Procrastinating the next time

Procrastination. We all do it. (Most of us, at least.) Some stats say as high as 80-95% of college students procrastinate, with around 75% self-describing as procrastinators. I procrastinated writing this very article.

Procrastination can be described as “replacing high-priority actions or tasks with low-priority actions” (wikipedia). This doesn’t actually sound so bad, right? We’re still getting things done. But when is it a problem? Let me share two procrastination stories:

To finish my Masters degree in Theological Studies, I had to write a seminar paper. It didn’t have a set topic, page limit, or deadline (besides “the end of the semester”). For me, this project hit all the wrong buttons. It was big, I had to pick and narrow down my own topic, and I had to set my own deadlines. Needless to say, I did a lot of putting off. I picked a rather too-broad topic and gathered books and articles, but I had a lot of trouble even constructing ideas, much less getting them down on paper. About two thirds of the way through the term, the stress literally gave me an irregular heartbeat. (That’s one sign that procrastination is a problem for you.) After I finally met with my adviser, confirmed a deadline for the paper, and somehow got it done (in mediocre fashion), such a weight lifted that I vowed never to let myself get that stressed out over a paper. And yes, the irregular heartbeat went away almost immediately.

A few years later, when I was finishing my Masters in International Education Policy (yes, I have two Masters degrees; another of my problems is remaining focused) I had another set of major projects to complete: two comprehensive exams, which in this case were long lit reviews covering a specific area, and a seminar paper incorporating some original research and the background from my comps. Did I whip myself into shape, getting everything done according to a well-spaced timeline? No, once again I got a lot of research done, but spent a long, long time getting things organized on paper. However, this time I allowed myself to procrastinate. I knew it was going to happen, so I went with it. I made deadlines with my adviser, but talked to her and created new ones when it was clear that I needed them. At all times, I tried to keep the attitude that things were going to work out, that I would write a good paper, even if it took its sweet time coming. In the end, I drafted a final paper I was very proud of, even though it arrived about 6 months later that I intended. Graduation was accompanied by no troubling symptoms, much lower stress levels (I’m not saying there wasn’t any stress), and a finished product I was happy to claim as my own.

You won’t always have flexibility like that with your deadlines. But you can be honest with yourself, accept your natural inclinations, forgive yourself for past mistakes, talk to your professors about changing deadlines when you need to. Move forward, and do better next time.

So, I apologize for getting this blog up late. Next time, I’ll have it done by Wednesday.
-Celia Mellinger

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