With the pressure of deadlines and exam preparation looming, Sisi Rabenstein investigates whether or not procrastination is a wide-spread and pervasive issue.
The cry of ‘But no one told me college would be hard!’ can often be heard on the Belfield concourse around essay week, but is this a case of ineptitude, or laziness?
Procrastination is a term used to describe the behaviour of persistent avoidance of a necessary task that one would prefer not to perform, the avoidance of which causes anxiety in the procrastinator. It is described in human populations as far back as the Ancient Egyptians, 3,000 years ago.
According to psychologist and author, Dr Piers Steel, procrastination effects 95 per cent of people, of which in 15 to 20 per cent it is classed as impeding of normal functioning.
Different avoidance strategies are used in order to appear too busy for the task, or to take our minds off of it, some of which may sound eerily familiar.
Students have been known to spend time on Bebo or playing computer games instead of preparing for exams. It’s also not uncommon for people to appear more attractive before exams, having spent two or more hours on the hair and make-up in avoidance of study. People can develop an inexplicable need to clean their appartment, which can often take all day… the day before a deadline; thus banishing the task to the wee hours of the night.
These behaviours often stem from the anxiety surrounding a task. People subconsciously acknowledge that they cannot perform the task to the best of their abilities with less time, but are worried that should they try their best and fail, it would hurt their ego and reveal to them that they are not capable of reaching high academic standards.
The consequences of procrastination are obvious; lower grades, sleep deprivation, worry and anxiety or even dropping out. Yet with these dire outcomes, a proposed 95 per cent of people in western societies engage in this behaviour. Why is it that such a detrimental behaviour persists?
“It’s harder to wean chronic procrastinators from the habit of postponing work than to remedy an alcohol addiction”
There are many reasons for this task avoidance, from the simplest, a childish response of instant gratification along the lines of ‘but I don’t wanna’ to the most complex, an near disorder stemming from compulsion and anxiety. Studies suggest that the vast percentage of people are affected by procrastination at some level along a spectrum, from minor to debilitating.
First year Psychology student, Brenda Moreau revealed that when the deadlines build up, “I keep telling myself I have plenty of time, and then I end up backed up into a corner and I start to panic.” Moreau described an act common to most procrastinators, saying “I build [the task] up in my head to bigger than what it could ever be.”
The act of over-emphasising a task’s importance or possible time and effort consumption is a behaviour common to procrastinators closer to the deadline, and follows a period of belittling the task.
Like Moreau, first year Social Science student Kim Muligan, detailed the the mind-set of downplaying the task’s importance. “I convince myself it can be done in less and less time, that’s why I can do other things, because the job isn’t so important, but really it still is.”
The period in between these two mindsets is the time during which we chose to perform other activities like using Bebo or chatting, but then the time is gone and can never be regained. A frantic period of studying ensures, and for procrastinators, the study is marred by the knowledge that they cannot do their best work in a too short period of time.
Moreau states, “It’s no use me looking at my notes anymore becasue I can’t focus and I keep looking at the same words over and again. I physically feel like I’m trying to stuff things into my head, but all I can actually think about is the fact that the exam is getting closer and for essays I try to get anything down on the page.”
One would suppose that the anxiety caused by this behaviour would act as a deterrant with Moreau explaining, “I start reacting physically, shaking, getting pale, I feel physcially sick to my stomach”, however, researchers in the area describe it as harder to wean chronic procrastinators from the habit of postponing work than to remedy an alcohol addiction.
Dr Piers Steel states that “Continued research into procrastination should not be delayed, especially because its prevalence seems to be growing.” With 95 per cent of people falling prey to their own minds, the idea that procrastination is on the rise, is a terrifying one but perhaps more publicity would lead to treatment of chronic procrastination as an anxiety disorder, thus combatting the mañana mindset.