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October 11, 2015 | by  | in Opinion |
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Psalm of a procrastinator

Procrastination? We’ve all been there. Students everywhere will know what it’s like to find oneself leaping at the slightest excuse to avoid the task at hand. But what began as an innocent diversion (just one episode of Friends…) can soon metastasise into a merciless beast that eats up your day and makes tomorrow that much more difficult. Formally, to procrastinate is to “voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay”. Put like that, it sounds scary. I could come up with a similar definition for self-harm.

It’s hard to know how to talk about this issue. Students love to yarn about their procrastinating tendencies—“yeah, I left that assignment until the night before”. These discussions are self-deprecating in nature, because procrastination is essentially being equated with laziness and mediocrity. This is not at all helpful; you may as well say “hey I’m shitty and lazy and so are you, but I suppose everyone’s that way so it’s probably fine”.

Procrastination has certainly been around a while. Even the apostle Paul in his Epistle to the Romans sounds like the archetypal self-loathing student: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Although Paul is actually talking about the sin in his life, I think his words also describe our internal feelings around procrastination pretty well, prompting me to ask this question: “can the Christian treatment of sin provide the heathen students of Victoria University with some handy study tips?” To answer this question I will walk you through the progression from sin, to guilt, to repentance.

Sin. The word used by Paul for “sin” is Greek: hamartia. This was originally an Aristotelian concept used to put the “tragic” into tragic heroes—it implied a diversion from the perceived ideal order for human living, that one had “missed the mark”. Paul et al. co-opted it into their new Christian lexicon and in that context it has taken on further meaning, but here the original Greek definition is sufficient. To procrastinate, therefore, is to miss the mark. We pay to be at university, but we don’t always perform to our full ability. Instead, we are destructive and damaging to ourselves and others, we hurt our potential, and we waste our finite time. If STAT193 were a Greek tragedy, we would all be heroes with boundless potential—but let down by our procrastinating tendencies.

Guilt. This is what we feel when we know we’ve been sinning. From experience, I know that a day of guilty procrastination can leave me feeling like shit and unable to sleep. The things we put off grow larger in our minds, displace and distort everything else, and make us even more reluctant to do them. We become ashamed to talk to people about study-related stuff and seek distraction and amusement to forget the problem. But this carry-on is unsustainable, and sooner or later everyone will seek…

Redemption. The prayer of the procrastinator is that tomorrow will bring boundless inspiration and industry, and that the assignment will practically write itself. We firmly believe that the quality of work completed under severe time pressure is “good enough”. Getting a mark nearly as good as that of your friend—who spent twice as long working on their assignment—is a deliciously wonderful feeling. Getting an even better mark is the procrastinator’s nirvana. This redemptive promise of getting-away-with-it is the carrot that gives hope to the eternally optimistic procrastinator. But this sort of “redemption” is deluded. It’s silly to compare yourself to others all the time, and the fact remains that your work was done in an unseemly rush was not as good as it could have been, and has left you really tired and stressed. This is not a good way to conduct the your degree, let alone your personal life. Hope is great, but the object of hope is crucial and we get it badly wrong when we procrastinate. When it comes to being a good student, our object of hope should lie in hard work and better habits. Finding the right object of hope for being a good person is less straightforward.

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