Procrastination: otherwise known as intentional delay, postponing, putting off, avoidance, or most commonly referred to as the bane of mankind’s existence.
It’s the reason senior Ryan Posey rushed on his AP Art Portfolio, the reason sophomore Ryan McBride prefers listening to music over taking trees-worth of AP World History notes and the reason I have only started typing this now during crunch (the night before the Bear Witness sends the issue to the printing press). I know, I know.
Procrastination is both a mental and a behavioral battle. This means that even if you know you need to finish annotating an article or start your science project, you may be held back by old habits. One way to get motivated is by giving yourselves an incentive. For me, that’s time to draw, pet my cat, or read a book.
If you have a long history of procrastination, it’s unrealistic to think you’ll become the most productive worker in the world overnight.
Both students mentioned that they began procrastinating in middle school.
“I guess you hit a point where the grade isn’t as valuable as it used to be,” said Ryan McBride. “It [the grade] used to be a marker of self-value. As you get older, you’re self-confident; I didn’t need a grade to validate myself.”
But it’s not just students that procrastinate; almost everyone procrastinates to some extent, even teachers! Branham teachers Mr. Ramani Visvanathan, Ms. Anu Satyapal, and Ms. Jennifer Ozdinski all admitted to being procrastinators.
Tim Urban, a self-described “master procrastinator,” explained the difference between the brains of procrastinators and non-procrastinators in a 2016 TED Talk. Both brains have an imaginary being that Urban calls a “Rational Decision-Maker,” but the procrastinator’s brain also has an Instant Gratification Monkey. Now, what does this mean for the procrastinator?
The Rational Decision-Maker will make the rational decision to do something productive, but the Monkey doesn’t like that plan (he’d prefer to do something fun) so he takes charge. His plans usually involve playing video games, listening to music, watching YouTube videos, reading a good book or going out with friends instead of working–all of which are fine when you don’t have other obligations.
Senior Neil McKibben could relate to this downward spiral of avoidance.
“I work productively,” Neil explained, “then it starts with a break that becomes a multiple-hour break.”
One way to avoid a similar situation of the perpetually extended “break” is by setting a time limit. If you want to take a reading break but are worried you’ll be sucked in by a cliffhanger, set a timer on your phone, computer, or watch for a reasonable amount of time (enough to give your brain a break but not so long that you don’t accomplish anything). Especially if you have a hard time with self-regulation, hearing an alarm going off will remind you to get back to work.
“It’s different for everyone in terms of why they procrastinate,” said history and psychology teacher Ms. Jennifer Ozdinski. “Most often, we procrastinate on things we don’t want to do until we feel the pressure of being due.”
These differences (the why and how of procrastination) are categorized into six behavioral procrastination styles, which stem from three different types of behavior. Perfectionists and dreamers focus on how much they pay attention to detail, worriers and lucky/crisis-makers focus on the future, and defiers and pleasers focus on relationships with others, according to psychologist Linda Sapadin, Ph.D.
Knowing what type(s) of procrastinator you are makes it much easier to find solutions that will work for you. For example, writing down a to-do list is probably helpful for most people, but others may just get overwhelmed by all the things they have to do!
If you’re a perfectionist like me, realize that not everything has to be flawless. Before you start working, try breaking up projects into realistic (not idealistic) goals. To make sure you don’t spend too much time on insignificant details, set time limits for each task and stick to them.
Keep in mind that “to err is human,” as Alexander Pope said in his poem “An Essay on Criticism.”
On the other side of the spectrum, dreamers often find themselves dreaming up cool ideas that never get executed. Try turning some of your dreams into concrete goals by creating small steps that you can work on regularly. Telling people about your goals or ideas will help keep yourself accountable.
There isn’t a simple solution for worriers besides thinking positively, making decisions, and trying to focus on one step at a time.
Thinking about multiple benefits to finishing a project earlier could help lucky procrastinators or crisis-makers get motivated about starting now. If they absolutely cannot work without a deadline, try setting personal progress marks leading up to the actual due date.
A lucky procrastinator herself, English teacher Ms. Rachelle Burnside said, “As I get older, I procrastinate less. I have more responsibilities. Because I have so many, I can’t afford to procrastinate. I don’t have the luxury of procrastination.”
She added that perhaps she had created a constant crisis “by taking on too many jobs.”
If you’re a defier, you need to learn to take responsibility for your actions and choices. If possible, try negotiating or find a way to accomplish the same goal in a creative way. Choose your battles carefully because it may not be worth it to rebel.
Pleasers can lighten their load by learning how to say no and set boundaries. Prioritize items on your to-do list and only do the important, necessary, or enjoyable activities. Most people will be understanding if you aren’t available. Or, try delegating! Ask others to pitch in.
