My Lecture on Procrastination

I wrapped up a thirty-seven year career as a full-time teacher in spring of 2013.  One of the things I do not miss about teaching is preaching against procrastination.

Every semester, I would have to address this issue; in fact toward the end of my career [the last 6 or 7 years] I set my classes up to reward people who successfully battled this awful disease.

You see, all my classes were either web-enhanced or online.  That is a term that is so common now but it basically means that assignments are all done at home on a computer, even if students came to campus to hear me pontificate on a subject in the classroom.

Every student is given a course “shell” when they enroll and they can access the class on an online learning platform 24/7, 7 days a week.

Not being a teacher who wants to monitor student activity 24/7, I would open up assignments and keep them open until the end of the semester.  I would announce that they are due on the last day, the last hour of the class.

Guess what would happen.

About 80 percent of the class would procrastinate.   About 19 percent would have enough discipline to deal with their academic work and they chopped away on the class all semester, not waiting until the end to turn it all in in a flurry.  About 1 percent finished early.

That was a thrill.  I would announce that small percentage to the whole class like Dave Ramseyites yelling “We’re debt free!” on his call in radio show.

Why is it that we procrastinate?  Kendra Cherry in her online article entitled “The Psychology of Procrastination” says students overestimate how much time they have left to perform tasks.   My experience is that they tend to be way too optimistic that they can get it done in plenty of time.  Students also overestimate how motivated they will be in the future.  Many have that very wrong.  If you lack motivation to do work early, how do you think you will find the motivation close to the deadline?   Fear kicks in and most of us do not do our best work in fear mode.  Students mistakenly assume that they need to be in the right frame of mind to work on a project.  Boy that is a joke.  This is just making a lame excuse.  If the right frame of mind is not coming early, it won’t come late.

One of the last classes I taught face-to-face, I had a student who stopped by after class when the class was about over.  He was very complimentary of my presentation skills in the classroom but he had a thing or two to say about by computer-based homework.

I will never forget what he said.  “I took this class and the first quarter, I loved the freedom you gave us students to do our work.  How liberating.  No quick deadline.  No monitoring.  At the mid-term mark, I got a little concerned when you sent out the mid-term assessment, when I was close to the bottom in my points totals.  Now I am in a dead panic as I see I have put off all this work until this final two weeks.  Dr. Carter, you have given me all this rope to be free and what I have done is use it to hang myself.”

He finally understood my lecture.

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