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Procrastination: time waster or state of creativity?

ByLucy Stevenson

Nov 18, 2014
courtesy of Tess Glen

Exploring the dangers and potential benefits of students’ worst habit:

[Illustration courtesy of Tess Glen]

It’s 1.30am and you’re sat in the library, staring at the blank screen on which your essay should now be written, and deciding to check your Facebook news feed just one more time before you start writing the introduction. Defined as the “voluntary delay of an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay”, procrastination appears to be a growing issue facing modern societies.

In spite of claims that rapidly advancing technologies and the evolution of social media has created the process of procrastination, the trend is not entirely new. In a recent BBC report, it was stated that Ancient Greek orator Demosthenes used to shave one side of his head so he’d remain indoors practising speeches rather than go outside and be ridiculed. Although procrastination may not be entirely new, evidence shows huge increases in recent years, with Dr Piers Steel, writer of The Procrastination Equation, stating: “we’re really entering the golden age of procrastination”. He adds: “in the last 40 years there’s been about a 300-400 per cent growth in chronic procrastination”. Steel’s statistics are reflected in other studies, which have proven that UK smartphone users check their phone 221 times a day on average.

This modern day surge of procrastination is reflected in the industry that has emerged from the practice. Famous English author and screenwriter David Nicholls recently revealed to The Guardian that he spent two years writing his new book using an anti-procrastination app.

While writing his follow up to One Day, the author used a fairly brutal app ‘Write or Die’ which attempts to stop you from pondering for long over the next word, with a red glow descending over the page and the text disappearing if you stop for more than 20 seconds. Nicholls is not alone in his investment to aid procrastination, with Apple’s App Store overflowing with Apps such as ‘Procrastor’, ‘Stop Procrastinating’ and ‘Yelling Mom’, which try to regain your attention through various alert noises.

The emergence of this industry highlights that procrastination is seriously obstructing the productivity of thousands of individuals, with a recent study cited in the BBC showing that on average, office workers waste at least an hour a day procrastinating. Anna Abramowski, a counselling psychology trainee at London’s City University, claims that the modern environment of computers and smartphones is “designed to be motivationally toxic”, suggesting that there are clearly major disadvantages to procrastination. Awareness of these negative effects has been raised through numerous studies that link procrastination not only to the reduced productivity impact on businesses, but several health issues.

Procrastinators are more at risk of having lowered immune system support and developing insomnia. The link between procrastination and insomnia was recently assessed in The Independent, with “bedtime procrastination” causing hundreds of participants in a study to fall asleep at a much later time than planned.

With these often ignored negative impacts of procrastination now being brought to the forefront of our minds, an increasingly worrying issue is that students appear most at risk. The Guardian recently spoke to the earlier cited Dr Piers Steel, who stated that students are biologically and socially predisposed to put off until tomorrow, what we should do today. Stating that, “aside from the cliché that students are more impulsive, in your early 20s you’re still developing your pre-frontal cortex, home of the will power”, Steel suggests university populations may struggle the most with this issue.

However it’s not all doom and gloom, with numerous broadsheet newspapers recently stating that procrastination may have some benefits. Studies show that taking a break from work can boost the creative thought process, and the internet can be used to quickly refresh one’s brain, improving decisions that take longer to ponder over. With The University of Pennsylvania recently announcing a new course entitled ‘Wasting time on the Internet’, through which aimless surfing is encouraged, perhaps procrastination isn’t all bad. So perhaps one more episode of Breaking Bad just might help boost your creative flow for that Politics essay?


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