Throughout all of my schooling, the number one thing that I’ve been told by my teachers is to avoid procrastinating. It seems logical and simple to just break up time to work on assignments and not get distracted during those time blocks, especially if it means good grades and decreased stress, right? This has been my mindset every day after school, but somehow my after school “work sessions” keep getting pushed to 9, 10, 11 pm and sometimes into the morning hours.
I’m only a small part of the Oyster River High School procrastination community. In a survey on MOR’s Instagram, 92% of 235 contributors reported that they identified as procrastinators. With stress from time consuming and challenging tasks, sometimes students, like myself, are thoughtlessly drawn to instant pleasures that are both easy and fun like social media, video games or even easier, less timely assignments. Although easy and fun things are needed sometimes for mental breaks, these things often cause more stress than relief if carried out too long. I believe it would be beneficial to learn how to stop yourself in your tracks and just start assignments. In this article I talk about how procrastination can impact lives at Oyster River and methods to gain focus and try to limit procrastination habits in the future. There’s not one way to do this, so hopefully this article will give you ideas of what could work for you and give you a balance of pushing yourself through hard activities while also having meaningful breaks.
In a Ted Talk titled “Inside the Mind of a Procrastinator,” writer, blogger and procrastinator Tim Urban reflects on why people procrastinate despite its consequences, and this inspires some of my ideas. He believes procrastination is ingrained in our animal survival. Animals try to avoid difficult tasks unless so panicked and stressed that the task seems a matter of survival. He said, “if you’re a dog and you spend your life doing nothing other than easy and fun things, you’re a huge success!” However, he also added that we live in a complicated society where these instincts don’t make as much sense as they do in the wild. In our society, doing hard tasks at times with less stress can be crucial for success.
Allison Howland (‘22), who even happened to be procrastinating a lab report while I interviewed her, seemed to have a similar experience in her procrastination. Sometimes she waits so long that the assignment triggers a panic that gets Howland into a deep focus. She shares, “procrastinating just makes [the assignment] more stressful. Sometimes I can work off that stress. Sometimes when I’m really stressed out about something, I work best under that pressure and I’m like ‘I have to do this.’ Then my entire life is just that lab report for a day.”
Although sometimes working under panic gets the job done, teachers at Oyster River really try to train their students not to do work that way. They do this through breaking up blocks of time, purposely giving large projects that take extended periods of time to complete and sometimes giving verbal reminders like “if you save this all for Sunday night, this is not going to be fun.”
The reason why teachers give this training is because there are a lot of things at school that are either skills or knowledge that take longer periods of time to truly get a hang of. Grade power learning, a website that assists student learning, explains that research shows cramming knowledge can be one of the least effective things students can do for many reasons, such as only having short term memory of the information, taking away sleep time, not fully understanding, and not focusing well under the stress. That is why learning for math tests or writing a well-written paper takes time.
Addison Daniels (‘20) a music education major at University of Miami, explains that he has and does procrastinate many things. There are just some assignments that he successfully does with a time cram. However, he emphasized that this isn’t something that works well for learning music. He believes if you are looking to learn a skill or get in-depth understanding, that often requires daily effort. Daniels has made playing music a daily habit that he loves and because of that he has been successful in his performances.
Not only does working on a skill over longer periods of time prove to help give skills, in the community there are many opportunities for cool experiences and improvement if students don’t procrastinate. Johnson and Howland mentioned that they missed opportunities like writing labs, asking a friend how to do something, hanging out with friends, or doing an activity that they wanted to do because of doing something last minute. Missing these opportunities can be disappointing and feel like a waste of resources. I’ve had times where I’ve crammed my projects too much to get editing help or to work on the polishing. When I don’t get that help it’s not automatically bad work but I always notice a leap in quality and pride in my work when I get lots of feedback and spend lots of time on something.
Breaking up time really has its benefits as stated above, managing time can be a challenge, even for adults. Science teacher Nathan Oxnard is someone who used to procrastinate in high school, college, and sometimes now. He understands that students might want to be doing things other than his assignments because there are lots of choices throughout the day. He believes that the most important thing is finding a balance in your life between doing hard work and also things that recharge you like spending time with your family. Being an adult, Oxnard has had to learn how to balance having a family and a job and believes that learning to prioritize time is crucial.
With keeping a balance in mind, it’s a great thing to fit some time blocks in your life where you do things that aren’t super hard and productive. A lot of the things I go to when I don’t want to do work are things I really enjoy, and they are only bad when I spend way too much time doing them or am so stressed out about what I should be doing that I don’t enjoy them.
One way that I have been trying to keep a balance is through asking myself if I really need a break or if the assignment is just something I just don’t want to do because it’s stressful and time consuming. When my brain is tired and I’ve done a lot of work that day it can be super beneficial to me and my work to do something like go on a walk, spend time with a friend, or play with a dog. These things can really help recharge if they are kept to a certain amount of time.
Although fun, these things can also take away from focus sometimes, so it’s important to be cautious of how much time is going by and be selective of choosing breaks that you know will allow your brain to get back in the zone after. For me, I know that electronics often have too many distractions and, rather than give me the energy to focus, they just clutter my mind and sometimes make me stressed about even more things. In that way, it’s important to find breaks that you know will really decrease stress and make getting back to work easier.
When it’s a time that you just don’t want to do work that you should be doing, some students and I have some strategies to go about that. One big thing is to just make a plan on when you are going to complete things and break the assignments into specific steps. That way it’s often less stressful and on-task. Other students mentioned strategies like putting yourself in a productive work space, breaking up time with 5-minute breaks, dressing up nice, working with friends, or pretending that this task has more weight than it really does at the moment. Sometimes the small tasks that need to be done over time just seem so minor but when they add up to a short period of time they aren’t as minor anymore. Splitting in in smaller chunks allows for better ability to focus and make each part of completing a project have more quality. Some of these strategies are helpful for some students but not others. It’s important to find what works for you and reward yourself with longer breaks that are meaningful to you when you complete your work.
Like Daniels with his saxophone, making the work something you love doing can really help you find a balance in life and also decrease procrastination cause it’s something you look forward to generally. In the future, Will Johnson (‘22) hopes to fill his day with more things he really cares about. He thinks this will definitely make him put things off less.
With that in mind, it’s also important to find a balance between doing and recovery. As a senior in highschool, one thing I would change in my experiences is saying yes to lots of opportunities and instead picking ones I know I will really enjoy and learning more from them. With so many opportunities in highschool that seem exciting, it can be easy to fill up too much. When I fill up too much, other parts of my life that need attention get put aside and the things on my plate lose some of their value. When this happens there’s a tremendous amount of stress that can cause things to be put off – both the things I signed up for that are causing stress and also the things I’m sad I’m missing out on Overdoing certain aspects of your life, can make valuable things in your life lose some of their value to you and actually cause less productivity.
We all make procrastination mistakes and lose our balance sometimes. Through mistakes, stress, successes and unforgettable moments from hard work in high school, I’ve learned to look at the big scale of things and balance life even if it means working on some other important thing closer to the deadline. Procrastination isn’t just about doing work with deadlines because there are many important aspects of our lives that don’t have a deadline that need attention too. For that reason, I believe it’s ok to push back assignments or some commitments sometimes, although I try not to. What matters most is the habits made over time and finding a balance in your life between hard and easy things. Hopefully the advice above can help some of us push ourselves during times of challenge and also remember that the things on our checklists aren’t the only things that matter.