Learning Not to Procrastinate

January 19, 2012

On the “Life at Earlham” blog, senior Spencer Smith has a post titled “Shooting Ourselves in the Foot.”  It’s the beginning of the semester, not the end, but he has his senior English comps coming soon, and he’s put off studying for them.  Now he feels the pressure.  And it has happened before:

Every semester has ended the exact same for me: riddled with anxiety and stress. I know I am not unique to this experience. In fact, around finals time I know I always have a conversation starter, even if I meet someone for the first time and can throw out a, “Oh man, how bad is your semester at the end of it all?” And sure enough I can count on the person complaining for ten minutes, listing out all the books they still haven’t read, papers they still haven’t written and tests they still haven’t studied for. I know this because I do it all the time.

Smith adds, “Now I just have to kick this procrastination bug once and for all. I’ve only been making this New Year’s resolution for the past four years.”

Perhaps this is one of the most important things we should learn in college: how not to procrastinate.  In college there are second chances but also consequences. It’s better to learn how to assess the full volume of what needs to be done, and to allocate our best time and energy to complete all that we need to be complete.

Faculty members talk all the time about when and whether they should give second chances (aka extensions); and they disagree, often strenuously, about how to strike the balance between being tender and being tough. But it’s an important lesson for us all to learn, how not to procrastinate. How do we teach that most effectively?

Here‘s what Psychology Today has to say about learning not to procrastinate.  On the other hand, Jonah Lehrer reminds us there’s a good deal to be said for letting our minds wander.

Curious about the “pro-” at the beginning of “procrastinate,” as if procrastinating was being “for” something? The word comes from Latin roots that combine to mean “belonging to tomorrow.” But we’ve bent the meaning to imply that something that really belongs to today we’ll put off until tomorrow.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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