The Truth Behind Stopping Procrastination

Many of us are familiar with the universal experience of nervously approaching your mom on a Sunday evening after dinner because you need a poster board for your third-grade project. Of course, it happened to be due the following morning. For me, that request was accompanied by my mother scolding me on how I must be more responsible, and that waiting until the last minute “doesn’t cut it.” While my nine-year-old self knew I had two weeks to complete this project, I told myself I could do it in a single night, and I eventually did.

But it wasn’t easy. Due to the tears and exhaustion that came with that experience, I told myself that I would never wait until the last minute to complete a project again, and I relied on my mother to hold me accountable. As I grew older and gained more responsibility, finding the motivation to complete every task became harder and overwhelming.

In recent years, when the workload became more than just a project here and there, juggling multiple classes created the opportunity for a greater sense of agency. Which subjects should I prioritize? What about extracurriculars and sports? How will I manage all of this? Whether it is writing an English essay, studying for a test, or something else entirely, it seems much easier and less mentally taxing to focus on something that you are comfortable with. This familiar habit is called procrastination. After attending Andover for five months, I’ve quickly come to the understanding that success here is dependent on efficiently managing every responsibility. However, the very overwhelming workload, club commitments, and sports contribute to anxiety and inevitably lead to procrastination. In order to defeat this beast of a habit, we must address the emotions tied to procrastination. 

In my experience, anxiety also arises when I feel that I am not being productive. So when procrastinating, I fill that time with completing something that may not be relevant, such as organizing my room. I do this to ignore the stress that accumulates when I am hyper-aware of the task that must be completed. A large aspect of this thought process is the subconscious pressure to always succeed. Whether that pressure comes from yourself, your parents, or even the competition of peers, the idea of failure haunts us. We will do anything to put off the opportunity for uncertainty in our work, as the outcome may be less than what was hoped for. Despite knowing the harm of hyper-fixing on irrelevant tasks instead of the necessary ones, we still go back to this custom. I mean, we have always been able to get the original task done… eventually.

While we all are well aware of its effect, it is crucial to understand why we procrastinate in order to defeat it. Dr. Tim Pychyl, professor and member of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University, explains that we don’t procrastinate because of issues in managing our time or schedule, but because of the negative emotions tied to these tasks. Emotions you experience when doing something “in your comfort zone” are usually positive, hence why it seems much easier to start it right away. For example, if you enjoy drawing and you have a portfolio due, you will likely start it immediately because you are comfortable with the skills you are about to utilize. If you don’t see yourself as a strong writer, then the emotions associated with writing an essay will be negative. You might be anxious, frustrated, and filled with self-doubt. I know I would want to push those emotions off as long as possible. So I procrastinate. A similar experience also applies to starting something for the first time, such as trying a new sport or joining a club. Due to the uncertainty of newness, we find it much easier to put them off and tell ourselves: “Maybe I’ll try this next term.” The fear of experiencing these insecure states is what drives us away from even taking the first steps. 

To combat procrastination, it is crucial to change your mindset, as it is often a result of having a lack of faith in ourselves. Though at times it feels like you may only be good at one thing, or you are still struggling to find what you are good at, the reality is we have to start somewhere in order to begin feeling more confident in our capabilities. By changing our mindsets, our horizons expand majorly, allowing ourselves to go into the task with a positive attitude. 

And yes, stopping procrastination is not easy. But we must face the truth that no one is responsible for ending this habit for us. We are responsible for making sure that we turn in our work on time or make it to our sports commitments. That doesn’t mean I can’t help you start, though. Here are a few things that have worked for me: breaking up the task into small, more manageable steps. Whether it is re-reading a chapter or merely opening up a new document, that first step becomes digestible. Suddenly, studying for a test or writing an essay is not so bad when it’s broken into chunks. This not only reduces the negative emotions that come with starting a difficult task but also relieves some of the stress of being “unproductive.” Blocking out a time in your day when you know you are the most productive can be helpful to ensure that you are not leaving anything until the last minute. For allotting specific work time in your schedule to be most effective, it is important to be in a space where you feel motivated to study. For some people, working alone is ideal, to limit distractions. Working with peers is also an incredible way to stay motivated. Sometimes, all it takes is someone to give you a little push and hold you accountable — and there are plenty of people around campus who would be happy to ensure that you don’t go looking for a poster board at 9:00 p.m. on a Sunday.