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The Procrastination Epidemic: An Investigative Report

By Caitlin Lenker and Dan McAndrew
The Minstrel

Merriman-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines procrastinate as “to put off intentionally and habitually the doing of something that should be done.” According to a recent survey of DeSales students, procrastination is very common among college students. The study also discovered that procrastination does not go unnoticed by professors.

According to Dr. Joseph Ferrari, associate professor of psychology at De Paul University in Chicago and Dr. Timothy Pychyl, associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, “Twenty percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators.” The professors also say that procrastination is “not trivial, although as a culture we don’t take it seriously as a problem.”

In a recent survey of 101 DeSales students 95 percent said that procrastination is a problem for a majority of college students. Of these 95 percent, 91 percent believe procrastination is a problem for students at DSU.

The first question that may come to mind after reading these statistics is, why do college students procrastinate? Students’ answers to this question vary. The two most popular answers are lack of time and laziness. A student who participated in the anonymous survey said college students procrastinate because their involvement in numerous activities takes away time they could spend on homework. The student went on to say that “many distractions, such as Facebook [and] TV … and a big one for me, wanting more sleep,” affect procrastination.

Another student who participated in the survey said students procrastinate because “they are too lazy to be organized and get everything done before they have fun. They would rather have all of the fun first, before doing work.”

Students who participated in the survey also stressed that their work is not hard; therefore, it is easy to put off. One student commented, “Much of the work [we’re] given seems to be of little importance so it’s easy to keep pushing it off to the last minute.” However, according to Ferrari and Pychyl, procrastinators sometimes lie to themselves and trivialize their work because it protects their “sense of self.”

Wendy Krisak, Assistant Director of the DSU Counseling Center and Director of the First Year Experience program says, “A lot of procrastination has to do with fear. The more you put [work] off, the more [procrastination] becomes like a defense mechanism.”

According to another survey participant, “Procrastination has had a bad effect on me. I’ve been incredibly stressed because whenever I think about all the work I have to do for the end of the semester, I just shut down and put if off some more.”

This stress can result in health problems. According to Ferrari, and Pychyl, “Procrastination predicts higher levels of consumption of alcohol among those people who drink … Just over the course of a single academic term, procrastinating college students had such evidence of compromised immune systems as more colds and flu, more gastrointestinal problems. And they had insomnia.”

Andrea Grube, Assistant Director of the DSU Health Center and a Health Educator at DSU, says that although it is hard to know if a student’s health issues are related to procrastination, “Emotional health is so intertwined with physical symptoms. When I see people with the same symptoms continuously, I question it and see what’s behind it.”

Sophomore theatre major Leo Bond agrees that procrastination can be unhealthy. “I’ve found myself in several situations where procrastination was definitely unhealthy and led to a series of long nights full of coffee and stress.”

Krisak believes there are health problems associated with procrastination: “You’re staying up late and not sleeping. It’s not healthy.”

Some students, however, intentionally procrastinate for the rush it brings. In the survey of DSU students, 57 percent said they feel a mix of liking procrastination because it gives them a rush and disliking it because it makes them feel stressed. Some students procrastinate because they enjoy it and it helps them. Ferrari identifies these types of procrastinators as the “arousal types, or thrill-seekers, who wait to the last minute for the euphoric rush.”

Paul Rakszawski, a junior communication major, is one of these “thrill-seekers”: “Procrastinating is really great! I tend to work better when I have a very pressing deadline … I work best under very stressful conditions, and it has actually gotten to the point where it is impossible for me to start a major paper or project weeks in advance—I simply can’t do it.”

Senior chemistry major, Michael Caffarelli, claims something similar: “Personally, I don’t think procrastination is the worst thing in the world because some people work better under pressure. I work better under pressure.”

43 percent of the DSU students surveyed admit they procrastinate because they’ve done it so long that it’s become second nature to them. Rakszawski echoes the truth of this statistic: “I choose all of this [procrastinating] as my lifestyle, and it has been this way for me since around fifth or sixth grade.”

What Grube finds interesting is that students do not just procrastinate on schoolwork, but other things, such as going to the doctor, making appointments and meetings, and even sometimes eating and sleeping.

Grube said: “If you procrastinate in one aspect or area of your life, you procrastinate in other areas as well.” She shared the story of a student who procrastinated about getting his allergy shot and therefore suffered the effects of his choice. “As a result, he [couldn’t] get the dose he [needed], and it [was] allergy season. [He] only [hurt] himself,” said Grube.

Krisak believes time management is a big part of procrastination: “I do have people I work with on procrastination and time management issues. I’d say time management is a huge thing. The consequence isn’t going to just be in their schoolwork, but in all parts of life,” Krisak said.

Students procrastinate more for certain assignments than for others. According to the study, 60 percent of students procrastinate more for papers than for other assignments. It is also interesting to note that students procrastinate more for certain classes than for others. According to the study of DSU students, 71 percent of students say they procrastinate more for gen-ed classes than other classes.

Krisak finds that students procrastinate more or less depending on their class rank. “In freshmen it’s really time management—getting papers done. In seniors it’s putting off getting a job and moving on.”

Some students who participated in the survey also offered tips on how to avoid procrastination.
“Don’t look at assignments as [a whole]. Break them into smaller, more manageable pieces,” one student said.

It is obvious that procrastination is not something to be taken lightly. It affects many people in many different ways—some good, some bad. It is also something that is not easily changed once one has fallen into a pattern of it.

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