Procrastination: Why and How To Do It
Procrastination is a large part of countless students’ lives and work methods. It is responsible for a seemingly endless number of papers, projects and assignments that are completed just moments before class. However, for something so common and widely used, it is frowned upon by teachers and parents everywhere. When it is looked at from a more scientific and logical perspective, procrastination can actually be a very useful and practical tool. To analyze procrastination and its benefits, one must become familiarized with what procrastination actually is.
Over time, the definition of procrastination has become skewed and vague, and, unfortunately, not many people or sources can provide a definitive definition for the word. The following hypothetical situation can provide a good example of the two opposite sides of procrastination: Two students had put off doing an essay until the day it is due. The first student had been doing smaller, less important tasks (checking grades, planning for the rest of the week, etc.) without putting much direct thought into completing the essay. The second had sat down with the intention to write multiple times, but never got past typing his name on the paper without switching over to Facebook and giving up. The first student waited until he had just enough time to write, proof-read, and edit his paper. The second didn’t think he’d have enough time and decided not to do it. While it is apparent that both students put off doing their essays, did either of them actually procrastinate? The first student put off his paper until the latest possible time, which means he clearly procrastinated if it took him that long to do it, right? However, since he was doing other relatively important things, an argument could be made that since he was still working (even though it was on different, probably less important tasks), he wasn’t procrastinating because was still actually doing something. The second student could be considered not procrastinating because procrastination can be substituted with “put off” or “delayed”, which both imply that the assignment would at some point be completed (or at least started).
The two students did in fact both procrastinate. The reason it seems so different is because it was. Procrastination is broken up into two categories; active and passive. Active procrastination (what the first student used for his essay) is the systematic delay of a task. It allows the procrastinator to manage his time by putting off things that don’t need to be done right away (the essay) in order to do other quicker, or more enjoyable things (checking grades, planning, etc.). It is a fantastic way to take in all the benefits of procrastination. Passive procrastination (what the second student employed) is, more or less, the act of blindly saying “screw it, I’ll do it later”. Unlike active procrastination, passive procrastination doesn’t use much, or any time management. For example; an active procrastinator would make sure he has enough time between when he starts his essay and when it is due. A passive procrastinator will just lazily put an assignment off without regarding how much time is left to complete said assignment. Active procrastinators typically won’t encounter as much stress as passive procrastinators because there will already be time set aside to worry about, and complete the assignment, while passive procrastinators can begin to get stressed out over the work looming over their heads.
The big thing that separates procrastination from “put off” and “delay” is time. Procrastination involves the delaying of a timed task until the latest possible time within the given timeframe. While something can be put off indefinitely, procrastination has a set deadline for when a task can totally lose its relevance. For example; I’ve been telling my self I’d go running for some time now. I’ve been blowing it off for weeks by not doing it, and I’ve postponed it by telling my self “I’ll just do it tomorrow”, but I haven’t been procrastinating because there is no set time or date. I just haven’t been doing it out of laziness.
While active procrastination is a great strategy, it may still seem like doing an assignment as soon as it’s assigned is still the way to go.
Both can clear up plenty of free time and take a load off a students shoulders. However, working early does have its downsides. Doing an assignment right away can interfere with existing plans or prevent new ones from coming up. While social plans aren’t usually that important by themselves, they can help relieve stress which is always a good thing. Usually the best time to do homework is in the morning before class (as long as there is enough time). In almost every single situation ever, people want to relax at night. Not much ever happens in the morning, which makes it the ideal time to do homework. This also kills two birds with one stone by pushing the assignment back as far as possible to allow the writer to reap the benefits of working under pressure, the other thing that procrastinating has over not procrastinating.
When working under pressure, a person’s mind can focus almost entirely on the assignment being done. This blocks out the majority of outside distractions that could interfere with the writing process. A good amount of people are also fortunate enough to be able to work very well under pressure. When work is done without pressure involved (let’s say on the night a paper is assigned), the writer has no initiative to complete the assignment and can become lazy with writing. In some instances (something that used to happen to me all too often), a writer will develop the contagious thought, “I have plenty of time to do this. Why am I doing it now?” If this happens, a student can blow off an assignment entirely by periodically thinking “I should check Facebook,” or “Eh, I’ll do it some other time” instead of figuring out when “some other time” will be.
Efficiently managing time is essential to good procrastination. Anything that will cause stress, discourage writing, or cut into working time should be avoided. Anything relaxing (watching TV, video games, reading) or productive is great for procrastination. Relaxing activities give a student a chance to unwind and calm down before tackling an assignment. It also allows a student to evade the stress caused by actually doing the assignment. On the other hand, being productive while procrastinating is a great way to accomplish many smaller, less important tasks (laundry, cleaning, doing other work) which, in turn, can relieve even more stress. By relieving stress, a student will not feel as overwhelmed when writing the paper.
