By Justin Howard
With a new year just begun and a new semester about to start, it may seem like a good time to make a resolution about a common issue facing students: procrastination.
Procrastination is a problem. Just last month, during finals, there was hardly a student in sight without a near-permanent feeling of anxiousness festering in their chest, if not worn on their face. According to flyers regarding stress-management techniques posted around campus (as though the necessity of their having been posted in the first place didn’t speak volumes unto itself), more than 85 percent of students reported feeling overwhelmed by their workloads within the last year and almost half reported feelings of overwhelming anxiety within the same time-frame.
Fellow students: Why do we do this to ourselves? Why must we constantly sabotage our own efforts in such a way? Are we psychotic? It certainly feels that way. An informal study of 100 students here at Fitchburg State has shown that around three-quarters of us admit to severe procrastination at some point during the year. Certainly we understand the consequences of our actions. We’re not stupid. After all, we passed high school. That has to count for something. So why, then, are we able to so easily ignore the inevitable ramifications of our actions?
According to psychologist Stephen Vodanovich, it’s science’s fault. There we go, crisis averted; we’re not to blame. Vodanovich, who teaches at the University of West Florida, provides some insight into why students procrastinate.
First, he says in a paper written with colleague H.M. Seib, putting off work delays getting “accurate performance feedback,” which tends to protect self-esteem. The fears of failure, rejection and inadequacy can lead us to avoid taking the risk of putting any real effort into our work. If we didn’t put any effort into something, how does it speak poorly of us if the final product itself is poor? This phenomenon is in no way related to the capability of an individual to complete a task, but speaks volumes about our self-consciousness.
Second, according to Canadian psychologist Roger Buehler, we may simply underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete a certain task. I’m pretty sure that we’re referring to garden-variety incompetence here. That being said, we’ve all done it, waiting until the last second only to realize that the project in question will require much more work than previously thought. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.
Onto the bad stuff: Procrastination has been linked to severe health disorders. Anxiety can depress the immune system. Ever notice how flu season tends to correlate with the end of the semester? Most experts on the matter do not see this as a coincidence.
Now that you’re feeling appropriately awful about your situation, we’re onto the fixes. First and foremost, do the work! Try to maintain a regular schedule of eating, sleeping and studying; all things in moderation. A hectic lifestyle can have very detrimental effects on your health and, consequently, your grades. Cramming is bad, too. Don’t do that. Studies have shown that the mind retains information much better when absorbed gradually over the course of weeks.
In short, take care of yourself. You’ll feel better, you’ll perform better and you’ll be less likely to experience the end-of-the-semester panic this May.
Also important: Don’t be too hard on yourself. Pace yourself with your work (all things in moderation) and don’t ask too much from yourself. That kind of stress can only lead to problems. Take things one step at a time.
Now, take a deep breath and repeat after me: “It’s a new semester, and a new chance to do things right.” Let that sink in. Got it? Good. Now get ready to go do your work.