The Psychology of University Procrastination


Every night in a university, students with an assignment to turn in the next day will almost certainly pull an all-nighter to get the task finished. Of course, they were given enough time to get the work done, but as students suffering from procrastination, they waited patiently for the deadline.

No matter how tough the work is, students find it extremely difficult to start working on the assignment, especially if they’re not turning it in anytime soon. This not only leads to failing grades; one’s health is bound to crash under the unnecessary pressure and stress brought about by procrastination.

The biggest challenge faced by a procrastinating student is trying to exhaust a course syllabus the night before the examination. This can be pretty tasking as the body is left with no time to recover because the student has to study for the next exam. Thus it is no surprise to see a large number of the student population sick during the examination periods, no surprise either that their grades are capable of giving anyone (the students inclusive) a mild heart attack.

As humans, procrastination is something we can’t push to the curb since a lot of us happen to suffer from it. However, it becomes a disease for the one whose life is lived on procrastination to the point where it affects their grades, jobs, social life, and of course, their health. But it’s a disease that can be fought and it’s one you can win unless you procrastinate the fight.

Why Students Procrastinate?

As pointed out by a 2007 study, 80 to 95 per cent of college students were avid fans of procrastination, and with a value this high, it becomes imperative that we ask ourselves why. Why do students procrastinate? This could range from viewing the work to be irrelevant and boring to not feeling the assignment or work needs to be done at a given time.

•    Not knowing what needs to be done

•    Not knowing how to do something

•    Not wanting to do something

•    Not caring if it gets done or not

•    Not caring when something gets done

•    Not feeling in the mood to do it

•    Being in the habit of waiting until the last minute

•    Believing that you work better under pressure

•    Thinking that you can finish it at the last minute

•    Lacking the initiative to get started

•    Forgetting

•    Blaming sickness or poor health

•    Waiting for the right moment

•    Needing time to think about the task

•    Delaying one task in favour of working on another

Causes of Procrastination

•    Poor concentration skills: This tends to make the student dump the work the moment they get started on it.

•    Lack of understanding: A task that is understood will most likely be favoured over one that’s not.

•    The illusion that pressure makes you work better: Does this sound like you? Of course, it does, this is one excuse that gets tossed around quite often.

•    Not being in the mood to do it: Most times, students are fond of waiting to feel like doing their school work, but exactly how many times have you felt like doing it?

•    Lack of motivation to do the assignment or read for the course.

•    Perfectionism: Students who are perfectionists tend not to get a lot done because they’re stuck trying to find the perfect way to get it done.

•    Forgetting about it: Truth is told, most students do not even remember they have an assignment to be done until they get a call from a friend asking if they’ve done it. Has this happened to you?

•    The illusion that the work to be done will take only a few minutes. Sad news, it’s going to take hours!

•    It could also be that you’re worried sick of failing. So instead of working, you worry.

•    Habits are difficult to break: for some students, getting things done at the dying minute has become their habit and breaking out of it seems impossible, but it isn’t.

The Negative Impact of Procrastination

It’s not just students who fall into the “I’ll do it later” trap. According to Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago and author of Still Procrastinating: The No Regret Guide to Getting It Done, around 20 percent of U.S. adults are chronic procrastinators.

These people don’t just procrastinate occasionally; it’s a significant part of their lifestyle. They pay their bills late, don’t start work on big projects until the night before the deadline, delay holiday shopping until Christmas Eve, and even file their income tax returns late.

Unfortunately, this procrastination can have a severe impact on many life areas, including a person’s mental health. In a 2007 study, researchers found that at the beginning of the semester, students who were procrastinators reported less illness and lower stress levels than non-procrastinators. This changed dramatically by the end of the term when procrastinators reported higher levels of stress and disease.

Not only can procrastination harm your health; it can also damage your social relationships. By putting things off, you are placing a burden on the people around you. If you habitually turn in projects late or dawdle until the last minute, the people who depend on you such as your friends, family, co-workers, and fellow students can become resentful.

How Do Procrastinators Differ From Non-Procrastinators?

In most cases, procrastination is not a sign of a severe problem. It’s a common tendency that we all give in to at some point or another. It is only in cases where procrastination becomes so chronic that it begins to have a severe impact on a person’s daily life that it becomes a more severe issue. In such instances, it’s not just a matter of having poor time management skills; it’s an indication of what Ferrari refers to as a maladaptive lifestyle.

“Non-procrastinators focus on the task that needs to be done. They have a stronger personal identity and are less concerned about what psychologists call ‘social esteem’—how others like us—as opposed to self-esteem which is how we feel about ourselves,” explained Dr Ferrari in an interview with the American Psychological Association.

According to psychologist Piers Steel, people who don’t procrastinate tend to be high in the personality trait known as conscientiousness, one of the broad dispositions identified by the big five theory of personality. People who are high in conscientiousness also tend to be high in other areas, including self-discipline, persistence, and personal responsibility.

Falling prey to these cognitive distortions is easy, but fortunately, there are many different things you can do to fight procrastination and start getting things done on time. 

How to Overcome Procrastination

Fighting the beast is not something most students are interested in; well, not until their grades take a huge plunge. Below are a few tips that would help you get started and hopefully, with time, get you to win the battle:

•    Create a comfortable workspace that’s free from distractions. And yes, distractions include social media and internet access. If you need internet access to work, then turn off your social media apps.

•    Engage in a healthy lifestyle: This is simple; all you’ve to do is eat well, do some mild exercises and sleep well. This equips you with better understanding when working.

•    Ditch cramming and develop excellent reading skills. Read to understand, and not just to pass.

•    Keep a schedule lest you forget: Ensure you work at the stipulated time and not when you feel like it because you’ll never feel like it.

•    Do not overestimate the time you’ve got and most importantly, do not underestimate the work that needs to be done – you should overestimate the work.

•    Realizing that no one works better under pressure.

•    Develop interest (love) in school work: Being interested in it will help you avoid procrastination too. Think about it; if you love baking, then you will bake; this also applies to schoolwork.

The effects of procrastination will not be felt if it’s not chronic because we all procrastinate, but how much do you procrastinate? Understanding why you procrastinate is a first step towards stopping procrastination. 

Dept. of Pharmacology 
Bauchi State University, Gadau – BASUG