Bing. A new notification pops up on your phone as you write an essay that’s due tomorrow. You decide to use this opportunity to take a quick break. Next thing you know, this “quick break” has lasted the whole night.
Does this scene sound familiar?
But what is procrastination anyway? Why do we, as students, procrastinate all the time, and why is it so hard to quit? It’s no secret that procrastination reduces productivity and distracts us from personal success. So why do we always procrastinate?
The short answer lies beneath our conscious behaviour. Sustained attention is a form of thought the brain uses to perform tasks that require our undivided attention such as studying, writing an essay, or driving. This type of thinking requires a lot of energy from the brain. It undergoes stress and pressure as it focuses on a specific task for a prolonged amount of time.
Distractions like looking through your phone, texting or scrolling through Facebook do not require as much sustained attention, but rather use divided attention. This is a competing way of thought where more than one task can be completed at once. This type of processing uses relatively low levels of attention and is often used to perform more enjoyable tasks.
We have a natural tendency to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. The underlying reason for our procrastination is due to our subconscious attempt to refuse unwanted mundane work, and revert back to more comfortable and enjoyable activities.
Surprisingly, some distractions may not even be something you even enjoy doing. During exam time, just cleaning your dorm room or counting the dots on your wall can feel more exciting than studying. Your brain goes to these activities because they are less thought consuming.
For example, a student, who is studying for exams, decides to take a break and go on Facebook. This activity – using social media – is much more pleasurable than studying. Although the student may not love Facebook to start off with, this tendency to sway away from unwanted work can be the first step into developing an addiction to social media.
Luckily, there is a way to stop procrastination. As the Nike slogan goes, the trick is to “Just Do It.” The longer you leave your unwanted work, the more you will procrastinate. In order to reduce procrastination, you should focus your work in a place with few distractions. This may sound intuitive, yet most people still refuse to do it. Once you get your work done quickly, the reward center in the brain is stimulated and further promotes this beneficial behavior. Consciously avoiding procrastination for a month can shape your brain to become a person who is less prone to distractions.