Unfortunately, there will always be people that will argue against procrastination. Hara Morano, a writer for “Psychology Today,” published a quite convincing article entitled “Procrastination: Ten Things To Know.” While the article makes some good points, the majority of the claims in the argument are false. The “Ten Things To Know,” are all anti-procrastination and try to demonize procrastinators. Thankfully, the article is written in a numbered list form which will make its refutation very simple to break down. (Points four, five, and ten won’t be addressed due to their irrelevance to the argument)
Point one states that 20% of people identify as a chronic procrastinator, and that procrastination interferes with all aspects of their lives. They don’t pay bills on time, forget to cash checks, and always do very last minute shopping. This is a statement made about 20% of the population. While it is true that about a fifth of the populous would claim to be a procrastinator, saying that each and ever single one of them is an incredibly unhealthy passive procrastinator is absurd. All that is needed to debunk this is a procrastinator or two that can still pay bills, and do other similar tasks on time. My floor mates and I are those needed procrastinators. We are habitual procrastinators, and almost always put things off until the last minute, yet we very rarely miss a due date.
The second point makes three claims: Procrastination isn’t regarded seriously enough, procrastination is a problem of self-regulation, and society enables procrastinators. Procrastination isn’t looked at as a serious problem because it isn’t a serious problem. It’s just a different, usually much better way to accomplish things. It is not a self-regulation problem because, when done well, is the best possible way to juggle time between finishing work and relaxing. It allows one to balance out relaxation, whether it be surfing the web or playing sports, and working on an assignment, without any interference between the two. Society isn’t enabling procrastination just because giving people the benefit of the doubt isn’t frowned upon. It could be a great argument for why people shouldn’t always believe everything they’re told, but an article against procrastination, it is not. The third point I actually agree with. Procrastination is not a time management problem at all. Good procrastinators actually have great time management skills which allows them to plan out when to work and when not to.
Six provides some good points, but overall, it doesn’t provide a totally correct argument. To use myself as an example again, it is true that most of the time I’ll tell myself that an assignment isn’t important. I barely ever feel like doing anything and frequently tell myself that I’ll do it later. As for working under pressure, I’ve proven to myself that I perform just as well under pressure if not better. However, while I constantly have thoughts about not wanting to doing things, it doesn’t inhibit me from ultimately completing the assignment. Procrastinators aren’t the only ones that have these thoughts, and sometimes they aren’t even “lies.” There really are times when people think about how they’d want to do something more at a later time, and then end up wanting to do it later in the day.
Seven also makes a decent point, but it is ultimately wrong. Passive procrastinators will look for distractions to prevent themselves from doing work, but, again, this only applies to passive procrastinators, not active. Point eight is in a great position to mention active and passive procrastination, but instead, ignores the two completely and replaces them with three types that leave out some major parts of active and passive procrastination. The first is a small part of active procrastination that focuses on the rush created my doing things last minute. It fails to mention the benefits of the rush though, and still makes it out to be a totally bad thing. The second two are just attributes of passive procrastination which are still quite clearly bad. Nine makes a claim about procrastination being bad for a students health. If a student active procrastinates, they can easily relieve a load of stress from themselves which won’t affect a student negatively at all. The health problems can be present in a passive procrastinator.
Overall, the article gives some great arguments against procrastination, however, they’re mostly directed toward passive procrastination. While it is a form of procrastination, it’s not a very good form at all. Unfortunately, the article doesn’t specify what type of procrastination is being talked about and makes these arguments for all forms of procrastination, and, while most are correct for passive procrastination, they completely disregard active procrastination.
Unfortunately, after all this, procrastination still generally gets a bad reputation in schools. Parents and teachers are still trying to convince their children and students not to procrastinate despite all of active procrastinations benefits. If more people practiced active procrastination, there could easily be a large drop in the average amount of stress that students go through. Using myself as evidence again, papers and exams barely put any stress on me because of the way I go about them (active procrastination). There are plenty of people I know that don’t active procrastinate that are usually quite stressed out around finals week. While it’s not a very large sample of people to go off of, the same results will definitely be found in colleges around the country. Hopefully, in the near future, more people will adopt active procrastination as their primary way of working.
Procrastinaion: Ten Things To Know – Hara Marano http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200308/procrastination-ten-things-know
The Secret Benefits of Procrastination – Frank Partnoy http://www.alternet.org/story/156120/the_secret_benefits_of_procrastination
Doctor Michael Schlitt MD
Can Procrastination Ever Be Good? – Pamela Wiegartz, Ph.D. and Kevin Gyoerkoe, Psy.D. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-the-age-anxiety/201104/can-procrastination-ever-be-good-thing
Working Under Pressure – CommLab India http://www.slideshare.net/CommLab/working-underpressure
Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/procrastinate
Procrastination or “Intentional Delay” – Amy Novotney http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2010/01/procrastination.aspx
Extensive personal experience as a procrastinator.