It was Sunday night, and Abby* had just started an assignment that was given to her three weeks in advance. The assignment was a four page paper for philosophy answering the question “what does it mean to think well?” Along with this assignment, she also had a four page paper due Monday for Debate and Persuasion that she hadn’t started. Abby was feeling stressed due to the pressure of getting these difficult assignments done in one day. She had many work days in class, but achieved little. As a result of this procrastination, when Abby ran into things she wasn’t sure how to phrase or approach, she didn’t have time to come back to it or crowdsource it. Abby just had to go with what she had written, and get words down on paper, regardless of what they were. Leaving not one, but two, assignments until the last day when she had no choice but to get them done, after having weeks to complete them, left her with less potential, and time, to produce quality work.
Whether we want to admit it or not, all students have tendencies to procrastinate in one way or another. For some, it may come in the form of watching just one more episode of a Netflix series before starting a paper. For others, procrastination may be putting off studying for a big test until the night before and hoping all the necessary work gets done. While it’s an issue for some more than others, procrastination is something most high schoolers deal with. Procrastination is conscious choice by some students, but for others, it’s just a bad habit that they can’t seem to get rid of. The causes could be anything: stress, sports, lack of time, or just not having inner motivation to get work started. In recent years, there seems to have been an increase in levels of procrastination, and the consequences of procrastination are becoming more evident. It’s important that students realize the effects it can have on them, and how they can stop this habit before it’s too late.
As time goes on, grade levels go up, and workload increases procrastination seems to be much more common among students. Between extracurricular activities, sports, SATs, and planning for a future beyond high school it’s easy for high school students to become overwhelmed. As a result of these stressors piling up, procrastination occurs because in times of stress it’s easier to say “I can do it later.” However, this really just makes it harder and more stressful weeks, days, or hours, later. Why has this issue become so prevalent in academic settings?
In recent years, a big factor that contributes to a lot of students’ procrastination and lack of efficiency with schoolwork is technology. According to “Phone Notifications Are as Distracting as Phone Calls” by The Atlantic, a study was performed by three researchers at Florida State University. One of the study’s authors said that “our results suggest that mobile phones can disrupt attention performance even if one does not interact with the device.” Another finding within the study was that if people feel like there is a notification that hasn’t been checked yet, that creates discomfort, and even if people know they shouldn’t check it, they do.
“When you sit down to work and you have your phone on you, you’re constantly getting notifications. It really draws your attention to that, and just replying to one thing can lead to another,” said Michael Szymanski (‘21).
Although teachers can take away students’ phones in class or set guidelines for phone usage in the classroom, it ultimately comes down to the student being able to discipline themselves. After high school, there won’t always be anyone, telling students to manage their time better and do their work. When students have yet to develop this skill in high school, it can create long term benefits for students.
Kim Cassamas, a School Counselor at ORHS, spoke to this. “It creates anxiety and stress, and those are just natural responses when the pressure gets on.”
Lulu Upham (‘22) agreed with this point and said, “I procrastinate due to stress, because sometimes when I get overwhelmed with so many different assignments that are due, I kind of just shut down.”
Although procrastination is something that isn’t a conscious decision for some, other students choose to procrastinate. Wolfe Ramsay (‘21) often finds himself saving school work for the last minute, specifically large assignments such as papers and projects. However, many students raise the point that procrastination helps them because it creates an element of pressure.
Ramsay sees both sides to this point, saying, “I’m a lot more focused when I have to get it done, but of course, if I spend less time on it, it probably won’t come out as good.”
Most educators would argue that procrastination results in more negatives than positives. Matthew Pappas is a Social Studies teacher at ORHS who sees no benefit to procrastinating. He said, “gaining the skill of getting the work done early is very important. The sooner that someone learns that skill, the better. It’s something they’ll have the rest of their life. If given an opportunity to procrastinate, [students] will, and it’ll continue the rest of their lives.”
Jaclyn Jensen, Social Studies teacher at ORHS, agreed with Pappas and added, “The best work you can do comes from when you have engaged in a process of revision and review.”
In some instances, “procrastination is just a strategy to get [students] through. Sometimes you just have to think ‘what has to be done for tomorrow’ and start there,” Cassamas said. When procrastination becomes a method students use regularly to get by day by day, there is potential for it to hurt students in the long term, once all that work builds up.
