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Putting the ‘Pro’ into Procrastination

Sometimes I wonder if I chose the wrong degree subject. I’m British, meaning that when I go abroad it’s always assumed that I’m lazy and only speak English, accompanied by pointing fingers and over exaggerated hand movements. In spite of the bad reputation of of our nation’s linguistic skills, I have had a pointed interest in other languages ever since I was kicked out of the French club at primary school (a tragic case of mistaken identity) and I hate to hear that old cliché “but everybody speaks English.” Because of this, since September 2010, I have been studying three foreign languages. I say studying… in theory I am. I’m enrolled on a degree course, preparing myself for my lifelong post-university debts and own an unused library card.  I just about manage to throw together some work before a deadline, usually following an all-nighter with another disorganised friend, taking it in turns to nap for half an hour until an hour before the deadline when the fear begins to set in.  Deep down, I know that, in reality, things would be so much easier had I chosen to study for a BA in Procrastination and not in French, German and Italian.

You know you are a true master of procrastination when you manage to convince even yourself that you’re ‘sort of’ working. My friends are forever telling me that every time DJ Terry plays Stromae’s “Alors On Danse” at the local student pub, it does not count as French revision.  I am adamant that somehow my French is subconsciously improving, despite my level of intoxication and remain a supporter of this innovative learning method.  Charles Dickens called it “the thief of time” and there are whole websites dedicated to procrastination, providing a vital service to students and others who need to occupy themselves in order to overcome the sheer boredom of putting off important tasks.  It’s a widely known fact that during exam period, internet-based procrastination skyrockets.

The act of dragging one’s feet and delaying difficult tasks was discussed by Freud, who wrote about the “pleasure principle” and the “reality principle.”  The reality principle is put into practice when we make the “mature” or panicked, night-before-deadline, caffeine-fuelled decision to sacrifice instant gratification, instead favouring the idea of the long term satisfaction you could gain by completing the task at hand.  This is the part of the mind that makes us think about the consequences of not handing in the assignment, not studying for the exam – the one that gives us a kick up the backside.  The pleasure principle is the idea that instinctively, during the exam period, most students would rather not spend all their time with their head in the books, crying at a desk in a busy library and stressing out about everything that went in one ear and straight out of the other during the year.  According to Freud this principle is controlled by the id, the instinctual drive, who’s just up for a good time, not taking into account the consequences of your actions or thinking about how the here and now could affect the future.  Okay, so that’s the lesson on Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality over, and no prizes for guessing I have a deadline.

It’s truly amazing how much time it’s possible to waste at university, especially when there’s work to be done. Hours rapidly fly by when you’re wallowing in self-pity, complaining about a hangover that’s even worse than yesterday’s. Talking on Facebook and Skype to people who live a stone’s throw away, updating your status just to let everybody know about the sheer amount of work you cannot bring yourself to do are all leading lights in this ‘Procrasti-Nation’ we live in. You’d be surprised how good a friend “Channel 4 on demand” can be and how many series of Peep Show you can get through in a day, especially when faced with the task of writing an essay on the representation of social class in Jean Renoir’s film, “La Grande Illusion.” Or perhaps, most shockingly, when you realise that you have a vast amount of German grammar exercises and a commentary on an Italian novel (that you still haven’t read) to complete, you can suddenly find the time to tidy your room – even going as far as finding out where the hoover is kept and cleaning the skirting boards.

I’ve decided now that enough is enough. This is a new start, a new beginning and a new, productive and organised me.  Here we go… I’m giving up procrastination. Starting tomorrow.

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