The controversy of procrastination
April 10, 2023
Every student has experienced the scramble of nerves in anticipation of deadlines and the uncertain sigh of relief as they upload their assignment just before the clock strikes 12 a.m. To avoid this predicament, we’re taught to avoid procrastination by working in incremental steps to turn work in on time. While some procrastinators recall horror stories of late work and sleepless nights, others celebrate success stories of efficient work and stressless days. So, should you procrastinate in academic or workplace settings at all?
Put the pro in procrastinate
Yes. After all, it’s called PROcrastination, isn’t it?
While passive procrastination is the result of unintentionally succumbing to anxiety and task aversiveness, active procrastination is the result of harnessing pressure and adrenaline. Compared to passive procrastination, which may be a source of stress for students, active procrastination is just like any other method of studying and working.
When you purposefully induce procrastination, you’ll find yourself working faster yet producing work of the same or higher quality. Parkinson’s Law is the idea that no matter how much work is assigned, it will stretch to fill all the time before the deadline. If a month is given to complete a project, it’s almost guaranteed that most of the work is done at the end, no different than if only a week was given.
Instead of prolonging this inefficiency and stress from the moment it’s assigned, it’s more productive to allot yourself a shorter amount of time towards the end. Working over a longer period of time actually results in negative productivity, supported by Stanford Computer Science Department’s explanation of the inverse relationship between productivity and time spent working.
In Tim Urban’s TedTalk, “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator,” he describes how he reduces his overall stress by only working right before his deadlines and only letting stress accumulate then.
While procrastination might not be the best strategy when there are multiple high-pressure deadlines, it is a valid way to reduce prolonged and unnecessary stress in some cases.
Furthermore, the adrenaline rush and pressure that occurs towards a deadline forces you to prioritize. Perfectionist students will worry and continuously revise minute details that don’t matter, but under a time constraint, they are able to focus on the big picture and gain a greater understanding of the overall assignment requirements.
In fact, a professor at the University of Wisconsin randomly assigned participants to create business ideas immediately while others were given five minutes to play games. Independent evaluators rated the procrastinators’ ideas as 28% more creative. Controlling for gametime also revealed that the increased rating only occurred when they were assigned the task then put it off, evidence of increased creativity resulting solely from procrastination.
Not to mention, when student procrastinators eventually enter a workplace environment, they’re aided by their ability to avoid exploitation from employers. According to the Forbes article, “When Good Work Is Rewarded With More Work”, while working efficiently is often touted, the fact is that the faster you complete your work, the more work you’ll end up being saddled with.
Take Worker A and Worker B for example. Worker A finishes their tasks early, gets praised by the manager and might get a higher end-of-year bonus but is then assigned to more work. Worker B just barely finishes by the end of the day, might not get that bonus or promotion, but the reality is that they’re both paid the same salary even while B works less. If you’re not being sufficiently rewarded for efficiency, be selfish and don’t allow others to take advantage of you.
Not everyone’s mind works the same way, and for those who seek the thrill of deadlines and the boost of creativity, procrastination might just be the best method.
A study conducted by the Department of Psychology at Columbia University found active procrastinators compared to non-procrastinators display similar “control of time, self-efficacy belief, coping styles and outcomes including academic performance.”
As long as you can take control of your procrastination, it’s no worse than other ways of time management. Procrastination is more beneficial in many aspects as it reduces stress, increases efficiency and develops one’s ability to see the greater picture.
Just say no to procrastination
No. There is a clear difference between procrastinating and getting your work done, and procrastinating and having nothing to show for yourself.
Chronic procrastination, whether active or passive, is not a time management strategy, but is instead an avoidance behavior, according to DePaul University psychology professor Joseph Ferrari.
“It really has nothing to do with time management,” Ferrari said to Forbes. “As I tell people, to tell the chronic procrastinator to ‘just do it’ would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, ‘cheer up.’”
Sure, there may be a handful of cases where a person can successfully put off a task and get it done on time, but procrastination often plays out with a snowball effect.
Carleton University Professor Timothy Pychyl lays it out like this: simply “giving in to feel good.” When we give into avoidance, we distract ourselves from responsibilities and give into temporary euphoria. These responsibilities aren’t going away, so the snowball of tasks begins to roll.
Active procrastination, while effective in theory for those who simply thrive under pressure, is also just too much of a risk to take. The concept of reserving the majority of your work for the night before is simply unsustainable, especially in group work.
Envision this: The night before a group presentation, you discover that NONE of your group members have done their work. This is an all too familiar tale for high school students who do their share of work and are forced to claw out of a sea of blank slides and documents that others explicitly took responsibility for.
This familiar scenario is a leading cause of induced negative perceptions of procrastinators, contributing to social tension and isolation. A study of Iranian University students found that “people who tend to put tasks off until the last moment may have lower self-esteem than their peers.”
But the act of procrastinating is often validated by those Youtube videos titled “I WAITED TILL THE NIGHT BEFORE TO WRITE A 20 PAGE RESEARCH PAPER.”
In these videos, the typically-caffeinated individual pulls an all-nighter and accomplishes the difficult feat. While the adrenaline rush of a creeping deadline can force efficiency, that doesn’t mean that these practices are healthy.
We’ve all heard the saying that tells us to not pull all-nighters to study for exams, and to instead get a good night’s sleep the night before. So why should this logic be any different?
A 2022 study of Swedish University students revealed that regardless of “severe”/passive procrastination or “less severe”/active procrastination, those who engaged in the act of procrastination were more likely to experience insomnia, muscle tension and downward spirals.
Furthermore, according to a Rowan University study on the effects of active and passive procrastination, “active procrastinators may believe they are delaying task completion because they feel they work well under pressure, while perhaps they are actually influenced by social factors and are surrounded by a weak support system.”
Especially in environments that require ample teamwork, procrastination – whether active or passive – is not the way to go. And as a piece of anecdotal evidence, The Howler adviser Marina Alburger always always says that in The Howler, for every minute you turn something in late, the next person is five minutes late.
Setting soft, periodic deadlines for yourself is important, and is overall healthier than hyper fixating on a singular, hard deadline. This isn’t to say you should beat yourself up when you procrastinate, but it’s easy to let procrastination get out of control, so it’s more important to minimize its influence before it becomes more severe.