“Units are pretty similar in length in the building. It creates a perfect storm where everyone has their tests, projects, and papers due in a short amount of time,” said Cassamas.
When this “perfect storm” occurs, a lot of students may look back on times where they procrastinated, wishing they’d taken advantage of that one free period, or free hour before practice. Charlotte Merritt (‘22) spoke to this point saying, “I do anything but the thing I have to do, even if it’s chores, instead of doing my homework.”
Since most students seem to put anything, even less enjoyable activities, above homework, what can ORHS do to help students learn this lifelong skill? While fixing the issue of procrastination has to be self-motivated and self-overcome, teachers at ORHS can help students along the way in some small ways.
Implementing deadlines for long term projects can definitely be helpful. However, another area that teachers can help with is the amount of time given for an assignment. “I’ve noticed that there is a sweet spot when it comes to the amount of time students have on an assignment. If you give them too much time, then they think they have forever […] If you give them not enough time, then they don’t have enough time to complete it to the best of their ability,” shared Jensen.
Jensen sees this as an issue because, “teenagers are still developing their executive functioning skills […] your ability to reason and weigh out these things is just not that of an adult’s.”
Jorgen Lorvig (‘21) has found a strategy to avoid procrastination by planning out his large assignments early on that could be very useful for other students too. “I know that if I don’t make time for it beforehand, I’m not going to do it, or I’ll end up procrastinating.”
It’s easy for someone not experiencing the daily ins and outs of high school to say, “why not just get it done?” In reality, this would be a wise thing to do. However, it’s not that easy for most.
Sophie Sullivan (‘21) spoke to the fact that students need balance of extracurriculars, fun, and schoolwork. “I feel that after an 8 hour school day, you shouldn’t be expected to go home and hop back on your homework. You should have more time to do other things in your life. Typically, I’ll do things I’m passionate about after school, and then when I’m ready to do homework, it ends up being somewhere around 10 o’clock.”
Balance is necessary to living a healthy lifestyle, but things get tricky when seeking balance results in an overload of work. At the high school, Jensen and Pappas both mentioned having systems in place to help with procrastination. Although there’s nothing that’s completely “procrastination proof,” Jensen talked about trying to help her students shake this habit. She said“I also give students time in class to work on major assignments […] but something I’ve noticed is that not all students use that time as efficiently as they could. If I notice that, I try to talk to them about it.”
Systems placed within class to try to limit procrastination can definitely help, like deadlines and work days, but ultimately it comes down to the student. Managing time is a skill that doesn’t develop overnight, but it’s a skill that will benefit you for the rest of your life.
Becca Shay (‘19) is a freshman at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In high school, she struggled with procrastination because she didn’t feel motivated to do certain assignments: specifically ones she wasn’t interested or passionate about. Now, Shay is taking classes of greater interest to her, but also has a lot going on outside of the classroom. Shay is rowing at the Division 1 level in college, which occupies a lot of her time. Along with rowing, she’s also busy figuring out all that college has to offer, building new friendships, and getting used to her new schedule and campus. “I’m busy, so I have to prioritize things. My life isn’t just school, I have other fun things going on, and I need to do my work. I’m more motivated to get my work out of the way than when I was in high school.”
Because she has more to look forward to, she said she has more reason to get everything done. In order to make sure she has time for more than just schoolwork, she’s found it helpful to plan out her time using a planner. This is a strategy that can be very effective for some. “[Students] don’t write [what they need to do] down and just have it all in their head. When students get it written down, they break it down and get a plan in place, and all of a sudden you see the stress go away,” Cassamas said.
Another helpful strategy is doing work in pieces. Telling yourself to write a page, or study for 30 minutes, and rewarding yourself with a break after that is done can also be very beneficial for some. Even if teachers don’t create deadlines, you can set self-deadlines for yourself to stay ahead of the curve.
As great as technology can be, everyone knows it is a major distraction. Just placing your phone in another room while working on homework, or turning off notifications, could dramatically decrease time spent doing schoolwork.
For some, a change in habit may come after a sleepless night spent writing an essay saved for the last minute. For others, it could come after their time in high school, when they realize the effects the habit will have on them in the real world. Regardless of how you achieve this, procrastination is a habit that can be broken with practice, and preparation. It’s something we all struggle with, but it doesn’t have to stay with you forever.
*Name changed for anonymity