Voth: Beating the collegian’s favorite ailment

Adam Voth

Have you ever wondered just how many tiles there are on your ceiling? Ever taken the time to count them? Can you recite the nightly line-up on the Game Show Network? Do you know the Aerosmith “Behind the Music” word-for-word? If you’ve ever had to write a paper or do any sort of homework, you’re probably nodding your head in agreement. This sort of superfluous knowledge, to be kept separate from the superfluous knowledge that, say, a degree in Philosophy confers, is a common side effect of a dreaded disease: the disease known as gingivitis.

Well, actually no, but in fact, the disease of procrastination. It plagues us all, students and professors, children and adults, always putting off today what can wait until tomorrow. I agreed to do this particular article last Friday, but I have waited until the last minute to begin working on it. Why? Because I’m a procrastinator.

What exactly is a procrastinator? A few dead giveaways include: you spend more time writing your away messages than your assignments, you spend more time reading other people’s away messages than your assignments, you make three separate lists of the things you have to do, you check your e-mail every three minutes even though your computer does it automatically, you compulsively check your voicemail even though the only people you know are your roommates and finally you insist that watching the E! True Hollywood Story about Family Feud will help you develop skills for your journalism class.

All of these and many more can lead to serious procrastination habits and ultimately death, however unlikely that may be. Of course, if you injure yourself slipping in the tub while taking your fourth shower of the day (because of course you can’t work unless you’re clean) and decide you can wait awhile before you call for help, procrastination could very well be life-threatening. A recent study shows that while death is not imminent, procrastination can be more harmful than losing a letter grade from a late paper.

Doctoral candidate Fuschia Sirois and associate professor of psychology Timothy Pychyl at Carleton College studied 374 undergraduate students and determined procrastination is also linked with higher rates of smoking and drinking, as well as health problems from cold and flu symptoms to insomnia. So it seems now procrastination is even worse than it was before … not only can it eat away at your academics, but also your health?

What can you do to fight it? I’m not sure. I never got around to thinking about it, but clinical psychologist Dr. Thomas Yarnell explains procrastination usually spawns from two factors: avoidance and fear.

He offers several helpful tips to do away with procrastination: do unpleasant tasks first to get them out of the way or start with something easy in order to build momentum. He also suggests setting definitive deadlines, and when you reach them, rewarding yourself. Finally, my personal favorite, one can always delegate the task to someone else.

There you have it, some helpful tips from someone who apparently hates procrastination as much as Captain Planet hates pollution. As it stands, it’s 2:15 a.m. right now, and my article is nearing completion … HA! Procrastination be damned.

I personally find the pressure of an encroaching deadline comforting — nothing like having a day or two to write a 20-page paper summing up the entire semester– now that’ll get your brain going. Good luck with your own personal procrastination demons, and remember Dr. Yarnell’s advice: do the easiest stuff first and delegate the rest to someone else.