I’m sure you’re all familiar with the feeling. You’re assigned a paper on capitalism — oh, I’ll start it tomorrow. A WeBWork assignment due next Friday where you calculate the velocity of a helium nucleus when the sun explodes — not now (that’s a billions-of-years-later problem).
I’m sick of people telling me “you need to manage your time better.” That’s not the issue. Procrastination, according to psychologists, is fundamentally “an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem.”
If anything, I’m a micromanager. My to-do lists encompass everything from long-term assignments to three-minute tasks like trimming my nails and weighing the pros and cons of taking that job interview. My Google Calendar, with all its neat and colorful overlapping blocks, is my bible. Practically every half-hour is scheduled — I admit it might be a little excessive.
My friends laugh at the weird times I offer to schedule grabbing breakfast. 9:50 a.m.? Why not just 10 o’clock? (Because 9:50 a.m. really means 9:55 a.m. and if we eat for 25 minutes, we’ll be done by 10:20 a.m., so that by the time we actually start doing work it’ll be 10:30 a.m.) Over winter break, I even dissected every hour out of the weekly 168 on a whim and determined that I can only allocate two hours daily for eating all three meals and personal hygiene. Which in theory doesn’t sound too terrible, but it’s not even humanly possible considering how long the lines at Douglass get.
It’s not that I can’t find time to start anything on my dreaded to-do list — I honestly can. I do theoretically have the time — one hour is technically reserved for walking between classes and all the miscellaneous stuff that has to get done. But I don’t want to do it.
And what’s wrong with that? Human nature makes our brain naturally prioritize short-term needs over long-term ones, so it makes sense that we might ditch a study session in favor of a momentarily-blissful YouTube binge. I know I’ve done it, for sure. Attending to and satisfying our present selves feels much more worthwhile than being miserable — although temporarily — for our future selves’ happiness. And also, we’re also not robots. C’mon.
Procrastination is strategic. We’re not intrinsically lazy; our systems just end up unfortunately associating these tasks with boredom and perhaps a fear of failure. To overcome procrastination, then, means we need to rewire those systems — reteach our brains to associate catching up on history lectures with entertainment and grinding through problem sets with a fun time.
But if you just scoffed at what I said, don’t worry, because I did too. Only an insane person would grin while writing a 20-page paper. (That’s sadistic. If you see someone doing that, run away.) How can we suddenly reteach ourselves to love doing things we despise? If someone has the answer, please let me know.
I self-diagnose myself with the rather unfortunate combination of planning obsessivity and execution paralysis. It’s futile, doing these types of calculations, when your brain, and subsequently your body, won’t comply. It pains me realizing that the one hour I spent meticulously planning out every hour of the next week could have been spent sleeping, when my plans go out the window either way due to spontaneity. Procrastination — it’s the ugly beast-child of micromanagement, mental exhaustion, and a broken emotional association system. It’s a painstakingly constructed, spontaneous-urge-driven, guilt-motivated, self-reinforcing cycle, and there’s no one definitive thing to blame.
But it sure as hell isn’t time management. Time management is a nice little term — it’s convenient to attack, but it trivializes the real underlying issues that we’re perhaps not yet comfortable enough to recognize and deal with.
Unsurprisingly, I’m writing this article to procrastinate something else. Now that I’m done, out of the 109 tasks left on my to-do list, that WeBWork is beginning to look enticing.