Frode Svartdal, professor of psychology at the University of Tromsø.
Exams are just around the corner and the lost hours of reading are being recaptured. But how effective are you really?
– I have played ping pong every day since the semester began. So I might have greater progress in table tennis than in my master’s degree, says student Michael Lunde and smiles to his friend on the other side of the ping pong table in Forskningsparken at the University of Oslo.
Lunde is taking a master's degree in media studies and admits that he could have been more effective.
– Procrastination means that I will be sitting longer with schoolwork throughout the evening, he says.
Research shows that 95 percent of all students engage in so-called procrastination. The phenomenon means people voluntarily postpone a planned action, even if the delay makes you worse off.
Compared with the general population, where the figure is as low as 10 to 20 percent, students often choose to replace duties with more pleasurable tasks.
Frode Svartdal is a researcher at the Department of Psychology at the University of Tromsø. He has researched procrastination and believes procrastination in extreme cases can have serious consequences.
– If you postpone something, you’ll also have less time to complete it. This will make you stressed and regretful. Too much stress can lead to anxiety. This might in turn lead to doubts of your own abilities and questions about whether you really are good enough, explains Svartdal.
Resorts to the mobile phone
Svartdal believes student life makes it especially easy to procrastinate. An unstructured life with far away deadlines and difficult material makes it tempting to procrastinate.
– I think many are overwhelmed by information and demands, he says.
Facing this, we students often resort to the mobile phone. This worries Svartdal.
– Procrastination has exploded after every phone got internet access.
Anxiety and Depression
Procrastination can at worst lead to both anxiety and depression, according to Svartdal. He also believes that anxiety and depression may be the reason why many students procrastinate.
– It’s a vicious circle. It’s obvious that many are procrastinating because they have problems, but many will also get problems because they procrastinate, he says.
Not all students are realizing they procrastinate before it is too late. It’s only when we regret how we’ve spent the time that we realize what we’ve done.
– Regret and stress can be masked precisely by procrastination. You obscure the discomfort by doing something that is more tempting, and therefore more fun. It's a very scary mechanism, he says.
Delays job application
We are at Oslo National Academy of the Arts. Rain is pouring down outside the large windows in dance studio no 2. Here we meet Erlend Auestad Danielsen, who studies jazz dance at the Academy of Dance. He procrastinates through dance when he really should be writing job applications.
– I think it’ll be all right, I'll do it tomorrow. I have been training all day, now I deserve a break, he says.
Lack of motivation
A lack of motivation is much of the reason he procrastinates. Although he knows that there might be consequences, he replaces the difficult with the fun.
– It is difficult to find work as a dancer, and therefore it’s not as motivating to write job applications as it is to dance. Instead of trying to plan an uncertain future, I have often chosen not to think about it, it is much more comfortable.
Svartdal agrees that motivation is a factor.
– Our research shows that if you procrastinate a lot, you will struggle to motivate yourself. We also see that many students are affected by negative motivation. They don’t do things because it’s positive, but to avoid something negative, explains Svartdal.
Svein Sigurd Kvalnes has written his master’s thesis about procrastination among students. He believes some students with exam anxiety postpone the reading so they can blame it on a lack of time. If you've spent much time reading and still get a bad grade, it will feel much worse. Thus, students will rather blame too little time than poor abilities.
But Kvalnes can explain that procrastination is not necessarily just negative. Boring studies can get other necessary tasks to appear better – for example cleaning.
– Housework is something that not everyone prioritizes much in life, but when there is something that is less tempting, people often resort to such activities. It is jokingly referred to as academic cleaning, says Kvalnes.
– There are certainly many who have experienced that their home is never as clean as just before graduation or before submissions, he adds.
Although clean floors are great, Kvalnes makes it clear that in the long term, procrastination can affect health and wellness. Yet he concedes that it also may have several positive effects.
– You gather energy to do what you’re actually postponing, and you often experience an immediate pleasure there and then by postponing something you really should have done. When you are procrastinating you are, after all, relaxing, says Kvalnes.
Back at the table tennis table in Forskningsparken, Lunde agrees. He believes the table tennis playing can have a positive effect.
– I think it can be healthy to procrastinate a little. Ping pong is good for my mental health, he says, laughing.
– But, of course, it feels better to get things done.
_*Translated by Louise Faldalen Prytz