This month’s Psychologies magazine (February 2013) has a fascinating piece on procrastination. Why do we put off doing things, what are the elements to understanding this behaviour and how can we challenge it?
In a short double page spread, Professor Joseph Ferrari a professor of psychology at DePaul University and author of “Still Procrastinating? The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done talks through nine questions and gives real world solutions.
Students, especially those who need to revise, are classic procrastinators and one or two items from this article really chimed with me. Procrastination results from being worried about what others think of us. It is a self-esteem issue. This rings true for me as tutor even though my experience is only validated by anecdote and not research. Students would sometimes rather not try, as not trying can look cool. Not trying can also get attention from teachers and parents; the wrong kind of attention but attention nonetheless. Not trying can mask the real issue that students fear they lack ability; students would rather appear to fail from not trying than appear to fail from being no good.
Ferrari discusses how parenting and teaching styles and relationships can engender this attitude. Absolutes and lack of negotiation lead to this behaviour. With no wriggle room the student becomes passive-aggressive and puts things off. Which leads me to wonder to what extent our demanding and non-negotiable system of exams engenders this behaviour?
The lesson is that nobody is perfect. Perfectionism is often a barrier to success. If a job is worth doing it is worth doing badly! Students should be given room to ask questions, show their working out and even occasionally achieve 80%
Does this sound dangerous or like an excuse? What are your experiences of procrastination? Please comment!
I love this TED talk from 2009 where Evan Williams describes how he took charge of a startup company called Odeo. While he should have been working on maximising investor return, he and Jack Dorsey followed a side project, a hunch, a possible time waster called twitter. Ever heard of Odeo until now?
Psychologies magazine isn’t publishing the article online at the moment, but I thought I would credit them here as that is where I first read about Professor Ferrari. A series of tips on how to beat procrastination is online at Psychologies. The New York Times has an article. The American Psychological Association has an interview. Reading them is optional.