In today’s high-pressure society, it is no secret that we all fall prey to procrastination. Whether it’s that looming essay deadline or last-minute revision before an exam, we have all experienced the relentless torment of too much work and too little time. Yet, strangely enough, I find myself thriving in this perpetual chase, engulfed in constant anxiety knowing there’s an essay due in two hours and the chaos will ensue if I miss the deadline. This façade, of course, can only last so long – but I persist nonetheless. Will my life end if I don’t get this essay done? No. Will it be absolute carnage? Perhaps, but for whatever reason I keep teetering on the edge of my deadline time and time again. This cannot be healthy. Why subject myself to such a masochistic lifestyle?
At first I thought I was lazy. I am at a university where my whole existence revolves around my frenzied need for academic validation and yet here I am, casually tossing my work aside in favour of my fiftieth miscellaneous hobby this term (if you can count watching trashy 2000s shows as a hobby). When I blankly stare at my Word doc, contemplating how much more I could possibly churn out about 14th-century Tuscan banking, even folding my laundry seems more enticing. Suddenly, I would conjure up a million other things I could be doing instead. It seems wonderful to live with the delusion that I am busy, just to avoid the task at hand. Writer, speaker, intellectual, and procrastinator Fran Lebowitz (the last is her own words) says that writers often have the cleanest apartments. I’m afraid that I have proved her right – for the only time my room has ever been clean was when I had a mountain of reading to do.
Then, as if by chance, I was diagnosed with ADHD last term. Years of scatterbrained disorganisation were now explained by this diagnosis. Naturally, I was in denial about it. So I’m not lazy? Then how can I stop procrastinating if it’s in my genes? It almost seemed easier to accept that my procrastination was simply a result of my own loafing tendencies, rather than my brain not getting its hourly dopamine kick from my linguistics essay.
Regardless of my ADHD, procrastination takes its toll on everyone at some point. Studies have suggested that at least one in five adults struggle with procrastination, and it impacts up to 85% of individuals at some point in their lives. There’s no escaping it, but it’s easy to wonder, though perhaps this is the procrastination talking, why it still happens even when we’re terrified of the consequences. I can’t stop worrying about getting a task done, yet I still find myself unable to get on with work. Spending one a hundred and twenty three minutes scrolling through Oxfess brings little satisfaction, as it turns out.
What I’ve come to realise is that procrastination has become the “Voldemort” of academia. Everybody knows it exists, and acknowledges its existence, but nobody wants to talk about it. It’s only recently that I’ve noticed the extent of a negative impact procrastination has had on my life despite it happening to everyone. In reality, procrastination arises because we fail to allow ourselves to enjoy free time in the first place. It’s no wonder terms like ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’, which many of us are undoubtedly guilty of, have gained popularity of late. Procrastination is a silent rebellion against something we’re conditioned to feel unworthy about. It is a small but simple way to defy the world, shirking our responsibilities in exchange for a fleeting but illusory sense of freedom. We should be allowed to have fun without feeling guilty, but procrastination certainly doesn’t improve anything.
The solution seems straightforward, yet it has been sorely neglected: permit yourself to indulge in your free time. As long as you don’t mind a messy room.
Artwork by Yuan-Yuan Foo.