Image of the book "The Achievement Habit" by Bernard Roth and a travel mug.

Tales of an A+ Procrastinator

There’s officially less than a month until classes start! It’s no doubt that this summer is going by quickly and although I never took part in the #inmyfeelings challenge that flooded Insta, the one thing challenging my feelings at the moment is the thought of going back to school.

Since I’ll be going into my final year this September, I wanted to reflect on my habits and ways of managing my stress levels during the school year. During this process, I realized that like many other students, the habit that affects my life the most is… procrastination.

I fall into the group of students who:

  • Procrastinate until the last minute;
  • Start stressing that I don’t have enough time to finish whatever it is I’ve procrastinated on to perfection;
  • Realize I don’t have time to stress about the fact that I procrastinated;
  • Finish the work even if it means I’ll be sleep deprived, and then…
  • Continue to procrastinate on my other work to reward myself for all the hard work I just did.

I feel like my entire time at university has essentially been a HIIT workout, but with very long recovery periods of watching Netflix, scrolling endlessly on Insta, sending memes to friends, and other forms of procrastination in between.

After each period of intense working after procrastination, I tell myself the same thing: “The procrastination was worth it. I just needed to put myself in a high-pressure situation with a time constraint to finish the work without overthinking.” Although at the back of my mind, I know a deadline is approaching, the thought of doing the work stresses me out because I either don’t know where to start or I’m just too lazy to tackle the work ahead. In other cases when I am excited about the work, I’m too scared to start because the end result might not live up to my expectations.

Last year, this habit made me late for class and even miss some of my classes in which attendance and participation were mandatory, all because I was busy trying to finish the assignments. When I got a grade back and realized that I had done well or better than I had expected – that I had basically gotten away with procrastinating – I felt more compelled to continue my habit rather than learning how to change it.

This cycle just continued because I would be motivated by the deadlines. The system is very dysfunctional, but because it “worked” to me, that’s all that mattered. However, I knew that this habit of doing things last minute was just a short-term solution to a much bigger problem: my fear of failure. Knowing this, I knew I needed to get out of this never-ending loop of procrastination and self-loathing.

Recently, I realized that although doing things last minute and having a false sense of doing “hard work” has worked well in my academic life, this mindset has failed me when it comes to my personal goals. Why? These goals don’t necessarily have a deadline to help me stay motivated.

For example, I knew that the applications for volunteering at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) opened in June, and although there wasn’t a specific deadline that was given, the applications would be reviewed at the beginning of August meaning they would close at the end of July. Every Sunday, I kept checking their website hoping that the application would still be open and so I could say, “Okay great, I’ll fill it out later.” I even checked on July 31 and said the same thing. But, later became too late when I went on the website on August 1 and read “Our 2018 Festival Volunteer Application is now closed.”

A part of me was disappointed for not applying even when I had the opportunity to, especially because I had planned to apply a year ago, but a part of me was also relieved. I knew in the back of my mind that I kept avoiding filling out the application because I was too scared to put myself out there and not getting a volunteer position. I sabotaged myself due to my fear of failure.

Over the weekend, I started reading a book called “The Achievement Habit” by Bernard Roth, a professor at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school) at Stanford University. I’m not usually one for reading self-help books and the number of books I haven’t finished reading definitely outweigh the books I have read, but the concept of design thinking intrigued me.

In the introduction, Roth describes the term project in his “Designer in Society” class where students are encouraged “to think differently about how they achieve goals in their lives – to get them to stop thinking wistfully about possibilities and start actually doing” (Roth, 2015, p. 2). The project has simple instructions, do something that you have always wanted to do or tackle a problem in your life.

One student, Paddy, decided to create a radio show for the term project. This scenario resonated with me because it has always been a dream of mine to produce my own radio show. But what’s stopping me from making this dream come true is the fact that I don’t have any experience working at a radio station, and to be honest, I’m not sure if people would be interested in the content that I want to create and share with the rest of the world.

This lack of confidence has deterred me from pursuing my dreams even though I know all the resources that I need to make it happen are available to me at Mac. I’ve wanted to volunteer at the CFMU for a few years now, but every time I’ve opened up the application I began second guessing myself. I spent four years daydreaming of creating a radio show and then overthinking the logistics and what could go wrong, asking myself, “What if I don’t enjoy it? What if I’m not good at it?”, when instead I should have just taken the leap and done it.

Although it’s easy to think of cliches like “you never know unless you try” in moments like this, it’s hard for me to realize the meaning behind them until I learn about real life stories like Paddy’s. The act of doing rather than overthinking has led Paddy to work as a Senior Editor at NPR and American Public Media’s radio program Marketplace, publish an economics book called Man vs. Markets, and finish writing a novel (Roth, 2015, p. 10).

Learning about design thinking has inspired me to rethink when I tell myself that I’ll do something later by asking: “What’s stopping you from doing this now?” If the answer is”myself,” my reminder from now on will be that the regrets I’ll have in the future once the opportunity passes will be greater than my fear of criticsm and failure today.

Reference:  Roth, Bernard. 2015. The achievement habit: Stop wishing, start doing, and take command of your life. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.

Image of Manveetha Muddaluru.

About the Author

Manveetha Muddaluru is the blogger for the Student Success Centre’s Stories From the Arch blog for the 2018 – 2019 year.

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