The Pangs of Procrastination

By: Olivia Morrison

It’s 11:59 and you have a 10-page term paper on the rise of Japanese Imperialism due tomorrow. You have 9 hours and 59 seconds. 58 seconds. 57 seconds. With each passing second, you are closer to the looming possibility that you just might not finish it this time, despite how many times you’ve been in this exact same situation before. 8 hours and 59 minutes. Your name and the due date have idly headlined the blank page for weeks. But now, on the night before its due you find yourself faced with not only your own dejected reflection in the white gaze of the empty Google document, but the painful reality that you must finish by tomorrow morning. Your phone buzzes. A final invitation to procrastinate for just one more ever-so fleeting second. You unlock your phone, a bottomless pit of distraction awaits: TikTok, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram. Reality reemerges. You chuck your phone face down onto your bed. You look back at the computer, telling yourself you’ll finish it, because, well, you have no other choice. 

If this series of events sounds familiar, you are probably a high-functioning procrastinator, and, luckily, there are ways to stop the procrastination before it starts. 

 Procrastination can take on many different forms, with prevalence rates as high as 20-25% in the general population (Klingsieck, 2013). The most common type of procrastination, however, takes place in academic settings, with up to 70-95% of college students identifying as procrastinators (Klingsieck, 2013). The word procrastination is derived from the Latin word ‘procrastinat’ which means “deferred till morning,” indicative of the fact that the procrastinator always intends to complete the assignment some other time (Akpur, 2017).  Procrastination is defined as the “delay of a task or assignment that is under one’s control,” coupled with the failure to “motivate oneself to perform within the desired or expected time frame” (Ackerman & Gross, 2005). This lack of motivation is known as the “intention–action gap,” where there is a disconnect between wanting to complete the task, but not actually wanting to begin the work (Steel 2013). 

 Ironically, there is actually an abundance of functionality woven into the thought-process of a procrastinator. While procrastinators are stigmatized as just being unmotivated or lazy, given that the entire phenomenon can easily be avoided by starting the assignment early, in many ways, it is somewhat well-calculated. Studies have found that procrastination is correlated with “increased perfectionism, low self-esteem [and] decreased optimism” (Klingsieck, 2013). While some procrastination has been “associated with disorganization, low conscientiousness, and poor time-management skills,” most procrastination stems from a “fear of failure, performance anxiety, perfectionism, and lack of self-confidence” (Ackerman & Gross, 2005). To the procrastinator “the further away an event is temporally, the less impact it has,” meaning it doesn’t feel important until there is an impermissible time crunch (Steel 2007). 

One of the first ways to truly tackle procrastination starts with understanding what it really is. Procrastination stems from the combination of “believing oneself to be inadequate” and believing the task is too difficult to take on (Steel 2007). These intrusive thoughts of doubting one’s ability to succeed are common and felt mainly by students. The competitive culture of college puts an unbearable amount of pressure on students to do exceedingly well. This immense pressure can sometimes manifest as “low self-efficacy” and “low self esteem” (Steel, 2007).  This low self-efficacy and low self esteem is what causes a pending fear of failure, triggering students to divert their attention to fleeting distractions, like social media. 

Piers Steel, a pioneering psychologist and author on procrastination, explains that one of the first ways to mitigate procrastination is to “increase one’s expectancy of success,” meaning you have to change your mindset (Steel, 2007). Clinical studies have shown that goal setting correlates directly with decreased levels of procrastination. He explains that writing “daily goals helped to keep academic writers on a healthy schedule of publications” (Steel 2007). By setting incremental goals on different components of the assignment – even if it seems too early – will increase one’s chances of completing the task sooner. For example, setting a goal to complete the introduction or at least one body paragraph within two hours is a tangible and attainable goal. Collectively, goal setting, time management and creating an environment that makes it easier to focus will contribute to avoiding procrastination (Steel, 2013). 

As a procrastinator myself, I have a paralyzing fear of failure. Yet, now I understand that having just a little more confidence and self-efficacy will allow me to focus on completing the assignment. While goal-setting and breaking up the assignment into parts undeniably helps, feeling confident that trying my best is enough is the catalyst to transform procrastination into productivity. This new mindset will undoubtedly allow me to focus on the quality of my work, instead of the irrational belief that my best effort falls short. 

Reference List:

Ackerman, David S., and Barbara L. Gross. “My Instructor Made Me Do It: Task Characteristics of Procrastination.” Journal of Marketing Education, vol. 27, no. 1, 2005, pp. 5–13., doi:10.1177/0273475304273842. 

Akpur, Ugur. “Predictive and Explanatory Relationship Model between Procrastination, Motivation, Anxiety and Academic Achievement.” Eurasian Journal of Educational Research, vol. 17, no. 69, 2017, pp. 221–240., doi:10.14689/ejer.2017.69.12. 

Klingsieck, Katrin B. “Procrastination.” European Psychologist, vol. 18, no. 1, 2013, pp. 24–34., doi:10.1027/1016-9040/a000138. 

Steel, Piers, et al. “Procrastination.” Oxford Bibliographies Online Datasets, 2013, doi:10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0140. 

Steel, Piers. “The Nature of Procrastination: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review of Quintessential Self-Regulatory Failure.” Psychological Bulletin, vol. 133, no. 1, 2007, pp. 65–94., doi:10.1037/0033-2909.133.1.65. 

Steel, Piers., and Katrin B Klingsieck. “Procrastination” In J. D. Wright (Ed.), The international encyclopedia of the social & behavioral sciences (2nd ed., Vol. 19; pp. 73-78). Oxford: Elsevier.

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