It’s that time of year. Finals are quickly approaching, and the work is starting to pile up. At the same time time, the weather has finally come around, and the distractions are plentiful. It’s procrastination season. As someone unsurpassed in procrastinatory ability in college, I have really enjoyed learning a bit more about that habit and how to combat it since I began working here at Haverford – certainly my graduate school performance was better for it!
One thing that I quickly picked up on was the difference between time management and procrastination. Just because something gets done at the last possible minute doesn’t necessarily mean that it was the victim of procrastination. Sometimes, there’s just too much to do, and dedicated hard work just keeps you afloat, pumping water out of the metaphorical boat as fast as it comes in. In that case, you might need to reduce your load or work more efficiently, but procrastination isn’t your hobgoblin.
No, procrastination is when you have important things to do (especially things that will take a long time to do, but don’t necessarily need to be done now), but choose to do something unproductive instead. The hallmark of the procrastinator is the avoidable cram session. A week spent partying, checking facebook, playing video games, and generally doing anything other than studying, followed by a ten-hour overnight rush to complete a five-page paper.
How this happens is very complex and idiosyncratic. People procrastinate for a lot of reasons, and these people can overcome their procrastination, but often in very different ways. I’m going to speak very quickly to the most common type of procrastination, but for a more individualized approach, consider reaching out to make an appointment with one of us at the OAR.
Now, how can you go about cutting down on your procrastination? The simplest way to think about procrastination is in terms of distraction. Writing papers or studying for exams is not everyone’s favorite task in the world, so the appeal of switching to social media or Netflix, spending a little bit more time with friends, or taking a walk in the sun can be hard to resist. In fact, some people (definitely not me), have even found time for long-neglected cleaning and chores in the face of a project that may be less than appealing. It’s all relative.
If you’re prone to distraction, you may be able to train yourself to resist temptation. This can be a long-term process, though, so a safer bet may be to try to reduce your exposure to distractions in the first place. You can employ apps that limit your access to distracting sites and apps on your phone or computer. If you find yourself falling into social situations that keep you from your work, consider avoiding their gravity field in the first place. Alternatively, you could harness your distractions. The Pomodoro Technique involves alternating time on task and a reward – for instance, 30 minutes of writing followed by ten minutes on social media.
For more tips, techniques, and strategies, check out the OAR website. We have a whole section dedicated to learning tools, including a tab on procrastination. And again, consider making an appoint to find an approach individualized for you.
Remember, though, that you don’t want to go to extremes. Procrastination is a cycle of binge and purge – days or weeks of neglecting something in favor of unimportant distractors, followed by a short burst of agonizing to compensate for all that lost time. The goal is not to simply spend all your time working; that won’t make your life markedly more pleasant than when you procrastinate. Instead, the goal is moderation. Try to ward off the binge and purge cycle, and maintain balance.
At the OAR, we have a great set of events coming up as part of our Healthy Mind, Healthy Body program, designed to ease tension and increase productivity:
- 4/17, 3-4pm, OAR 118K, Introduction to Walking Meditation. Introduction to stress relieving and focus enhancing aspects of mindfulness meditation – on the move!
- 4/19, 12:30-2pm, GIAC Swan Multipurpose Room, Restorative Yoga Session. The instructor will guide students through relaxing poses and breathing exercises, leading to a deep state of relaxation and calm. No experience needed. All mats and blankets will be provided. Reservations preferred, but not required. The first five students to rsvp will receive a free yoga mat!
- 4/23 4-5 pm OAR 118K, Breathing Techniques for Stress and Anxiety Reduction. This workshop will introduce students to the basics of breath control and awareness in a relaxing and fun environment. No experience needed. Snacks will be provided. Reservations preferred, but not required.
We’re also planning some relaxing study breaks around finals time, including bringing some certified massage therapists to campus to offer free chair massages. Follow us on social media to catch the announcement. If that’s not worth fighting the instinct to procrastinate and leaving some time for, I don’t know what is.