“I tell myself I’ll do it,” said Ryan McBride, “but then. . .I never get around to it.”
Huh. Sort of like this article. Procrastinating on an article about procrastination? How revealing.
Three Factors of Procrastination
Task – The activating event or task (all tasks are neutral) is whatever you are putting off, such as studying for the SAT, cleaning out your backpack, and writing that huge essay for English.
Feelings – These are your “hidden” feelings about the task at hand. How you feel about something controls your motivation and response to these tasks. Having negative feelings often leads to delay. If you feel positive about the task, you’ll start right away.
Action – This is what you actually choose to do. You can take a rational or irrational approach. A rational response is “I don’t like writing papers at all, but I had better get going on it anyway because it’s worth a lot of points.” An irrational approach is “I hate writing papers, and even though it’s due next week, I’ll start it later.”
Examine your belief system, understand why you dislike the task, then change your way of thinking.
What type of procrastinator are you?
The six behavioral procrastination styles come from three different types of behavior. Perfectionists and dreamers focus on attention to detail, worriers and lucky/crisis-makers focus on the future, and defiers and pleasers focus on relationships with others, according to psychologist Linda Sapadin, Ph.D.
Do you have trouble finishing a project because it doesn’t meet your own high standards? Are you caught up with little details that others don’t seem to care about?
Perfectionists procrastinate because they want everything to be perfect. Some perfectionists never start anything because they are afraid of failing, producing low-quality work, or being embarrassed by their mistakes. They spend too much time on small details, and as a result, the rest of the project or assignment is rushed or they miss the big picture. The final product? Usually far from perfect due to bad time management.
Sophomore George Vetushko: “I am a sort of ‘controlling team member’ as I tend to try to take leadership and or/control over the group. Taking up more work then I should (compared to my group members) and even if I am not assigned a particular category, I sometimes struggle not to give advice or attempt to aid another aspect of a project as well.”
Do you imagine grand plans of stuff you’d like to do but never get them off the ground? Would you rather wait for opportunities to present themselves than take an active approach?
Dreamers procrastinate because they don’t want to deal with the details needed to go from ‘A to Z’. They may be great at planning but don’t enjoy doing the hard work.
Math teacher Ms. Anu Satyapal: “I say I’ll get to it by and by, but I don’t do it. Don’t want to do details, organizing in general. Organizing requires a certain attention to detail which I don’t like. I can be very detail-oriented when it comes to math, which I like.”
Do you tend to ignore due dates, then at the last second work frantically to get your stuff done? Are you a risk-taker that likes living on the edge?
The “lucky” procrastinators have learned to procrastinate without fear; they always get away with it! They think their best work is done under pressure and only start working when they’re under the gun. These people are rewarded for their behavior because they have a history of procrastinating without consequence. Just because they’ve gotten away with procrastinating before, doesn’t mean their luck won’t run out someday.
Freshman Lyndsey Freitas: “I found out [when I was younger] I would do best under pressure. I would space it out, but it wouldn’t work. I did it all at once and got an A. I did my science project the day before.”
Does worrying about all the “what ifs” paralyze you before you’ve even started a project?
Do you avoid events or situations that could cause you stress or anxiety?
Worriers procrastinate because they fear change, and excessively worry about what may happen in the future. They hesitate to leave their comfort zone and avoid making decisions, which is a decision in itself.
Mr. Ramani Visvanathan: “I have veering thoughts. I think about a wide range of topics to politics, sports, movies–it’s a wide spectrum. I’m always in the future, not in the present moment.”
Do you become upset when asked to do a task that you don’t want to do? Do you avoid obligations by saying you’ve forgotten them or that they’re unimportant?
Defiers procrastinate because they don’t like it when others tell them what to do.
They don’t care about external deadlines and expectations, which could be done overtly or passive-aggressively. They feel that everything is unfair.
Is it hard for you to say ‘no’ to others, but then feel resentful when you feel overwhelmed?
Do you run around doing a lot of things, without really feeling that you’re accomplishing very much?
Pleasers have too much on their plate because they say yes to extra tasks or favors and fail to set appropriate boundaries. They take on too much and never have enough time to do it all.
Solutions: Remember to prioritize your projects and tasks. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to do this?” School and health should come before making others happy. You’re in control—take control. Learn how to say no. You’re entitled to relax and reward yourself; don’t feel guilty for doing so. Be more proactive than reactive. Ask for help!
Freshman Gabriela Verginis – “I’m kind of a pushover. I feel bad saying ‘no’ especially if it’s something I can do easier than them.”