The most comforting words you can hear as a student are, “I haven’t started studying yet, either.”
More than 80 percent of college students and about 20 percent of adults admitted to being chronic procrastinators, according to one psychological study. If so many of us put off our work for later, there must be a good trade off for the consequences.
In this age of technology, with endless distractions literally at the tips of our fingers, it can seem almost impossible to not give into impulses to watch one more episode, or spend just a few more minutes on our phones to escape our daily duties. Even those of us who don’t regularly procrastinate have pushed our limits during college, choosing nights out with friends over working on a long-term project.
Procrastination gives us time – time to do what we want to do rather than what is expected of us. And sometimes, that procrastination can be a good thing, since it can refuel us and push us to do our best when we finally want to.
We tend to confuse procrastination with laziness, two very different concepts. Laziness involves opting out of doing something because we don’t want to do it. Procrastination is the act of putting off a task – not because we can’t or won’t do it, but because in that moment we would rather be doing something else.
If you’re having trouble focusing, coming up with ideas or understanding an assignment, taking a moment to step away – even to catch up on a Netflix series or go on a run – can be helpful in finding inspiration and boosting concentration.
My University Writing class last semester was about the media’s portrayal of chaos and disaster. Interestingly, I could see examples of what we talked about in class each time I procrastinated by looking through social media or checking my phone. But that time I spent procrastinating was not time wasted. While I was not always focused on writing as I should have been, I kept the concepts in the back of my mind, which made my thoughts more fluid for when I did get around to writing.
The longer I waited to finish writing my paper, the more ideas I had. This wasn’t always the case – sometimes I was too pressed for time. But the moment I accepted that putting off certain tasks wasn’t a bad thing, an unnecessary layer of stress lifted off of me.
Many people also procrastinate from doing large tasks that seem like they’ll require a lot of effort. But even if you aren’t starting an assignment right away, you can still spend time thinking about it. Sometimes, it’s best to think about how to approach a paper or a project for a few days before getting started. That way, by the time you start, you have a good idea of what you want to do.
Starting a task early and then returning to it later also makes it seem more doable and less dreadful. For example, instead of sitting down to read a 90-page assignment at once, read 30 pages now and come back to the rest later.
People spend more time thinking about their incomplete tasks more than the ones they have finished, psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik concluded more than 100 years ago. When we finish a paper or a project, we are finished thinking about it, but when we work slowly and take our time with tasks, we use much more thought and effort, and have a better memory of those tasks later on.
Some people say that when they procrastinate until the last second, the pressure of time forces them to do their best work. If you’ve found out that you work your hardest when you’re under time constraints, there’s nothing wrong with that. Part of growing up is learning how you operate – if you’ll focus better after relaxing for a few hours, that’s OK.
Forcing ourselves to do work inhibits creativity and only causes stress, which can be an obstacle in creating our best work. Of course, sometimes making ourselves do work is the only way to get it done, but occasionally putting things on hold to find out more about ourselves is never a bad idea.
Raya Hudhud, a freshman double-majoring in public health and anthropology, is a Hatchet opinions writer. Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.