Photo Courtesy Brett Jordan

March 1, 2021

The delicate art of procrastination

Some students have mastered the craft of a last-minute cram, but they say it’s not for everyone.

By: Lior Kozai

Chloe Chen dreamt about doing a school assignment.

She had gone to sleep at three in the morning. Earlier that night, Chen, then a first-year student in Ryerson University’s fashion design program, had planned to complete a major project for one of her main school courses.

A few hours prior, when Chen was finally about to start working on the assignment that she had left to the last minute, she received a text: A man asked her out on a date. Chen says that even at the time, she knew she had to do the project, but she was hungry and wanted to go out for dinner. She decided that her schoolwork could wait a little longer.

“I was like, ‘Ah, fuck it,’ so I went out,” she said, recalling her thinking in the moment.

Chen got “super drunk” on her date, she says. She didn’t return to her apartment until the wee hours of the morning, when she passed out on her bed. In her dreams, she was doing her assignment. Then, within the dream, Chen woke up, realized that she still hadn’t done it, and got to work. Another plot twist: That was all part of another dream. When Chen finally woke up, in reality this time, she realized that she still hadn’t started her project.

“I didn’t really wake up until 6 a.m.,” Chen said, laughing at the absurdity of her dreams. “I finally woke up in my bed and I was like, ‘Oh shit, I didn’t do any of my homework and there’s only three hours left!’”

Her project was for a class that started at 9 a.m. She quickly got to work, putting together 10 pages full of design elements, before running to her class building from her apartment in downtown Toronto. When she got to class, Chen realized that some of the photos she had pasted onto the pages of her project were falling off. In her rush to finish it, she had used her lipstick instead of a glue stick.

Though she panicked at first, Chen was ultimately able to finish the project. She had not realized that the assignment was due at the end of her class, rather than the beginning, so she used the hours of class time to reassemble her project. She earned a decent grade on the assignment, which was worth about 25 per cent of her course mark.

That chaotic night may have been a one-time event for Chen. About two years later, however, the third-year student says she continues to procrastinate on assignments.

“I do it all the time,” she said. “I still do it.”

‘Still finding ways’ to procrastinate

Yoni Gootgarts, a 2019 graduate of the biology program at Western University, says he, too, procrastinated throughout his undergraduate career. One semester, in an attempt to force himself to start studying well in advance of exams, Gootgarts downloaded an app for his internet browsercalled SelfControl, which allows users to disable certain websites for a desired period of time.

Gootgarts says he used the app to block Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and any other potentially distracting websites. He would also move his phone away from his study space. Despite his efforts, Gootgarts says he would find new ways to continue procrastinating and waste time instead of studying.

“Somehow, I still managed to waste [hours] without any studying,” he said. “I don’t have access to internet, and I’m still finding ways [to procrastinate].”

Gootgarts says he has had these study habits since high school, when he “would hardly study, let alone procrastinate.” He procrastinated throughout his four years of university, even when he tried not to.

Ben Okazawa, a second-year sport media student at Ryerson, says he used to procrastinate on all his schoolwork, as well. He developed the habit sometime in grade school, and he never thought he would stop procrastinating — until a major assignment in his first year of university changed everything.

In one of his courses, Okazawa was assigned a project worth 20 per cent of his mark. He talked to classmates who had already done the assignment, and they said it was easy, so he figured he could complete it within a few hours. On the due date of the assignment, he still hadn’t started it.

Okazawa finished class at noon that day; it was due at midnight. After class, he carried on with the rest of his day: He went out for lunch with his friends, went to the gym, played basketball, ate dinner and played in an intramural volleyball game. Once the volleyball game was over, it was already 8 p.m., and Okazawa came home to find a Toronto Raptors game on TV.

He knew he had to get to work, so he turned off the TV and started on his assignment. At some point, however, Okazawa checked the score. Seeing that his favourite sports team was involved in a competitive game, he couldn’t help it; Okazawa started watching again. He went back and forth between watching the game and doing his work, and he was only halfway done the assignment by 11 p.m., an hour before it was due.

Finally, Okazawa finished the assignment. He submitted it at 12:02 a.m. — two minutes late. Okazawa had a good relationship with his professor for the class, so he emailed the professor about his mistake and managed to avoid getting marks off for lateness. Still, Okazawa was disappointed in himself.

“I felt like such a bad student,” he said. “I’ve always procrastinated a little bit, but this was the first time I’ve ever actually handed something in late because [of it].”

Okazawa regularly achieves good grades while procrastinating. He says he manages to do it because he works well under pressure — or he has the “clutch gene,” as a sports fan would say.

“I don’t focus very well, but in those last couple hours before something is due, I’ll write a thousand words,” he said. “When I feel the pressure of it, I’m like, ‘OK, I have to get this done.’”

Like Okazawa, Chen realized early in her university career that she can achieve good grades while procrastinating on her work. She says that part of her success can be attributed to her personality; she, too, thrives under pressure.

“I just really like rushing everything at the last minute,” she said.

Chen, an international student from Taiwan, says that her background helped accustom her to doing schoolwork this way. Most semesters, Chen takes seven courses, rather than the typical workload of five courses for a university student. In high school in Taiwan, Chen often had to study nearly a dozen subjects at a time; she became comfortable managing a heavy workload in short periods.

Avoiding procrastination may be ‘the best way to go’

For a story featured in Youth Mind’s winter issue, several academic success advisors from universities in Ontario said that it’s crucial for students who work part-time not to procrastinate. While this advice is particularly important for working students, the advisors said it is applicable to everyone. Perhaps all students are best off trying to finish their schoolwork early — even if some can manage while waiting until the last minute.

Chen, for instance, admits that her schoolwork habits aren’t for everyone. “You should always start [working on assignments] earlier; I’m just a slacker,” she said, laughing.

Okazawa still managed to do well on the assignment he handed in late. However, since then, he says he has stopped procrastinating. That’s partly because he felt like he let down a professor whom he liked, when Okazawa requested not to lose marks for lateness despite having no good excuse for it. “I didn’t want to take advantage of his kindness,” Okazawa said.

Okazawa suggests that it is inevitable for post-secondary students to procrastinate sometimes, as it’s difficult to balance academic obligations with an active social life and other commitments. Even so, he says that it helps to spread the work out over several days, if possible.

“If you can avoid procrastination, that’s always the best way to go,” Okazawa said.

In contrast to Okazawa, Gootgarts says he never quite changed his procrastinating ways, but it certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying. On the rare occasions when Gootgarts managed to stop procrastinating — whether by studying days in advance, or by finishing an assignment long before the due date — he felt much better afterward.

“You’re going to end up having to do [schoolwork] anyway…better to just get it out of the way,” Gootgarts said.

“Not having to worry about it, it’s a way better feeling.”

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