The fever of procrastination

The fever of procrastination

Dan Ariely, an American professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University conducted a less prosaic experiment among his students who always fall into temptation in booking a new holiday, cleaning the house or visit their favourite auntie right before the deadline. By the way, have you ever noticed how extremely fast the number of family tragedies increases during the last week of our semester? That’s very concerning indeed…

What’s this whole experiment about? There is any ’cure’ to save our plans from being doomed to failure? Ariely seems to handle these questions quite well in his book Predictably Irrational – The hidden forces that shape our decisions’

They say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Oh, it is not just paved but more engraved with our pinkie promises and solemn vows. We give our word to be more frugal with our credit cards, to commit to those yoga classes in the morning or to finally reach the appointment for sight testing scheduled one month ago. Well, I think some black magic is going around or dementors have been knocking on our doors lately because all these promises become vanished overnight.

Giving up our long-term projects and ideas for that sweet flavour of immediate gratification, my friends, this is not called Alohomora but procrastination. Seriously now, why do we lose the battle against procrastination leaving the lava flow of emotions taking over our plans so frequently?

Let’s grab an eye! Envisage yourself stepping into the class, grabbing a seat and preparing to hear that boring, clishé speech about course works and deadlines they always give at the beginning of the year. Though, this time your lecturer’s voice is re-echoing across the room saying that he is willing to make a deal ’Dear students, you are free to come up with your own deadlines’. Wait…what? Wouldn’t it make sense for us to select the last date possible? If we are rational enough, it does, after all we will always have the chance to submit the paperwork earlier. But what if our consciousness starts fading for a while and we become aware of our tendency towards procrastination? Well then, we can use precise dates as a ’treatment’ not to fall into sin.

The fever of procrastination

The second scenario sounds too good to be true, but some of Duke University students were lucky enough to take part in the following play ’No deadlines throughout the academic year, just remember that you have to submit these three papers by the end of the last class’. Even though you think they have just received the best news, I would not be so sure when it comes to their final grades. The temptation to procrastinate in this case has just reached the climax.

The third and the final situation is known as the ’dictatorial one’, but I am pretty sure it does not surprise us. You have three main deadlines, set at the fourth, eighth and twelfth weeks…just to keep you on track, isn’t it? You may feel pity for this group of students, but the ultimate outcome does not agree with you.

At the end of the year, which class do you think achieved the best results and which one do you predict did worse? We do not have to study quantum physics or be star gazers to actually figure it out that the students with the three firm deadlines got the best grades, while those enjoying the freedom would most probably be imprisoned during summer time to take referrals.

What’s my point with all of these? First, students do procrastinate – big news – and second, that restrictive sentence appears to be the cure for this behaviour. However, let’s bring into light the first group of students who chose their own dates. Obviously, they did not achieve the highest scores, but nor the lowest. Going through all these scenarios, I had a revelation: by simply offering people a way to break even, a reason to commit to a cause a bit ‘uglier’ than what they expected, but not as rough as they thought seems to be the first stage to beat this sin. Instead of barking dogmatic orders, it is better to give students a chance to commit up front to their preferred path of action, giving them the experience to set their own goals in life as well.

Who is up to suggest this deal to the Dean this fall? I am sure the academia will understand… we all procrastinate at some point 🙂


P.S. This article was written several days ago, but I chose to save it until the last minute because then it will be older, therefore more wise.

Read this post and other stories on Diana’s personal blog

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Diana Florescu

Big advocate of early-stage startups, community engagement enthusiast and tech conferences fanatic
Co-Founder @LocalSpoon Tech Entrepreneurship Student @MSc_TE_UCL
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