Confronting Schoolwork’s Worst Enemy

Kathleen Mackey, Managing Editor

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I can confidently speak for the vast majority of college students, myself included, when I say that procrastination is one of the most difficult challenges to overcome when it comes to academics. In fact, this column was brought to you solely by procrastination. *cue Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” for dramatic effect*

In all seriousness, this dreadful lack of motivation has been a persistent issue in my college years and I still have a while to go before I can blame it on senioritis. For many years, I prided myself on being the kind of student that didn’t relax until all of my work was done. I remember thinking I should never be that person who waited till the last minute to write a paper or finish an assignment, that I should never allow myself to be that irresponsible until, plot twist, I became that person.

It’s a very natural progression, being a student for over a decade, to become a little more lackadaisical towards schoolwork. Reading, essays, tests —  it’s all getting a bit stale. Though I value schoolwork immensely and strive to make it a top priority in my life, procrastination continues to get the best of me. But, as the semester starts to unfold, I’ve decided to make a conscientious effort to stop these detrimental habits before they start. To do that, it’s important to get to the root of what causes this counterproductive and stress-inducing behavior.

I’ve noticed that many of the things I put off tend to be the things that are most daunting and in which I’m most worried about doing poorly. Every weekend, my OP/ED columns always end up being the last thing I get around to doing. (My roommate can attest to this.) I try to start them early, but then I overthink my ideas and don’t know where to start, so I continue to put it off. This cycle repeats itself until I’m running out of time and have no choice but to finish it at two in the morning when my brain feels expired.

Working under this sort of pressure seems to be the only way I get daunting tasks like this done, but it’s becoming more and more inefficient. This “fear of failure” is apparently one of procrastination’s most common forms, according to psychologist Ellen Hendriksen. To eliminate it, she explained that “Sky-high standards by themselves don’t slow you down, but sky-high standards mixed with a belief that your performance is tied to your self-worth grinds you to a halt.  … So remember that there’s a difference between who you are and what you achieve.”

This helped me to realize that the most productive way to combat this form of procrastination is to acknowledge and accept that sometimes things need to start out in a rough state before they get to a place you feel comfortable with and proud of.

On the other hand, I can’t deny that sometimes (more often than I’d like to admit) I avoid work purely because I dislike the task itself or I’m simply too lazy to do it. This, of course, is a common thread among many students, but how to limit it varies from person to person. Hendriksen explained that there are both passive procrastinators, those who become easily distracted in their work, and active procrastinators, those who strategically find ways to intentionally avoid being productive. Either way, there are tasks that we simply don’t want to and that’s OK. Heidi Grant from the Harvard Business Review explained that we just need to accept that there are tasks that we can’t bring ourselves to feel like doing.

“Somewhere along the way, we’ve all bought into the idea — without consciously realizing it — that to be motivated and effective we need to feel like we want to take action. We need to be eager to do so,” she explained.

Instead of pushing ourselves to want to enjoy doing the task, we need to channel this into wanting to commit and motivate ourselves to see the finished result, whether we enjoy it or not.

I personally find no redeeming benefit from procrastination. While I find that working under pressure does push me to work more efficiently, the amount of dread I have leading up to it and the lack of sleep it results in far outweigh any benefit that comes from it. Learning to be more consistently efficient and ahead of the game will take time, but I know my sleep schedule will thank me for it.