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
- being aware of the symptoms,
- understanding the problem, and
- implementing strategies to beat the procrastination
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
- 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
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
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
- 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
Rewards vary from person to person. Think about what you might consider
a reward for work well done. Examples of small rewards may include:
Examples of large 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
- 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
- the increased opportunities that an education will provide over your
- 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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