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FYI, Procrastinating On Schoolwork Impacts Your Mental Health

If you’re a college student, chances are, academics and the pressure to earn good grades can be prominent sources of stress. Often, we’re told that procrastinating in college is harmful, and leaving our assignments to the last minute can lead us to feel more stressed. However, can completing schoolwork ahead of time — as opposed to taking the full allotted time to complete an assignment — actually impact your mental health and reduce stress?

Personally, I like to wait before starting any assignment, since I tend to overthink and stress about it being absolutely perfect. I’d take forever on an assignment if given the chance; however, it’s not ideal for a balanced lifestyle, and working on something for longer doesn’t necessarily equate to productivity or time maximization. When I procrastinate, it’s not out of laziness, but rather, a desire to be efficient — like how doing a 15 minute HIIT workout can sometimes be more impactful than an hour of low-intensity cardio.

While there are varying opinions about procrastination, one thing’s for sure: procrastinating in college can 100% affect your mental health. Here’s what college students have to say, and how to know if your procrastination habits in college are helpful or hurtful.

for some, procrastination means more creativity

For some college students, the time crunch after procrastination may lead to eustress — a type of beneficial, motivational stress that can allow for creativity, productivity and a flow of ideas. Julia, a sophomore at the University of Montevallo, tells Her Campus, “To be honest, procrastinating actually works way better for me. When I start doing things in advance, I get burnt out easily….I work better under pressure.”

Tiyra, a senior at Regent University, agrees. “I know this is going to sound nuts, but I think I make better use of my time when I procrastinate,” she says. “I do the things I enjoy when I want to enjoy them and get my assignments done in the proper amount of time instead of dragging it out for days or weeks. It can get super intense, but I like the adrenaline rush and living on that line.”

In a New York Times op-ed, Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at The Wharton School, explores the correlation between performance and procrastination habits, and cited an experiment conducted by one of his former students. In the study, procrastinators’ ideas were found to be 28% more creative than the ideas of those who did not procrastinate. So, as it turns out, procrastination might be helpful for generating creative ideas —  which may explain why students like Julia and Tiyra perform well under last-minute time constraints. But naturally, procrastination is not going to work for everyone, and there are instances in which it can be taken too far.

for others, it means anxiety

While procrastination might work well for some students, it may lead to increased levels of anxiety for others. One college student, Amanda*, tells Her Campus, “If I procrastinate or am struggling with assignments, it affects my mental health by making me feel trapped and anxious.”

Not only can procrastination spark anxiety for students, but trying to finish an assignment in a hurry can also negatively impact your grades — and lead you to make small, careless mistakes — which can lead to even more anxiety. If you’re staying up late to finish an assignment, this can leads to fatigue and sleep deprivation, which aren’t super helpful for anxiety, either.

Fairley, a senior at University North Carolina Wilmington, prefers not to procrastinate. Like myself, she also tends to stress over her schoolwork being impeccable — however, to combat this, she takes an opposite approach to procrastination and likes to get her assignments done ASAP. “I’m the type of person that likes to get stuff done early,” Fairley tells Her Campus. “I have the mindset of getting things out of the way so I don’t have to think about it again. If I don’t do that, I stress over it being perfect, and that leads me to getting no work done at all. Planning in advance helps me not worry about what I’m doing.”

It’s important to call out that there’s a difference between casual procrastination (in which you pick and choose what you procrastinate on) and chronic procrastination. Chronic procrastination, distress about academics, or lack of motivation can often lead to more serious mental health outcomes such as anxiety, depression, OCD, or low self-esteem. If you struggle with managing schoolwork to the point where it impedes upon your grades and interpersonal relationships over a long period of time, you might want to visit your school counselor or the academic resource center.

finding balance can help

Figuring out how to tackle your academic endeavors is a balancing act, and people on both extremes of the time management spectrum – those who get their work done a week in advance, and those who might write an entire essay the night before it is due – have a lot to learn from each other and their respective strategies. If you want to get your schoolwork done in an efficient and timely fashion — without schoolwork stress becoming the core focus of your life — there are a few practical things you can do.

1. Schedule putting something off

This might sound counterintuitive, but this strategy works great for me and helps me shift my focus to a single assignment (without forgetting about everything else!). On my to-do list, I like to write out what my upcoming assignments are and when I plan on completing them. Try putting off lower-stakes, less weighted assignments in favor of focusing on bigger essays or projects, then make a note of this and set a reminder on your phone so you don’t forget to do the smaller assignments entirely. This can be an effective way of “triaging” your schoolwork in college if you get easily overwhelmed by a large workload.

2. if you can’t focus on schoolwork, find other ways to be productive

Everyone has a different time of day during which they are the most productive. In my case, I’m somewhat of a night owl; I tend to focus on schoolwork best in the evening. But sometimes, my classes won’t start until later in the day, or I’ll have a gap between obligations in the mid-morning or afternoon. I know I won’t get any work done during those times, so I’ll procrastinate – but productively! I’ll use that down time during the day to schedule meetings, shifts at my job, or other extracurricular obligations, so I can still hustle, even if it’s not on schoolwork. Find what time of day works best for you, and schedule your schoolwork and obligations accordingly.

3. Just start!

Sometimes I procrastinate because I psych myself out — I’ll overthink the assignment and become so overwhelmed by it that I become paralyzed. If this sounds like you, remember, getting started is often more difficult than actually doing an assignment! If you’re writing, remind yourself that the only way to write a good essay is to write a bad essay first. Bang out a rough draft or outline, and then come back to it in a day to build upon, refine, and edit the ideas. Your best work might not happen on the first attempt, but you’ll never get there if you don’t start.

If you’re not feeling particularly enthralled with any of your assignments, sit down in a quiet space with the intention of just answering some emails or taking care of other business. Personally, this tactic almost always leads me to start that reading I’ve been avoiding or jotting down some initial ideas for a big essay. College assignments are (obviously) tough, so ease yourself into them.

Everyone has different styles of working and managing their time, and when it comes to procrastinating in college, it’s always good to reflect on whether it’s helping or hurting. Figuring this part out can take a while, so make note of how you’re completing your assignments and start jotting down how you feel. No matter what, though, prioritize self-care whether you start your assignment the week before it’s due, or the day before. College is tough, but you’ve got this!

Sources Julia, University of Montevallo Tiyra, Regent University Fairley, University North Carolina Wilmington

Samantha is a senior at Connecticut College, double-majoring in Sociology and Economics. She is currently the Beauty Section Editor and a National Writer for Her Campus, having prior been a Beauty Editorial Intern during the summer of 2019. She is also a writer and Co-Campus Correspondent for Her Campus Conn Coll. She is passionate about intersectional feminism, puns, and sitcoms with strong female leads.