I do it, you do it, everyone does it, and on a daily basis. No, we’re not talking about drugs or masturbation.
We’re talking about procrastination.
Procrastination is the act of replacing high priority tasks with low priority actions, thus putting off the more important things until later. According to a study done in 2007 by psychologist Piers Steel of the University of Calgary, 80 to 95 percent of college students procrastinate, particularly on homework. While some psychologists have cited this behavior as a coping mechanism for anxiety, others argue that procrastination is simply another form of impulsiveness.
On Oct. 12, Portland State psychology professor Rachelle Yankelevitz gave a lecture on why we procrastinate and how to deal with it. Yankelevitz attributes procrastination to what she called “behavioral perspective,” or “taking the smaller, sooner outcome instead of waiting for the larger outcome.” Her real life example of this theory was someone wanting to lose weight, but eating cookies now instead of working hard to accomplish their long–term goal.
Yankelevitz also discussed the delay/discounting paradigm. In an experiment, pigeons were put in a dark, box-like area and given the choice between two exits. In one exit, the pigeon would be subjected to darkness, but would quickly be rewarded with a small amount of food. If the pigeon chose the other exit, they would also be subject to the lights being turned off, but for a longer amount of time, then given more food than the pigeons that chose the other exit.
The point of this experiment was to show that the delay of that “sweet, far thing,” in this case the food for the pigeons, increases its value exponentially.
As far as avoiding procrastination, Yankelevitz had some sage advice for PSU students: “Get old.” She said that as we age, we become better with at time management and are less likely to procrastinate.
While magically changing your age is impossible, setting time aside for studying, decreasing stress and keeping track of what you’re doing (by writing it down in a journal or something along those lines) are all easy ways of avoiding the temptress that is procrastination.
Yankelevitz also recommended employing friends to help you stay on track, although sometimes that can have disastrous effects if your friends are easily distracted as well.
While Yankelevitz’ strategies for overcoming procrastination are all valid, plenty of PSU students have their own recipes for academic success: “I always procrastinate,” said architecture and painting senior Meda Ouk. “Depending on what I’m doing, I’ll listen to music to help me focus on my reading or whatever.”
Music may help some, but for others it can be distracting. Rudy Malone and Trevor Petersen, both juniors majoring in graphic design, recommended getting started early on with projects and making mental study schedules.
While these students take the initiative to be responsible, history senior Sam Yoder approaches it differently. “I wait until the deadline gets close enough and I get scared, or I make a schedule and start working harder as the deadline approaches,” Yoder said. Yoder’s method is a bit more realistic and is probably the route many other PSU students (myself included) generally utilize.
Aside from what Yankelevitz and various PSU students have recommended for avoiding procrastination, there are many computer applications available to help students stay on task.
A free application called Self Control, available for most browsers, allows you to add distracting sites (i.e., Facebook, Tumblr, etc.) to a blacklist and block them for an allotted amount of time. Once the timer is set, those sites will stay blocked until the time runs out, even if you restart your computer or uninstall the Self Control app.
Whatever your excuse for procrastinating, chances are it’s not a very good one. We’re paying for our education now, and if we screw that up, it’s our careers, our degrees and our futures that we’re gambling.
So shape up, log out of Facebook and study for your damn midterms.