The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 40.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

COLUMN

Procrastination: Friend or Foe?

W. Victoria Lee

Since I was young, I have been frequently told to never wait until the last minute. Be it finishing my math assignment, writing an English essay, or studying for an exam, I was supposed to start early and complete my task on time. But as many of you who read this will agree, punctuality is far more easily said than done, so often I find myself succumbing to the temptation of procrastination.

Whenever I promise myself to start a task, the mischievous sprites of the great evil that is procrastination will appear in front of me in the forms of a special television program, a fabulous movie, or a hard-to-refuse outing. The immediate result is instant gratification -- after all, doing problem sets is not among my favorite things. The continuing aftermath of procrastination can range from losing sleep by pulling an all-nighter to completely bombing a very important exam. Good students don’t cross paths with the procrastination fiend and therefore view a deadline as a chance to triumphantly look back at their completed work. But for someone like me who constantly hangs out with the devil, deadlines have always been more akin to doomsday.

So if procrastination is so hazardous both to academics and to health, why don’t I -- and perhaps many others out there -- quit the abominable habit? Like many addictive drugs that people smoke, sniff, or inject, procrastination, once taken in, seeps deep down into your vein and dwells there stubbornly. It is true that the habit is difficult to quit, but there are many more reasons why one can happily coexist with such a monster.

Many credit procrastination as their source of inspiration. Having ample time to complete an assignment will not do the task justice. Ingenious solutions to difficult math problems refuse to reveal themselves unless the mind is drenched with adrenaline; creative phrases will not flow together harmoniously in an essay unless precious time is rapidly ticking away. Pressure caused by procrastination seems to be the best remedy to a writer’s block, an absent mind, and a rusty brain. A pending deadline just seems to make the creative juice flow more rigorously. But stress is not always one’s best collaborator in matters concerning the old noodle. For some, a pressure gauge cranked up too high can seriously short circuit the wires of thought and result catastrophically in poor work and performance. But this is when the multifaceted great evil of procrastination strikes again.

How many times have you heard, I couldn’t do it better because I didn’t have enough time? Most likely, the person has had enough time to complete the task but failed to allocate just the right amount to procrastination and to the actual completion of the task. You see, living with the devil is tricky. He walks around advertising himself as a great way to enjoy your life while still being able to complete your work with satisfactory quality. What he doesn’t tell you when you make a pact with him is that you have to judge for yourself how much of his sweet drug you can afford. It takes years of practice before one can master the skill. A faulty judgment can lead to an overdose and a poorly done product.

Those lucky ones who have figured out a way to peacefully coexist with procrastination, on the other hand, can flaunt their success with an “I only started this yesterday” and enhance their spectacular exam grade with an “I only studied for one hour.” In this case, procrastination seems to elevate a good outcome to a level of superiority. A job well done is not only laudable because of the procrastinator’s ingenuity, but also because of his ability to complete the task in a short amount of time.

Finally, some will argue that procrastination is merely a bad name given to time management. The wise ones use it to their advantage. They manage to watch the game and gauge enough time and pressure for their essay that is due the next day. Then there are the less skillful ones who misuse it to their disadvantage. They take on too much procrastination before they find out their tolerance. Like many others, I often fell victim to the great devil. But the tie between procrastination and its victims is hard to break, as most students are well aware. Take heed, those of you who still think you can turn procrastination from foe to friend. Dealing with the fiend is tricky. You’ll never know if he will help you do more or less with your time. The safest way is to collar the old devil, and never do tomorrow what you can do today.