Prioritizing Your Procrastination

A How-To On Being Productively Lazy

I had a student come into my office the other day…

He came in to see me because one of his professor’s sent my office an alert that he would not be able to pass his class as he had just failed his midterm. Because I had met with him prior to this referral, I was assigned his case.

I know the student, actually pretty well.

I work in an advising and student success office at a smaller university in the state of Oregon. My job description has changed three times in the year I’ve worked here, but for the most part I do the same work across the board…

I work with college students to provide them with tools and resources to support their academic endeavors and ultimately shape and strengthen their own success. I do my best to work with students on creating skills and tapping into resources that are not only applicable to their time in school, but also their successes later in life. In the less glamorous light of my current career, I also do the mundane things like lift advising holds, file paperwork, write case notes and meeting notes, and monitor student success in a variety of capacities from behind a screen smothered with numbers and data that I need to figure out how to interpret.

It’s not easy, and working with students that think they don’t need any help or just won’t receive help is probably the hardest part of what I do.

For the record, I think that everyone can say that about their job at some juncture. There are always hard things about a job. Even working at a fast-food restaurant can be challenging. The amount of multitasking those employees do is honestly unreal.

How do you convince anyone that they need something in their life? How do you make someone care about their education when they obviously do not?

Well, I’ll tell you that there really is not an answer to either of those questions… I just have a toolbox of tactics that I try to approach each and every student with, to personalize and accommodate that specific student’s needs.

I’m essentially a modern-day human personality chameleon.

As much as I don’t think I was ever cut out for this line of work, I’m damn good at it. And here, sitting in front of me was this student willing to challenge everything I knew about being successful in attempts to avoid getting help with his failing courses.

He was a challenge.

How it went down was…

I would offer this student a resource. He would shut it down. I would suggest a new way of managing his time or improving his note-taking skills. He would tell me he had already tried everything that I was suggesting.

I can’t ever let students see me frustrated, because even if I am, the moment they sense my frustration — like a shark smelling some seriously tasty blood — with will listen for about three more seconds, write me off, get frustrated with me, then they are done with me like a discarded, mauled fish carcass. With that being said, that was exactly what I was in that moment. Frustrated.

Frustration is the WORST way to get anywhere with a student because they have lost all respect for you as a professional when you do.

So, me and this student. We were duking it out. Non-violently and very calmly.

He would throw something my way and I would come right back with a persistent and unignorable right hook of a suggestion.

Finally, having exhausted my entire repertoire of knowledge and suggestions with nothing to show for it, I realized something.

This student really did not want my help at all.

So, again I switched tactics.

Why didn’t he want my help? Why did he think what he was doing was actually working when it really wasn’t? What about this class is so challenging? Why didn’t he like his classes? Did he even want to be attending school?

Respectfully, I began berating him with questions until we finally got somewhere.

He wanted to be in school, but he hates his major. He thought he needed it to go into his career field, and that a degree and a piece of paper is what gets him the entry into that career field.

I told him he was so incorrect that he was screwing up his current academics, his GPA, and his prospects of getting accepted into a school beyond this institution for higher educational endeavors. Of course, I presented this information much for gently than I did just now.

It’s the tough conversations people… Those are the ones that matter. Stop skimming the fat from the top, start digging deeper. That’s where stuff gets done, that’s where the magic is.

After talking over it a bit…

We realized that he needed to drop a few courses, change majors, and completely come back with a 180-approach to his academics.

From there we talked about his current habits and that conversation grew into something I ended up taking with me personally.

We talked about procrastination — all of which I could relate to in that I procrastinate too much for my own good. It’s a wonder I’ve ever accomplished anything, honestly.

Okay, we all do it. If you say you don’t procrastinate, you’re bold-faced lying to me.

(More of my personal thoughts on this matter here.)

He procrastinated a lot, leaving his work until the last second.

So I’m an Academic Success Advisor, right? I should be telling him ways to remove procrastination from his life — ways to increase his motivation?

Yeah, that’s so wrong.

And I would very clearly be doing this student a disservice by telling them those things. Instead I shared something with him, that I think is so incredibly important that other people know as well… Something personal, and honest. And that’s why I’m sharing it here.

I told him, “You need to learn to work with your mind and body, not against it!”

