Leading Question: How Can Students Stop Procrastinating?November 18, 2021

My name is Alex Millman, and boy am I gonna have a story for you. My family and I went to Singapore for a holiday many moons ago. I became obsessed with the other Merlion statues after visiting Merlion Park. Then and there, I met Pat (and his family). I haven't seen him for years, so I expected a recollection of old mates (and probably former teachers), but I was dead wrong. Thailand made an impact on him. Every deed he considered would be put through a thorough cost/benefit analysis of reward versus punishment; he measured the lure of a one-time bacon double cheeseburger against the everlasting joy of love and peace. I guessed it was British humour, but my parents overheard our short conversation. They might think that my old mate was daft, a moment that made me smile whenever I recalled it. (And I get a good laugh on one occasion.) It was one of many things that made me leave my assignments to the last minute. I procrastinated, and, as a result, did not get a great mark. Was I lazy?

Professor Sullivan, my tutor, assured me that I wasn't lazy. It wasn't a personal flaw either. He could relate to it, as it happened to him. University students procrastinate to avoid the way that studying makes them feel, writing an essay in particular. He understood the students' perspective, where they wanted fun instead of work. But they don't ever really get a fun day off. Procrastinating would lead to too little time left for the coursework or fun. What could I do about it?

You Might Be Experiencing Garden Variety Procrastination, But You Don't. Here's What You Know

Start as small as you can. I tried resolutions like "I'll do all my assignments every day", but I didn't. I was distracted by Michael's description of Sarwat Chadda's "The City of the Plague God", where New York became an epicenter of a virus outbreak. Chadda wrote the novel before the coronavirus upended everything, so my mate wondered if the author, who was based in London, foresaw what would happen to the world. It intrigued me, so I Googled it. And there might be authors who wrote about the Spanish flu. It consumed an hour, which affected my schedule (for that day). I decided to stay away from chats (unless it was related to the coursework). I also promised myself something small to start with. Just one. Because I never knew.

Calm. Professor Sullivan frowned after I asked him if it was the calm before the storm. I could recall the number of times when paper writing would take longer than I expected. It could get messy. I won't tolerate it. And I gave up. My tutor would empathise with my situation, but he warned me that I couldn't use it as an excuse. Try to tolerate it, he said. What happens if it gets messier? Practice tolerating, he said matter-of-factly. It should keep me from avoiding difficult moments of paper writing, enabling me to finish it (and beat the deadline). I tried Robert Louis Stevenson's works, but a thought distracted me. (Why haven't my family and I visited the islands in the Pacific? I should ask my parents about it.) I didn't panic, as I was able to set it aside and focus on the assignment. Practice might not make it perfect, but I was getting better. Giving up wasn't an option.

Don't beat yourself up. I felt guilty, and bad when I thought about my professors. I might have done wrong, and I don't deserve my place (in the university). It would be the opposite, Professor Sullivan said assuringly. He advised me not to run away and do something else (if it happened). The test came sooner. Studying a bush poem was hard. I asked my coursemates if they did better, and their responses deflated my ego. There won't be any shortcuts, so I managed my schedule accordingly. I skipped reality TV, social media, and flexed my biceps in front of my mates. (It's a friendly competition, of who is bulky.) The wonders didn't happen overnight, but I made small progress.

Habits? Experience? Confidence? All of It

Did I have real fun? Yes. It didn't last a day, but it was a (good) start. The subject was embarrassing moments, and I couldn't forget that one time when my mother and I took a cab. The (Indian?) driver thought we were a couple. My mom was upset, correcting him immediately. I was speechless. The cab driver apologised profusely. I expected to get the "award", but I didn't. (Pat had an argument with the bus conductor, in front of other tourists, after not paying $10 for a tour of a remote Buddhist temple. The conductor seemed to be a good friend of the guide he talked to, he added. It wasn't his fault, as he had sleep problems during that time. And he was unaware of tourists getting annoyed at the delayed start of the trip back to the hotel.)

I would recall all of these while I was bone-deep into research. I was pursuing a graduate degree. It should be more challenging, if not messier, but I was equipped with experiences that I learned from my undergraduate days. Motivation was another factor, but I kept on telling myself that I was lucky to go back to the university. I became passionate about the coursework, which I would attribute to years of reading. My name is Alex Millman, and I have another story for you.

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