According to various Psychological studies about 20% of us are procrastinators – those who wait until the very last minute to deliver. This seems somewhat of an underestimate if the discussions I’ve had with young people in the many schools I work with reveal. A number of them quite proudly admit to doing things at the very last minute. Why? ‘I cant be bothered’ is the most common answer, together with ‘there are better things to do.’ Other answers tend to fall into the categories of ‘I know I can get away with it’ to ‘its boring.’ A small number will say its because it makes them anxious to start.
Why do we put things off? There’s certainly a lot written about procrastination together with a whole range of tips on how to overcome this behaviour. The answers range from indicating that we all have an internal ‘cost benefit’ question we ask ourselves when we have to work; needing to value something to do it; fearing failure and to being lazy. Nike in their slogan ‘just do it!’ addresses this lethargy. Oh, if it were only so easy!
Most young people of today, contrary to popular belief, work hard, incredibly hard. From the time they are very young they are trained to be tested, to be accomplished in a range of extracurricular activities and to represent themselves to a high standard. In an incredibly competitive world, there is no time to ‘take it easy.’ As adults we wouldn’t want to bring our work home after a hard day’s work, young people have to do just that. Even recreationally, they are constantly evaluated. How many likes, how many followers, they can be built up in a few seconds and destroyed on the stage of social media with just one click – an outcome they can’t predict or control. Viral destruction. That’s apart from all the messages they get about the effort they need to put in to succeed, get ahead, get into a good school, stay on top of their set, to look good, be popular and generally keep abreast.
If we want young people to learn to overcome procrastination, perhaps we need to address some fundamental facts. The first, is an intellectual snobbery that admitting putting effort into academic success is a failing – that if we are bright we should ‘just be able to do it’ and that therefore, we should pretend to others that we’ve achieved without effort. The second, that parents should challenge their own competitiveness to ‘get ahead’ through the effort they put in on behalf of their child. The number of school projects, essays, and creative pieces completed by parents on behalf of their children surely far outweigh a child’s own work? Ultimately children know, that should they procrastinate, their parents will step in to deliver an amazing result. The third point is tricky – are children exhausted by the hard work that drives their days? The constant homework, the testing, the rote preparation for exams? Well, teachers certainly are, so I guess children must be too. In a culture dominated by anxiety and a fear of failure, the need to put in constant effort to achieve a perfect result has become too big a pressure for some, with procrastination an almost inevitable result.