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Is Procrastination a real pandemic among high school and college students today?

On November 2nd, I launched a survey in Spanish on LinkedIn about the perception of the magnitude of procrastination affecting high school and college students. Most respondents (91%) agree that more than half of students procrastinate. And no less than 55% of the responses state that it affects more than 75% of the students. The bias of this survey must be taken for granted since it is foreseeable that those most sensitive to this problem will be those who contribute their opinion, but even so, it remains very informative. 

I would formulate the conclusion in these terms:

Procrastination is perceived as a real pandemic among students.

The “scientific” literature in this regard comes to say something very similar. In the absence of more extensive studies, many suggest that both in secondary school and in university the figures would exceed 50% of the students affected by habitual procrastination. Although it may not be equally serious in all students, the figures could reach 70% of the students. There are even those who detect 90% in US universities, a figure that seems incredibly high. It certainly may not be chronic severe procrastination, but it is frequent. And who would believe that in Latin countries like Spain the numbers are smaller? What is certain is that in Spain they are less concerned (for now). Of course, Spain do not celebrate the “week of procrastination” or anything similar, as Canada does.

In the Far East (China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore …) the figures drop notably, although procrastination continues to affect a good number of students (exceeding 25% may not seem like a small thing). This difference in incidence points to cultural and social factors, which I will talk about below.


An environment prone to procrastination

In a comment to the survey, a psychologist provided his impression by pointing to what he judged to be one of the main causes of the problem: “experiential avoidance”. There are those who, in order to not feel bad “now”, give up doing what they should do, despite the fact that this option generates more problems than advantages in the end.

Procrastination has been described as the quintessential failure of self-regulation (Steel, 2007). Immaturity, impulsiveness, and perfectionism appear as common ingredients in the procrastinator profile, which includes those who prefer to postpone their tasks to delay the displeasure, disgust or fear that the task arouses in him or her. The short-term rules, even if the completion of the task is compromised. It is understood that adolescence and youth are a time of trial and maturation in this regard. 

School is often perceived as a painful obligation, and the general atmosphere of fun-centered, hedonistic Western society is not conducive to this costly growth in maturity. In almost all areas, the easy way out and avoiding effort are what is sought after. The student is surrounded by an environment where there are constantly immediate proposals for connection, fun, and entertainment. “Have fun! Enjoy! Be happy (right now)! You deserve it, you have the right!” These are repeated messages in our consumer societies, so it is not surprising that levels of resistance to frustration are what we tend to find.

Our cultural and social context promotes procrastination as one symptom of many, but in an especially detrimental way to learning and the psychological well-being of students. It produces anxiety, feelings of guilt, and low self-esteem, undermining self-confidence. Academic performance necessarily suffers to the point that procrastination is a powerful predictor of early dropout, more so than absences from class.


Something needs to be done in education about it

Nowadays, an education in competencies is intended, where the contents must stop monopolizing the prominence to also deal with learning to learn. But education in study habits and work discipline is not being addressed directly or specifically. The proof is that currently only results are evaluated, not the path. Exams are the objective test that leads to a grade. But whether this result has been achieved as a result of calm and regular study or cramming over the last two nights, is not taken into account. Couldn’t the way we work be evaluated? Are we serious about it?

Obviously, students who are better organized, with better discipline for their work, tend to obtain better grades and vice versa. But how does a student acquire these skills? It is usually the result of self-learning marked by the demands of the environment and family supervision. In more demanding environments, it becomes more necessary and the fight for survival is responsible for getting the best out of each one, such as discarding those who give up or cannot advance alone. But an educational system exists to do things much better than this.


How to evaluate the way students work

Strong study habits are not only convenient in the development of a student’s academic life but should also be a main objective. It is directly related to doing what you have to do when it must be done and for the time that each task requires. Although it is not reduced to this, what we have described can be worked on and can be evaluated based on adequate planning. This is the focus of the Task & Time proposal to address this educational challenge. 

Procrastination would be an obvious symptom that the necessary study habit is not being acquired. But how do you know that you are doing what you must do or, on the contrary, that you are procrastinating? Only if actual activity can be checked against objective planning. From here, a set of actions can be designed to know, evaluate, and train the student’s activity, implementing them in an information system in which students, teachers, parents, and an academic institution attended.

Surely there are other proposals to educate in work discipline and study habits, but for them to be objective in some way, they will have to involve time management and task planning. We hope that valuable proposals appear that become curricular and that this happens as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Task & Time has launched a virtual agenda that plans students’ study time automatically (Studeam), responding to the needs of those students and families who recognize that there is a problem with poor time management and procrastination and want to improve. After the study carried out on students at the University of A Coruña (Spain), we know that its continued use helps students with more difficulties in these skills. This is good news that fills us with courage and allows us to venture that it will also help high school students who need it so much. 

In an upcoming article, I will recount the results of the experiment carried out on university students. But there are other possible initiatives, without resorting to educational technology, that would undoubtedly help reduce procrastination and improve the habit of studying.