By Chimgozirim Prince Ejim, MSc, Energy Engineering.
Student Volunteer, University of Hull Library
We all have had this thought at one point or the other. It often starts as a feeling of weariness when the thought of doing that activity pops up. Over time, that weariness festers into apathy. You no longer get that sense of urgency when you think about that activity. Afterall, you’ve got “time”. But do you? Or more aptly, do you need to put it off for that long?
The right answer depends on a variety of things. Of course, there is the scale of preference. How important is that activity when placed side by side with other activities that demand your time? If you make a scale of preference and stick to it, then this article is not for you.
This article is for the chronic procrastinators, those who put activities aside, and then go on to binge scroll through social media or spend time out at the pub or the park or doing other important tasks but just cannot find the time to do that one important task.
I think this is the greatest form of self-sabotage. Worse still, we sometimes are ignorant that we are doing it. It is called procrastination, but I think it is just indiscipline.
I attended a boarding school at secondary level and went to study at a university far away from home. In total, I was away from home for 11 years for studies. Considering that I started my education very young, one can clearly see that I lost valuable time with my parents during my formative years.
One of the effects of this is that I developed some habits which a parent would have snuffed out before it took root. This is not to say that I did not receive good parenting, but we would all agree that a 3-week break is often insufficient for parents to assess the range of personalities their child has absorbed from interactions during a 13-week school term.
As I was rounding up the final year of my undergraduate studies, the COVID 19 pandemic struck, and I was forced to spend 15 consecutive months at home with my parents. It was like a meeting of strangers who were learning to understand each other. They made weird observations about my behaviors, and I could not understand how they could see these when nobody had ever mentioned them to me. Deep down, it felt like a witch-hunt, and I started to resent them for it.
However, I prayed over it, and they prayed for me as well. Over time, I started to see what they were talking about. Most of these observations were things I could solve with some humility, but the one thing I somehow couldn’t cope with was my procrastination habit. I think this is partly because I could not accept that I had this bad habit.
I will explain why.
In my final year at university, I served as President of the student chapter of my departmental professional society. My tenure won awards for the school because of the Board’s dogged and strategic approach to activities planning and execution including securing approvals (sometimes months in advance), securing venues and vendors’ commitments, fostering far-reaching ties across departmental and collegiate divides, liaising with and submitting reports to the umbrella professional sections (both local and international).
In fact, I was a workhorse during those 18 months (about 1 and a half years) as we churned out activity after activity. I was sometimes strategizing for about 10 activities to hold within the next six weeks. My mantra was “On to the next 💪”. I left no stone unturned, and no activity or procedure that could be executed now was left for later, even if it was not yet critical. How could someone with this output rate be labelled a procrastinator?
This leads me to an important point.
Procrastination does not mean that you’re not getting anything done. It means that you experience low energies for getting a certain important task done usually because there is no strong enough motivation. Typically, motivation comes in the form of some sort of deadline. This then holds you accountable.
I would say that “procrastination thrives in the absence of motivation and an accountability framework.”
In my case, as described above, I was productive as a chapter President but unproductive as a student. I put off studying till the last minute and underperformed in assessments because of inadequate preparation. Because of my procrastination, I depended on adrenaline to complete some important tasks, and this left me sorely depressed and weak when the task was finally completed just before or at the deadline.
This trend left me with the false impression that I was able to execute tasks best just before deadlines, that I “worked better under pressure”. This is a lie, and if you’re thinking the same, snap out of it.
Even when I tried to create artificial deadlines for myself further from the actual deadline, I found myself pushing the deadline, eventually meeting the actual deadline.
I will give a recent example of this.
The deadline to submit an abstract of at least 450 words for a conference paper was Sunday the 14th of January 2024. I learned about the conference in the second week of December 2023 and decided to submit a paper for it. I put together a team with whom I defined the nature and objectives of the paper.
There was ample time to flesh out the main manuscript (deadline for that is in July 2024). However, without submitting that abstract, we would have no need for the manuscript as we wouldn’t even be considered.
The abstract was something I could write within three hours at most of dedicated attention, but I kept putting it off under the guise that I was further researching the project. With only one week to go, I set a deadline for the 12th of January 2024, a Friday and my birthday.
At the time, this was the most realistic deadline because I worship on Saturdays and work a 12-hour night shift thereafter from 8pm. On Sundays, I sleep for hours (tired from my long shift), just waking up in time to prepare for another 12-hour night shift.
However, to catch my connecting buses, I had to leave my house at least 2 hours ahead.
With this background, let me paint a clearer picture of my weekends. Stay with me.
