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Decoding Procrastination


With only a few weeks left of school, summer is in sight. However, students may find themselves losing motivation and putting off those last few assignments. While everyone procrastinates from time to time, it can make or break final grades at this point in the year.

An article on procrastination by Eric Jaffe cites one of the first studies of procrastination, which was published in 1997 in Psychological Science. The study followed college students who were chronic procrastinators and compared them to average students.

“Procrastinators earned lower grades than other students and reported higher cumulative levels of stress and illness,” wrote Jaffe. “True procrastinators didn’t just finish their work later – the quality of it suffered, as did their own well- being.”

Many additional studies have been done on why people procrastinate. According to an article written by Psychology Today, people may delay work out of fear of failure or because they have a resentment towards the specific task. They may also procrastinate because they struggle with delayed gratification, or they may simply be working at the wrong time of day. Ron Friedman, Ph. D psychologist and author of The Best Place to Work, has created a quiz for people to find their most productive three hours of the day.

“Recent studies have found that on average, people are considerably worse at absorbing new information, planning ahead and resisting distractions as the day progresses,” stated an article published in Harvard Business Review.

However, students often do not have the luxury of choosing when to work on an assignment, and timing is not the only reason for procrastination. For students who put off work because the thought of the project fills them with anxiety, the best fix is to address the emotions tied to the project.

“The word ‘failure’ is often embellished with surplus meaning, some of which is [derogatory],” stated an article by New Harbinger Publications. “The word then starts to be synonymous with worthless, inept or incompetent.”

That article suggests viewing projects or papers as experiments rather than tests of competence. This can help reduce the pressure placed on a single assignment as well as resolve the emotions causing a person to procrastinate in the first place. This fear of failure is especially strong in perfectionists which is why psychologists have often found a link between perfectionism and procrastination.

“The drive to be perfect often creates anxiety, and to avoid this feeling, people can put off doing things, which in turn makes them feel more anxious,” wrote Jia Wertz in an article citing a study by York University.

Wertz also stresses the importance of recognizing the emotions which prevent a student from starting a project. Professionals recommend that students struggling with this start by addressing the cause of their fear of failure.

“Once people admit that nothing can ever truly be perfect, they reduce their expectations and can set more achievable goals” wrote Wertz. “And in this way they can achieve a greater level of success.”

The last main cause of procrastination is a diversion for delayed gratification. In other words, some students would rather do something fun now than finish homework early. Most people feel this way, but consistently caving to this desire can be destructive.

“Studies show that delayed gratification is one of the most effective personal traits of successful people,” stated an article by Psychology Today. “People who learn how to manage their need to be satisfied in the moment thrive more in their careers, relationships, health and finances than people who give in to it.”

Brendan Baker from Start of Happiness suggests creating a list of goals and values for motivation while working on the assignment. He also suggests setting up rewards. Rewards can be anything from taking a short break every hour to treating oneself to a favorite meal once the project is completed. If a student can listen to music without getting distracted, the noise may serve as a bit of pleasure during the long drag.

“Over the last few years, we have entered a new age in which managing our energy and time is not enough,” wrote Friedman for Psychology Today. “No matter how much time and energy we have at our disposal, we cannot be productive without mastering the art of attention management.”

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Decoding Procrastination