Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Procrastination :: "I'll Think about That Tomorrow"

Hamlet. Leonardo da Vinci. Saint Augustine of Hippo. Scarlett O'Hara. Procrastinators all.

In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett O'Hara deals with several intractable problems by saying, "I'll think about that tomorrow." She is what psychologists would call a "chronic procrastinator," someone who habitually puts things off until tomorrow, or next week, or whenever.

Procrastination . . . the word comes from the Latin verb procrastinare -- "to defer until morning."

Photo from Jam Adams at FlickrIf you've procrastinated--say, on that term paper or final project--you're in plentiful company. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that at "the hothouses of procrastination known as college campuses," about 70% of students admit to it. The downside of procrastination is anxiety, self-loathing, and lower grades. The upside is that there does not seem to be any connection between procrastination and intelligence. If anything, students at highly selective colleges are more prone to procrastination than students at less selective ones.

According to Joseph R. Ferrari, co-editor of Procrastination and Task Avoidance: Theory, Research, and Treatment, it may be that education institutions are enabling procrastination. Accepting students' fibs about late work, bending deadlines, and being overly flexible may teach students to eschew responsibility. The result is often destructive, and many institutions offer courses and counseling to help students reduce their procrastination.

If you've delayed starting that final paper, here's something to think about. You may fall into the category of "arousal procrastinators" who believe they work best under pressure and tend to delay tasks for the thrill. Indeed, a few composition studies have indicated that procrastination works successfully as a pre-writing device for some people. These students may be motivated, well organized, and happy to write a paper in one sitting.

The authors of A Short Guide to College Writing suggest you who have procrastinated on papers sit down--right now--and try some of these techniques:
  • Take a piece of paper and start writing
  • Try some invention strategies
  • Focus what you have to say into ever-more specific categories of subject, topic, thesis
  • Plan when you'll stop writing
  • Revise later (do you detect some irony in this advice?)

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