Divya Ramesh | The power of postponement

Through My Eyes | Why procrastination doesn’t deserve such a bad rap

· October 3, 2012, 1:35 am

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Divya Ramesh
Through My Eyes

For many of us, it’s midterm week — a week that will probably involve at least one all-nighter, multiple coffee runs and failed attempts to review vocabulary or lecture notes.

The hallmark of midterm week, of course, is procrastination.

We’ve all had to choose between reading a textbook chapter and perusing a magazine. We’ve all seen the clock eat hours away while we waste time on the internet that we should be using to complete a problem set. We’ve all tried (and failed) to run from due dates.

Recently, I’ve been feeling the side effects of procrastination. I berate myself and get anxious whenever I look at my watch. I feel suffocated by looming deadlines and by that annoying tic in my left eye that reminds me every 20 seconds that I need to sleep.

I’m sure some of you can relate.

We’ve all heard it: never put off ’til tomorrow what you can do today. It’s safe to say many of us try to live our lives according to that ideal — our weekly planners and to-do lists stand as evidence.

They’re our attempts to beat procrastination.

Fine, I’ll admit it. I love to beat my instinct to procrastinate. When I feel motivated enough to outline that extra chapter of my psychology textbook — that chapter I had planned on reading the following day — I feel accomplished. When I stay up an extra hour to type those last few paragraphs of an essay, I feel elated.

It’s one fewer thing to do tomorrow. One thing off the to-do list. Check.

Most of the time, though, I don’t check the box. I’ve even tried listening to my fellow columnist, College senior Lauren Agresti, by setting micro-goals, but tomorrow is always empty and inviting.
I tell myself I can finish the set of limit problems in the next 24-hour space. Or the one after that.

Last week, during a random Google search that stood between my Spanish assignment and me, I learned a seemingly heretical lesson: procrastination is a good thing — as long as it’s the right kind.

As defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, procrastination is “to put off intentionally or habitually.” The key word here is “intentionally.”

Procrastinating the correct way involves a sense of purpose. The procrastinator must leave enough time to complete a task.

For example, when you procrastinate on an assignment that should take approximately an hour, you should leave yourself an hour in the future to complete it.
While many people believe that leaving a task behind to read a magazine or surf the web might cause them to forget about the task at hand, this is not the case.

Procrastination, in fact, creates thinking space. When we postpone a task, it allows ideas to marinate in our brains.

According to a study done by the Psychology Department at the University of Florida, we learn more effectively when skills are “intermixed, rather than “grouped by type.”

In other words, to-do lists are terrible. It’s not beneficial to list out all the assignments that have to get done in a certain weekend and complete them methodically, one after another.

Rather, it’s better to create a mix — to do a problem on derivatives, to write a paragraph of an essay, to read an interesting article in a magazine and to stall before finishing whatever else has to get done.

Stalling allows concepts to cement in our brains and facilitates learning.
Those who swear by flashcards to learn new vocabulary are really advocating for procrastination.

According to Nate Kornell, a psychology professor at Williams College, learning the definition of a word, putting it at the bottom of the stack and returning to it 15 cards later provides the space that is conducive to making our brains learn.

So procrastination can be a study strategy — yes, a strategy and not a weakness — that starts an assignment and places it on the back burner.

That said, the best procrastinators will never cram, never leave a chapter unread only to begin it at 7:00 p.m. the night before an exam.

This week, as we study and struggle to combat our inclination to procrastinate, know this: the right kind of procrastination is okay — in fact, it’s a good thing.

Divya Ramesh is a College freshman from Princeton Junction, N.J. Her email address is divyaramesh20@gmail.com. “Through My Eyes” appears every other Wednesday. Follow her @DivyaRamesh11

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