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Sound Writing

Subsection 10.3.1 Good Ol’ Procrastination

Probably the most common challenge that most students (and people) face in managing time is procrastination. Procrastination is often associated with laziness, but really it’s more of a question of facing the fear of starting something. Starting something is especially hard (and therefore procrastination most likely) when the task is important to us or difficult to undertake. Harder still is when the task is vague or involves many steps. For this reason, we tend to procrastinate most on our most difficult, abstract tasks that have the greatest impact on our life. How irritating! We can have a huge weight hanging over us (like a research paper, take-home test, or class presentation), but rather than chip away at one of those projects, it’s easier for us to do a well-defined reading for a class, finish a problem set, or simply stew in our misery, squandering our time on our favorite website or social media platform.
The key thing to note about procrastination is that it results from not knowing how to approach the terrifying scale of an important, abstract project. Only at the last minute, when our mind accepts that we might fail a class if we don’t start in on the project that’s worth 20% of our grade, do we rally to rush through the assignment before its due. The “last-minuteness” of our work forces us to compromise and make decisions as we go, and most importantly, it means that if we do poorly on an assignment, it’s not because we lacked intelligence, knowledge, or skills, it’s because we waited until the last minute. Our decision-making capabilities, not our identity, is at stake.
Putting our heart into a task (like homework) and then hearing from someone we look up to (like a professor) say that it’s not very good can be an awful feeling, so we protect ourselves by simply not giving ourselves the time to put our heart into our work. This attitude is easy to adopt, especially when we get feedback like that we’re just “not good at math” or “don’t have a way with words” or “are lazy.” These labels are damaging because they send the message that we are failures rather than that we have failed to show our best work. College assignments will probably ask most of us to do things that demand that we use skills that we believe we lack; to avoid letting an assignment (or the grade we get on an assignment) be yet another permanent mark of our inferiority, we procrastinate so that we can attribute any undesirable outcome not to our own failings, but to our circumstances.
This cycle is difficult to break, but one of the most important things to remember is that procrastination almost always diminishes the quality of our work.

Note 10.3.1.

This doesn’t mean that as soon as we stop procrastinating, we sail through college with easy A’s—quite the contrary. Not procrastinating lets us focus on the thing we came to college to do: we can start improving our skills by giving ourselves time to produce a true rough draft, get help from peers or professors when we’re stuck, and generally learn from our assignments rather than fear what they will reveal about us.