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Thomson Nelson > Higher Education > Canadian Criminal Justice: A Primer 2nd Edition > 


The Cost of Procrastinating

Most people procrastinate from time to time, but chronic procrastination can undermine your effectiveness. The following are some of the potential costs of procrastinating:

  • handing in work that reflects cramming
  • not handing in work and facing the consequences
  • increased stress levels
  • increased likelihood of a poor academic performance resulting in fewer education and career options

You can avoid falling into the procrastination trap by
  1. being aware of the symptoms,
  2. understanding the problem, and
  3. implementing strategies to beat the procrastination habit.

1. The Symptoms

Students can procrastinate in some amazingly creative ways. Entire apartments can be redecorated in the days leading up to a test. Sometimes great lengths are taken by a student to appear to be not procrastinating. Hours can be spent colour coding work schedules and timetables.

Awareness of procrastination may not be enough to change this pattern. For example, a student, recognizing her tendency to be distracted at home, wisely decided to work in the library. She found a quiet location and took out her textbooks— then she went floor to floor searching for someone she knew. She intended to work in the library, but once in the library she spent her time socializing. Procrastination— the time robber— had struck.

The obvious symptom of procrastination is that the student does not begin the required task. A number of other behaviours that may reflect procrastination include spending a lot of time on low priority tasks, seeking out company all of the time, volunteering to help a variety of good causes, and sleeping a lot. What behaviours are symptoms of procrastination for you?

2. Understanding the Problem

The underlying reasons for procrastination differ considerably from student to student. If you are a procrastinator and wish to beat the procrastination habit, consider why you engage in this self-defeating pattern. Do you recognize yourself in any of the following examples?

  • Fear of Failure
    You may have received some negative feedback in the past or may be feeling overwhelmed by a particular course or program. If feels safer to avoid real evaluation of performance by procrastinating and either avoiding the assignment altogether or to have the excuse of a "rushed" job. Procrastination may be used as a way of controlling disappointment. Some students set low goals to protect themselves from really trying and being disappointed if they should fail, but by procrastinating, there is an increased likelihood of failure.

  • est to you (such as a spouse or close friend). Procrastination is a way of ensuring poor academic performance rather than risking the loss of an important relationship. A better option in this kind of scenario would be to have an open discussion with the other person involved to attempt to resolve the conflict.

    Fear of success can also contribute to procrastination if a student does not want top marks. After all, once you have established a high standard, you will face the continued pressure of having to maintain it. For some students, that seems like a lot of hard work. In both cases, you would be sacrificing opportunity.
  • The Perfectionist
    The perfectionist has the unrealistic expectation that an outstanding job must be performed for every task. As a result, he/she may not put forth an exceptional effort that assignments get finished until it is too late. Instead of redefining what constitutes a good job (e.g., tackling the task while appreciating both deadlines and other important demands), the perfectionist procrastinates because any effort never seems quite good enough. When standards are set too high, incomplete or late assignments are not uncommon.

  • The Rebel
    Some people react very negatively to the idea of imposed deadlines. It seems to them that control has been taken away from the individual and is imposed, instead, by a higher authority. For students who have had negative past experiences— often outside the school setting— this attitude can create a barrier to their successful completion of tasks.

    If you see yourself in this example, it is important for you to assess who is being hurt most by rebelling through procrastination. Very likely, you are the one who is being hurt. With a less rebellious and more positive attitude, you may be able to stimulate genuine interest in your courses, or you may decide to explore other school or career goals.

  • Being Overwhelmed
    For some students, procrastination sets in when the workload becomes too heavy. If you feel overwhelmed, there may be a tendency to throw your arms up in despair and not tackle anything, rather than to sit down and make some important decisions about where to begin to work. Remember that any work completed is progress and will contribute to your overall effectiveness.

  • Lack of Interest
    You can lose interest in school for many reasons. Perhaps the course content doesn‚ t capture your attention, or personal issues are interfering with your concentration. You may also lose momentum and lack the energy to stay involved because of poor sleeping or eating habits.

    As a student, it is your responsibility to approach school conscientiously. It is your responsibility to attend classes, get adequate sleep, and generate an interest in the courses you are taking. If this seems impossible, you should perhaps consider the role that school plays in your life and explore some alternatives. If distracting personal issues persist, you may decide to make a realistic appraisal of your priorities to determine whether academic goals should be delayed or your course load should be lightened.

  • An Established Pattern
    It is not uncommon for students to leave projects until the last minute and then pull "all nighters" to get them completed. This pattern becomes part of the student‚ s repertoire of study patterns and may, for a while, be successful. However, this kind of pattern tends to become a problem, especially as academic demands in your courses increase. If you wish to attain academic success, it may be time to break the procrastination habit.

3. Solving the Problem

How does a student start to break the procrastination habit and become an effective time manager? There are two main steps to take to begin solving the problem of procrastination:

  • Identify the roadblocks
  • Develop an action plan

Identifying Roadblocks

To identify roadblocks, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How have you wasted time this past week?
  • What are you doing on the last day before the assignment is due?
  • What are you saying to yourself?
  • How are you feeling?

By answering these questions honestly you have taken a step towards solving the problem of procrastination. You have identified some roadblocks, and in doing so, you have increased your awareness of your personal procrastination issues.

Developing an Action Plan

Simply recognizing how and why procrastination occurs does not bring about change. You need a plan of action to deal with procrastination. Action plans can take many different forms but all share the same goal: to increase your overall effectiveness.

One example of an action plan might be to identify time wasters and think of some realistic solutions to each one. Then implement your solutions and monitor your progress over the next few weeks to see how you are doing.

Another type of action plan can be developed to help tackle major assignments. By dividing large assignments into smaller tasks, they become more manageable, which decreases the probability of procrastinating and increases the quality of your work. This type of action plan might follow these steps:

  • identify a major assignment
  • list specific tasks that will contribute to its completion
  • organize tasks into realistic actions, with time frames for completing them
  • incorporate these actions into a weekly plan

The Importance of Rewards

Identifying roadblocks and developing action plans are important steps for solving the problem of procrastination. However, even if your intentions are good, old patterns may resurface. If this happens, you may feel discouraged and have a sense that change is impossible. But remember that habits do not change overnight. It is important to be patient and persistent. One way to foster change is by incorporating rewards into your action plan. Take some time to explore both small and large rewards as part of your action plan to become a better time manager, and plan to implement these self-motivators.

Rewards vary from person to person. Think about what you might consider a reward for work well done. Examples of small rewards may include:

  • spending an hour every day listening to music or watching TV
  • designating Friday evenings as social time
  • allotting regular time each week for hobbies or interests
  • spending time on a favourite course after working on a less enjoyable course
Examples of large rewards may include:
  • planning for a vacation during the winter or summer break
  • making good use of time during the week so that Sunday can be a family day
  • the increased opportunities that an education will provide over your lifetime
  • peace of mind knowing that, through planning, relaxation time is not taking away from your studies, but enhancing them

From Joan Fleet and Denise Reaume, Power Over Time: Student Success With Time Management (Toronto: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994), pp. 60-70.

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