation between humorous cat videos and endorphin surges in the brain, browsing these videos is unlikely to be productive. Use the internet to aid, rather than hinder, your research. There are a great number of fun and interactive study sites such as Schmoop, Sparknotes and GCSE Bitesize where you wind down and learn at the same time.
- If you are desperate to leave your desk, see if there is anything else you can do which is relevant to what you are researching. Exhibitions at the local museum, library or art gallery? Are there any films or documentaries you could watch which could deepen your understanding? More often than not, these kinds of activities spark more interest than a text-book and will make facing up to the set task more enjoyable and interesting.
- Allocate time for procrastination. Several studies have indicated that the most effective study sessions are those with frequent, but structured, rest breaks. Work on your task for 20 minutes, then have a 10 minutes break. Work for a further 30 minutes, then have a 20 minute break. Then try and work for 45 minutes and give yourself a longer break. Give yourself time to relax, so that you do not end up relaxing when you intend to work, and vice versa.
Try to implement these techniques next time you are stuck in a loop of procrastination-stress-cramming. They may just work!
Written by Anna Shepherd