Just Five Minutes...

If you are reading this, then congratulations! You are either procrastinating your studies for impending final exams, or have successfully repressed procrastination and taken the time to read this sentence!  Either way, you are no stranger to the siren call of procrastination.

Procrastination involves delaying something you have to do in favour of something else that fills your time.  For example, instead of tidying your room, you decide to bake a batch of lemon bars, despite your profound distaste for fruit in baking (you either like it or you don’t).

Please do not be dishonest with yourself:  We are all guilty of procrastination, no matter how much we try to deny or avoid it.  Even the stealthiest and most studious of students succumb to procrastination.  Procrastination is rife during highly stressful periods of the academic year, such as exam season, test week (referred to as “Hell Week” across campuses) and meeting deadlines.  A ripple effect is created during procrastination, because while we are stressed about the tasks to complete and exams to study for, we add to that stress by delaying the completion of such burdening tasks.  The question is, if procrastination adds to our stress, why do we continue to give in to it?  Why is it more appealing than completing our work on time, and still having time to relax afterwards?  Why would we rather sit and drink coffee on Jammie Plaza for an hour than sit in the quiet of the library to work on our essays with no distractions?

I have a theory as to why our brains are more likely to wander to perform mundane, irrelevant tasks rather than be productive and successful.  I believe that it is our inner child bursting out at entirely inappropriate times, because that inner child is tired of being suppressed during adult situations.  Think about it:  you have thought about throwing a tantrum during a dinner party, jumping into a swimming pool with all your clothes on, shoving your grown sister’s face in her birthday cake and have secretly sniggered at the odd fart joke.  I believe procrastination to be a manifestation of the inner conflict of having to deal with the stressful times in our lives, where we are forced to act like the adults we may not be ready to be.  After 12 years of being trapped in institutions, forced to conform to arbitrary rules telling us to colour inside the lines, not to question authority and have our minds and bodies policed by teachers and coaches, our inner child that craves to colour the world in rainbows and glitter has had enough of being suppressed.  This inner child has grown bored of the jail cell walls it has been forced to stare at for years on end with no creative outlet or opportunity to explore his or her abilities.

That is why our brains react inappropriately during stressful situations:  because our inner child has had enough.  Their tantrums and cries of boredom have fallen on deaf ears for far too long, and they will be heard!  They see us, the stressed student, with our bloody fingernails, crescent moon eyes, matted hair from lack of sleep, and old volunteer t-shirts and dig at our weak spots.  They introduce us to coloured paper, pencil crayons, open the biscuit tin, empty the nail polish, roll out the soccer ball, switch on the television, and login to our Twitter accounts.  They entice us with these distractions, calling us to come and play with them.

Come on! I have been so bored, and you have to play with me! Please! Just for five minutes!

And of course, we agree.  Who are we to turn our backs on a child who only wants a little bit of fun?  Who are we, as the parent of our inner child, to deny them the right to play, freedom and exploration for a mere five minutes?

But of course, it is never five minutes.  We all know too well that when a mom promises five minutes, it turns into an hour.  And an hour episode turns into a marathon.  And a marathon turns into a guiltless binge of fanfiction, behind-the-scenes documentaries, director commentary, cosplay and stripping the internet to find the original auditions of Jon Snow and Frank Gallagher.

I took to the streets of the University of Cape Town to find out the true extent to which my fellow undergraduates have procrastinated.  I was taken down some of the most twisted roads, dark alleyways, and sharp corners as I navigated the explorations that my friends’ inner children had taken to avoid submitting assignments, studying for tests and meeting their deadlines:

Student 1 told me that during procrastination, he sits with his inner child to consider the inconsequentiality of his existence.  This was a particularly dark road I was exposed to.   

Student 2 told me that his inner child sits with him to play computer games and that he cannot seem to stop no matter how stressed he feels about his looming deadlines.  

 

Student 3 detailed how she finished the entire Lord Of The Rings and Harry Potter movie series with her inner child in one weekend.  

 

Student 4 found herself being productive during her period of intense procrastination where she wrote out a diet and exercise plan that lasted 102 days, made a rabbit hutch, sewed a dress and joined the gym.  

Student 5 filmed and edited a short film with her friends in order to procrastinate.  

 

 

Student 6 one-upped on his procrastination levels by teaching himself how to bake a cheesecake while simultaneously making a Duolingo account for Japanese.  

Student 7 attempted to write his own version of The Communist Manifesto.  

Student 8 wrote an essay about how much he did not want to write his course essay.  

Student 9 helped their inner child order R1700,00 worth of clothes from Spree.  

Student 10 planned on moving to New York just to avoid writing her test, and even researched apartments in Manhattan that she could afford if she sold all of her belongings.

 

Procrastination is often a taboo topic because we are made to feel irresponsible for straying away from our adult responsibilities and for not having the self-control to say no to distractions.  We are afraid of being seen as lazy and being labelled as immature, or worse, expelled.  Procrastination can, in fact, be a very healthy process to undergo.  Not only are you keeping busy by performing a task, never mind how irrelevant the task is, but you are actually freeing your brain for the moment when you decide to sit down and work at the stressful task, thereby removing all distractions for your next period of intense focus.  The most creative minds past and present, namely Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, have admitted to performing mundane and ritualistic tasks in order to open their minds, and allow their brains to explore their subconscious mind while their conscious mind is focused on something superficial and boring. In doing so, they conjured miraculous epiphanies and ground-breaking ideas by stirring their subconscious, creative inner child.  This inner child ultimately helped them become the geniuses the world reveres today.

Procrastination should be seen as a good thing and can make us become more creative, innovative and fun adults.  Depending on how you spend your procrastination time, that is. Personally, I do not think that cheesecake and a student-revised edition of Karl Marx’s magnum opus will produce the next Einstein.

This article itself became a form of procrastination for me in order to avoid studying for my Psychology test.  I even procrastinated writing this article!  It seems that no matter what us students do, we will never win the war against our inner child.  It seems we should just let them out to be young and free more often than we normally do.  That way, they will not burst out at the most inappropriate times when we really need them to cooperate.  

Or maybe, we are just children after all, trying to navigate our way through this strange and confusing world of stress, deadlines, and seemingly insurmountable pressure.  Maybe our inner child is also procrastinating the daunting task of growing up.  Maybe none of us are truly ready for the unsurmountable pressure of deadlines and tests of life.  In which case, TEACHER, LEAVE US KIDS ALONE!