Kash Jain ’24
As we get into the stride of the new semester, many of us will quickly find ourselves with essays, projects, and all manner of assignments due. Some students may have taken courses or conducted research over the summer, but for the majority of us, it has been a few months since we have done significant amounts of academic work. Naturally, it may take a little while to adjust to the return to academic rigor. While that adjustment is taking place, there is one thing all students should consider: procrastination and how to avoid it.
Procrastination may seem like a relatively minor problem on its face. We all agree that it is something we should not do, but we often do not see the full impacts that procrastination can have on us and our work. The most significant impact of procrastination is that it often reduces the quality of our work because it forces us to complete work in a short period, an often inefficient and ineffective way of completing assignments. Though some people work well under pressure, this is not true for everyone. Condensing an assignment significantly by rushing through it in a short period may not yield optimal results. You need time to be able to focus on the work and go through the assignment properly. Procrastination takes an assignment — possibly one designed to be completed in several steps or parts, spread out over a long period — and forces you to complete said assignment with much less available time. Even if the assignment is meant to be done in one sitting or a shorter period, such as a problem set, doing it with a looming deadline and the lack of surety about whether you will be able to finish in time may lead to high stress levels and, consequently, lower-quality work.
Procrastination is extremely common, especially among college students. A 2007 meta-analysis by a psychologist at the University of Calgary found that between 80-95% of college students procrastinate. Given that this was before most students had smartphones, it is probable that this number is even higher now. Most of us have been procrastinators at one point or another, and many of us are at risk of falling into that trap again. Considering how many distractions constantly surround us, it is difficult not to procrastinate — and it is easy to understand why we do. However, despite the commonality of this behavior, it is one that we should try to reject.
Imagine that you are in the following scenario: it is 8 p.m., and you have a five-page paper due at midnight that you have not started. It was brought up in class two weeks ago, and you told yourself that you would do it that weekend, but you ended up spending a few hours watching TV and never got around to it. You continued to delay starting; maybe you wrote down a few brief ideas or entirely forgot about the paper. Either way, you are now sitting here with mere hours to skim through relevant course readings and the first few Google Scholar results, then write an entire paper. The feelings that begin to set in at this point are generally not pleasant ones. Maybe it is panic or maybe it is regret over not having done the work earlier. Whatever it is, know that you can avoid that. Think about your future self, the person in that situation. Certainly, you would want to avoid doing that to yourself, placing yourself in that situation? You will need to write those five pages eventually, but you have control over when you choose to write these pages. Doing so sooner rather than later is nearly always the right solution.
I am not saying that one should always attempt to speed through their work the second it is assigned, as failing to take the time to plan out a large assignment properly will negatively impact the quality of your work regardless of when you complete said work. The key is having a measured approach to work, taking the time you need to complete an assignment effectively and efficiently while avoiding rushing through work the second you receive it and delaying to the point where you have no option but to rush. Whether this involves a planning stage or simply taking time to digest a prompt for a paper, you will generally produce your best work when you treat a large assignment as something that can be broken down and completed at a steady pace.
There may not be a single infallible way to ensure that you never procrastinate again. Still, there are certain strategies that you can use to minimize and possibly even eliminate procrastination. Consider again the aforementioned scenario and the fact that you are effectively giving your future self a gift by doing the work you need to do now, instead of pushing it off until later. If you are working on a larger assignment that could be broken into several parts, try to come up with a schedule. For instance, you can break down a project into stages and assign a deadline for each of them. Sticking to something like this may be difficult, but doing so will ensure that you do not end up having to tackle a behemoth while in a severe time crunch. Perhaps, if you successfully reach your goals, you can give yourself some sort of reward.
Reducing distractions would likely be one of the most effective strategies for any college student seeking to limit procrastination. There are countless things that can pull our attention away from work, and it can be difficult to resume working. Undoubtedly the biggest distraction is our phones. It is so easy to pick up your phone and open TikTok or Instagram, then spend an hour scrolling without even realizing how much time has elapsed. Luckily, there are quite a few ways of reducing phone usage while you are trying to work. Something as simple as leaving your phone somewhere that requires you to get up and retrieve it, instead of leaving it in your pocket or next to you on your desk, could help cut down on unnecessary pickups. Most phones have some sort of do-not-disturb feature, which can help you avoid checking your phone every time you receive a notification if you have a habit of doing that. There are also apps such as Forest, which allows you to grow trees in a gamified manner. You can set a timer while “growing” a tree that prevents you from leaving the app, lest your in-app tree dies.
Effectively curbing procrastination and developing proper time management with assignments is difficult; it takes time to form good habits, which is true of any skill. However, it is undoubtedly something worth doing. Learning how to combat and avoid procrastination will benefit you through the rest of your college experience, as well as in at work or in any further educational endeavors you pursue in the future.
Procrastination can be hard to avoid, but it is important to recognize its detrimental effects and consider the various strategies you can use to avoid it. So do yourself a favor, and don’t procrastinate. Your future self will thank you.