Michael is a first-year student at the local college. During the first few weeks of class he is asked to participate in a variety of activities, each of which takes away from his study time. When given the choice between going to the movies and reading a chapter of economics, Michael almost always picks the movies. He tells himself "I'll catch up later." He doesn't realize that each time he makes such a choice, he will suffer from the consequences in due time. As the term continues, the consequences begin to appear. He pulls an all-nighter to cram for an Art History test. He completes a Philosophy paper an hour before class, but can't get it printed in time. The consequences become more and more serious. As the term comes to a close, Michael is rushing to start research papers, to complete assigned readings, and to prepare for final exams. He has trouble sleeping. He feels overwhelmed by the amount of work he needs to complete. Tension causes him to eat poorly. He blanks out on his Chemistry final. Michael's grades for the term are lower than he had anticipated when he started the term, and they are much lower than his high school grades. A similar chain of events occurs the next term. Thinking he can't handle college, Michael becomes depressed and considers leaving school.
Is Michael stupid? Incompetent? Not cut out for college?
No. Michael's hypothetical situation is a classic case of procrastination. Procrastination is putting things off until later. A pattern of procrastination may emerge when one has poor time management skills, inappropriate priorities, and unrealistic perceptions of cause and effect relationships.
Unfortunately, this fictitious scenario is all too common in schools across the country. And procrastination affects students and other people outside the academic setting as well. People often put off tasks they dislike, such as paying bills, washing dishes, doing laundry, repairing things, and writing letters.
There are several reasons why one should avoid procrastination. First, procrastinators who do poorly on an assignment may attribute the failure to lack of ability rather than poor time management. Once one loses confidence in one's abilities, it is difficult to get it back. Second, putting off tasks until the last minute often results in stress and anxiety, which affect one's performance and even one's health. Third, procrastination often leads to feelings of guilt as one thinks about all the things one should be doing. Fourth, procrastinators are particularly susceptible to Murphy's Law, "if something can go wrong, it will," because they don't leave enough time to complete a task let alone make allowances for unforeseen difficulties. Finally, habitual procrastination negatively impacts the way one is viewed by others.
There are varying degrees of procrastination. One way to "measure" procrastination is the frequency with which an individual puts off tasks. Some people only procrastinate occasionally and sporadically, or they may put off certain tasks but are able to complete other tasks on time. Serious procrastinators, on the other hand, habitually put off all kinds of tasks; their behavior may become so predictable that they labeled as habitual procrastinators. Another way to measure procrastination is to consider the consequences of such behavior. If one is satisfied with one's achievements and performance on assignments, and if one can complete late assignments without getting "stressed out," then procrastination may not be too serious a problem. Only minor behavioral changes may be necessary to avoid procrastinating in the future. However, if grades suffer and stress results from putting things off, then procrastination is a serious problem. In this case major behavioral modification is probably necessary.
So how can one avoid falling into the downward spiral brought on by procrastination? The guidelines below may provide procrastinators with the strategies needed to break out of that behavioral cycle.
A Non-Procrastination Plan
Make a Schedule
Allocate specific times to complete tasks using semester, monthly, weekly, or daily planners.
It does no good to make a schedule unless it will be followed. Work with a friend to motivate each other. Consider how long-term and short-term goals will be fulfilled by getting things done on time. Visualize how it felt to get tasks done on time in the past, and remember how stressful it was to put off work.
Reevaluate Your Priorities
How do you prioritize success in school, social life, work, and other activities in your life? If school is your first priority, that work must come before any other activities. If you decide success in school is not your first priority, then don't expect high grades.
Don't make excuses to yourself for procrastinating, and don't blame others when distracted. Saying "I'm so busy I never get to..." is just an excuse and form of procrastination. Staying on track is a personal responsibility. It's in your hands.
Cause and Effect Relationships
Step back and critically examine cause and effect relationships in your life. How do you explain failures? To what factors do you attribute them? Be honest. Did you receive a poor grade on a project because you started it late or didn't put in enough time? Avoid rationalizations like "The prof hates me" or "I didn't understand the assignment." Thoughtfully examine the consequences of your behavior.
Working "Under Pressure"
Some people describe themselves as "working better under pressure." If you feel this way, honestly and critically the validity of this statement. When you work under pressure, are you really turning in your best work? If not, procrastination is having a negative impact on you. If you really think you are doing your best, make sure the pressure comes from you and not someone else.
Variety is the Spice of Life
Make two activity lists: "Things I like to do" and "Things I have to do." Mix up activities from both lists and work on each activity for a short period of time. Alternating between fun and distasteful tasks helps to maintain motivation and interest.
Because it is easier to put off overwhelming tasks than small ones, divide major assignments into smaller parts and work on one part at a time.
Some people procrastinate because they have too much to do. They have every intention of doing things in a timely manner, but they run out of time. There are only 24 hours in a day. Thoughtfully examine your obligations and responsibilities. Is your schedule realistic? Are you involved in too many activities? Don't "spread yourself too thinly" because none of your projects will get the full attention they deserve.
Focus on Assets
Some people are good at summarizing major ideas. Others write exceptionally well. Some people work well with others. Find out what your assets are. Then work them into everything you do. This will improve your confidence and motivation for tackling a distasteful job.
Reward yourself lavishly when tasks are completed on time. Make the reward appropriate for the difficulty and boredom of the task.
Summary: A Seven Day Non-Procrastination Plan