Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Procrastinating 101: Tales Out of School

The picture to the left looks like me in my graduate school days.  Add a few silver strands to the hair, and it looks like me these days.  Still enamored of books.  Still struggling to keep up.

So I was eager to read what Joseph Ferrari, author of Still Procrastinating?  The No-Regrets Guide to Getting it Done, had to say about academic procrastination in Chapter 10, "Academic Procrastination:  Why Students Delay, and How It Affects the Rest of Their Lives."

Would Dr. Ferrari solve the mystery of why I will most likely die A.B.D.?  Could he shed light on what happened to my Ph.D. dreams?

As I have come to expect from Ferrari, I had a little trouble wrapping my head around some of what he had to say on this subject.  For example, he calls students who procrastinate in school situational procrastinators; and he goes on to tell us that such people are "procrastinating, but they are not procrastinators."  Hmmm.  

And what kinds of things don't they procrastinate?  Ferrari gives as evidence that such behind-the-times students are not procrastinators their enthusiastic attendance at hip-hop concerts, consumption of beer at frat parties, and arrival in time to gain free admission to a movie.  

Are we therefore to believe that there is some group of people who procrastinate across the board?  People who put off getting up to get a slice of chocolate cake?  Who don't get around to watching their favorite TV shows?  Would these, then, be the real procrastinators?

Next, we learn that between 70 and 75% of students admit to frequent school-related procrastination.  Ferrari would have us accept that this widespread behavior is associated with poor grades; spending more hours on projects and studying; engaging in cheating and plagiarism; and having incomplete assignments and course work.  Do 70-75% of students get poor grades; spend inordinate amounts of time of their work; cheat and plagiarize; and accumulate incompletes?  I was one of his procrastinating majority, but my grades were excellent, and I never cheated or plagiarized.  If I had, I could have been done a lot sooner.

This overwhelming majority of students, in contrast with the minority who don't procrastinate, 
claim a high degree of these personality attributes:
  • Self-handicapping behaviors
  • Guilt feelings
  • State, trait, and social anxieties
  • Rebelliousness
  • Indecision
  • Irrational thinking
  • Public self-consciousness
  • Societal doemands for perfection
  • Parental criticism
  • Parental performance expectations
[and] a low degree of these:
  • Optimism
  • Decisional self-confidence
  • Personal self-confidence
  • Self-esteem
  • Life satisfaction
Academic procrastinators, according to Ferrari, are likely to have diffuse identities, like our decisional procrastinating friends from his Chapter 3.  That is to say, they desire to avoid learning about themselves and their capabilities, which leads them to put off tasks and performances which might reveal inadequacies.  They are likely to feel like imposters.  And here's something that doesn't seem all that irrational, or unusual to me--but maybe that's because I am a certified academic procrastinator.  Ferrari and a colleague found that 
[t]asks that students procrastinated on . . . were reported as those requiring more effort and being more anxiety provoking and unpleasurable than any other tasks during the term.
Ferrari also tells us that academic procrastinators often lie about why their work is late--70% of the time!  And students who admitted using "fraudulent excuses" felt little or no guilt.  Again, not me.  My professors heard the real deal from me.  No multiple dead grandmothers, homework-digesting canines, or papers left on the bus--unless they were.

At the chapter's conclusion, Ferrari appends two useful sections which include practical tips for dealing with writer's block, and with time-management difficulties.  The advice is generally sound, if not particularly unique.  But he loses me again with his final paragraph, which begins
I hope you see that academic procrastination is common, and such procrastinators are not the same as other forms of frequent delaying individuals described earlier in this book.
But I don't.

And his final sentence
Get it done, just do it now.
is yet another example of his frequent exhortations, which seem, at heart, to be telling the procrastinator to just not procrastinate

I'm afraid that Dr. Ferrari has been no more successful in explaining my difficulty in completing my dissertation than the fleet of therapists who have already taken a crack at the question.  And despite the chapter's title, he has not said anything about "how it has affected the rest of my life." 

Next week--Procrastination at WorkMaybe that's where the real procrastinators are hiding.

No comments:

Post a Comment