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Articles > Student Life December, 27, 2015

How Procrastination Can Be Constructive

Helen Clear
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It was 5:48 on a Sunday evening. I was still in my pyjamas, looking crusty and sleepy like a homeless person. Keeping Up With The Kardashians was on TV, and I was holding a copy of David Edgar’s How Plays Work… I thought that maybe through a special kind of osmosis I might absorb Edgar’s words, whilst still watching Scott Disick’s insecurities drive a wedge between him and Kourtney’s family.

procrastination 3

I ended up swapping the books for Candy Crush which swiftly lead me on to another distraction. Food. I had worked my way through the kitchen cupboard so I resorted to eating fruit and I whinged to myself about how supermarkets can sell ‘ripe and ready’ peaches at a premium when they are neither ripe nor ready. Whilst I considered the wrongs of the soft fruit market and watched Kris secretly slip a male enhancement pill into Bruce Jenner’s cappuccino in order to ramp up their sex life, far from trivial deadlines clung to my back like monkeys and I got that feeling that the world was running away without me.

This ‘productivity lag’ is what we commonly call procrastination, and we students excel at it. It has a bad reputation, but I think that it can be beneficial, even for creative behaviour. I admit that Keeping Up With The Kardashians in no way challenges or enhances my psyche, and my peachy thought process was not particularly… fruitful. But academics have revealed that some methods of procrastination can be constructive.

The art of introspection- daydreaming- is critical for our mental well-being. In an article, published in the July 2012 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California says that ‘the reflection and consolidation that may accompany mind wandering is… important, fostering healthy development and learning in the longer term.’ So next time you’re browsing Perez prior to studying, before you become enthralled by NICKI MINAJ IS SKINNY SHAMING! shut your laptop and have a nice, old-fashioned, think.

John Perry, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Stanford, suggests that negative procrastination is when you put off a task but don’t substitute it with another constructive task. In his essay Structured Procrastination he says that ‘All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you.’ By making a list of tasks ordered by importance yet all worthwhile, with the most urgent on top, Perry argues that we will perform those lower down on the list as a way of not doing those higher up, and still ‘the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen.’ I don’t think that worthwhile tasks include painting your nails in alternating colours or getting fried chicken though, sorry.

So if we procrastinate constructively, we are allowed to avoid that scary paper for just a little bit longer- just remember not to procrastinate from procrastinating constructively. Hopefully this article may help get some of those monkeys off your back a little easier next exam period, but if you still find that your procrastinatory tendencies are reaching chronic levels, try reading The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done by Dr. Piers Steel (available on Amazon, £6.99). That is, if you can bring yourself to buy the book before graduation.

Originally published September 30th 2013
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  1. Darnell Brown

    I find after long periods of procrastination, that there is nothing more satisfying than knuckling down for a few hours and powering through work or revision.

  2. Mariam Kanadjigui

    Nice. Am looking for a way to minimise procrastination but Am definitely going to read the book…hope it helps.

  3. Bronwyn Jones

    I think that what was suggested about making a list of our daily priorities is really important, and would seem to help us as students be more “constructive”. It’s not fun to admit, but I constantly have to try to overcome habits of procrastination. In my personal experience it has often motivated me to actually do the work the closer to the deadline I get, but there is a line; if something is left too long, I find I am not able to do the work as well, as my mind tends to mesh everything together rather than breaking the assignment into smaller and more easily achieved parts. It seems that balance is a key to student life. Some very interesting points!

    • Eilis Hafey

      I heard that if you set yourself a task which you FEEL is really important and that you should do, you’ll tend to put it off by doing other tasks. I have this one story I’ve always wanted to write, keep putting off continuing on it and do other things instead. Then you’ve just got to put yourself in an environment where you don’t have things to do other than work (I go to the study room in my local library with textbooks in tow) and voila, work happens!

      … I say, not doing work. (I really shouldn’t bring my phone with me…)

  4. Robbie Osborne

    Procrastination is a great way to achieve the best grades possible. By procrastinating, you spend hours realising how much you really need to revise, and so it acts as a ‘kick up the ass’ and results in you revising extensively for the rest of the day.

  5. Olivia Wameyo

    I wish I could show this article to some of my A Level teachers