If you procrastinate until the day is long, recognize that you do that. Find ways to work with that part of you. When you try to change something that is so innately a part of you, chances are that something might work but it will only work for a short while until you’re right back to what you were doing before…

This is why our push with procrastination and productivity articles (especially on Medium) completely disinterest me. Because in order for those productivity hacks to work for me, I must completely rearrange my comfortable psyche to accommodate a foreign entity. This explains why New Year’s Resolutions hardly ever work out — because we are trying to fundamentally alter something that is indefinitely rooted in our personality rather than working with it to accommodate that part of yourself towards a better version of yourself!

So here we were — me and this tough student — talking about brains. I tried helping the student realize that he is currently trying to work against his brain rather than with it. And why would anyone do that if we think about it that way? It’s completely ludicrous!

Instead, we need to start prioritizing our procrastination. I don’t mean prioritize in the sense of making procrastination important. I mean you need to make decisions with your procrastination in mind, by prioritizing what you need to get done to alleviate the stresses that can result from legitimately procrastinating.

Because it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable. Like puberty and the innate need to drink water. It’s going to happen, you can’t escape it!

If procrastination is something you have felt you have an issue with, instead of making procrastination something to avoid, instead plan for it. Get everything done and out of the way so that when procrastination-stress-induced-flurries hit, you have absolutely nothing else you need to do except cater to that procrastination-stress-induced-flurry.

I’ll give you an example.

You have a deadline on a project. This project could be a writing deadline, a school project, a work proposal, or really anything of significant and unavoidable importance. It’s a Wednesday. You haven’t finished the project, but you know that you have some time left because it’s the Friday before the due date. The same day that the project is required to be completed, you also have another smaller side project due, lunch planned with a friend, you told your family you would come over for dinner, and you work early that morning. You have a feeling you will be waiting until the last possible moment… Because that’s how you do.

Okay, so plan for that.

  • Reschedule the lunch with a friend and work on the project during your lunch. Tell them early, so you don’t bail on your plans.
  • Plan to work on the project when you get home from work in the early afternoon.
  • Work on the smaller, quicker project over the weekend and get it out of the way.
  • Let your family know you can have dinner with them the next evening because you have a big commitment. Tell them early, so you don’t bail on your plans.

See.

You are prioritizing your procrastination. You are taking it into consideration when making decisions, and you are clearing your schedule so that when you do in fact HAVE to procrastinate, nothing else gets in your way from doing it successfully and uninterrupted.

All of this might sound crazy, but it’s really not. It just goes against what we were taught to believe. We were tricked to think as a society, that procrastination is a bad thing.

I’m here to tell you it’s not.

You are the way you are. If you like yourself, look at working with who you are to make sure that shit still gets done. Stop fighting yourself, stop forcing yourself to try tips and tricks that you know won’t work. Stop wasting your time thinking you’re going to change when you truly don’t want to.

Accept yourself as you are, and work on the things that you cannot accept.

So what have we learned in all of this?

Procrastination can be a good thing. It can be the thing that incites stress that kicks us in the butt when we need that extra momentum to finish a project or a piece.

If you’re anything like me and you work better under pressure, then procrastination should be your friend. It’s where your best writing, best creating, best whatever comes from.

I figured all of this out when I was working on my Master’s program. I procrastinated myself successfully through several courses. I waited until the last minute to write twelve-paged papers with a required fifteen-twenty sources. I mean, I’m talking five hours before the due date ‘last minute’ writing. I tried everything to get myself out of this cycle. I would start papers a week before the deadline, I would attempt to form a thesis statement and write the first paragraph, I would even put my phone on airplane mode to try and get stuff done.

What happened honestly shocked me…

I couldn’t come up with a single idea unless I waited until crunch time. What I came up with before then, was total crap. I knew it, the paper even knew it… It judged me from the corner of the screen with it’s small word count. I felt more of a failure when I started things early, than when I had my epiphany moments within hours of the deadline! And plain and simple, my writing was better under pressure because I didn’t have the time to afford a mistake.

So I learned to clear my schedule to adhere to those moment of procrastination. I accepted myself as is, realized that even if I learn to be a better manager of my time procrastination is very much and a thing for me, and I learned to work with what others might consider my shortcomings.

Now it’s your turn.

It’s time to work with your procrastination, not against it.

I really like to take words and make coherent sentences with them. [A writer discussing the chaos that is living, and everything in between.]

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