On Saturdays, I wake up at 9am and prepare for church. I get to church by 11 am. Service lasts till 2 pm, I hang around doing church work and rehearsals, and finally get home by about 4pm. I sleep till about 5:30, and then prepare for work. By 6pm, I’m out.
On Sundays, I get off work at 8am, board my first bus by about 8:25, and arrive home at about 11am. I sort myself out, and sleep till about 5:30 pm. I prepare for work and leave the house by 6pm.
Now, let me describe how that weekend of the 12th went.
I went to the library to work on a project due on the 18th of January. I met with friends at 3pm. As it was my birthday, I couldn’t cancel. Not that I wanted to anyway, so I met with them, making music till about 8pm.
I’d been craving egusi soup all week, so on the way home, I decided to satisfy that craving. I popped into a grocery store and purchased the right ingredients. By the time I got home, it was almost 10pm. I spent the next 3 hours preparing the soup and had my supper by about 1:30am on Saturday.
It was a heavy meal so naturally I was awake until 3am.
My Saturday followed the usual routine. However, instead of going straight home, I branched at a friend’s place to play the piano. Eventually, I got home by about 5:20 pm. You already know that I could not risk sleeping, so I simply prepared for work.
My Sunday followed the usual routine but this time, instead of sleeping after work, I met with a friend by 1pm as she had prepared Rfissa, a special Moroccan dish for me. Eventually, I got home by about 4pm. Wearied by the meal and exhausted from work, I fell into a deep sleep from which I woke with only 10 minutes until my bus’s scheduled departure time.
I ran all the way to the bus stop and got there just as the doors closed. Luckily, the driver was sympathetic to my banging on the door, and my flushed face (from a cumulative effect of the unplanned exercise and the freezing weather).
During the bus ride, I remembered the abstract deadline. If I was to submit that manuscript by July, I would have to start the abstract pronto since there would be limited access to my phone throughout the shift.
In an anxious frenzy, I typed the abstract of 450 words from memory throughout the bus rides, using the Notes app on my phone. At work, I took multiple toilet breaks to complete and submit the abstract. While submitting, I realized that the conference required the authors to have something called an ORCID iD. Of course, it was too late to ask my co-authors to get one. I also needed their emails for the submission questionnaire but did not have those. Still, I quickly created an ORCID iD, filled out the lengthy questionnaire, and submitted the abstract with less than an hour until the deadline.
Like I said, procrastination is the greatest form of self-sabotage.
When I received a copy of my response to the questionnaire via email, I discovered that I had picked the wrong paper category.
You see, the conference requested papers from about 20 different categories in line with the theme of the conference. These paper abstracts would be assessed according to the categories under which they are submitted. Depending on the outcome of the assessment, they would be approved or denied. If approved, the author(s) can go ahead with the main manuscript. If denied, that’s the end of the road.
Because of my indiscipline, I might have sabotaged the efforts of my team and our chances of presenting the paper.
I am not unproductive by any means. I get some stuff done, but I know that there is a problem. For every important task completed, there are about five important tasks placed indefinitely on hold. When you consistently skirt so close to danger, you put yourself only a hair’s breadth away from disaster.
I am impulsive and spontaneous. With me, the fire is kindled suddenly and burns hot, really hot, but it dies just as fast.
When I arrived at the library, I saw a mail from the university library requesting entries for her blog post. I saw it as an opportunity to write about something that was heavy on my chest. Something I know other students might be experiencing as well.
Some call it procrastination, but I say it is indiscipline and self-sabotage. There is nothing cool about it.
To ensure that I completed this post, I held my pee for two hours. I knew that going to the toilet might cool my fire, allowing me the time to think of other things and thus derail me. I could have even convinced myself that writing this post was a waste of time.
To create an accountability loop, I mailed a draft copy of this post to the university library’s social media director after reviewing it. Only then did I get up to pee.
I was productive as a President because there was a long list of accountability partners. I had the student membership, my board members, the Faculty Adviser, my Head of Department, the Students Liaison Officer at the Section level, the Students Chapters’ Liaison Officer at the national level, and a host of other officers at the international level.
Also, I was determined to make an impact. That was my motivation.
Find yourself an immutable external source of motivation and accountability, and you have a short-term fix for procrastination.
I have unlearned bad habits and replaced them with better ones in the past and I can tell you for a fact that habits are developed through consistent application over time. When you consistently beat procrastination, a day will come when you discover you can motivate yourself and hold yourself accountable without external influence.
Till then, keep at it.
The views or opinions expressed by individuals in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Library and the University.