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When the clock says procrastination time

As the deadline for this week’s column approached, I struggled to think of a topic. I kept putting it off and putting it off. As I walked out of the library last night, I saw plenty of other students vainly struggling to meet deadlines, as people caved and opened up websites such as Facebook or The New York Times, doodled idly on their notes, or held whispered conversations with whoever was in the next study carrel. As earnestly as we all try to focus, there is always some voice in our minds pulling us in some other direction. And so my delaying tactics gave me my topic: why do college students seem to struggle so much with time management?

My generation is coming of age in a time of incredible freedom--we’ve never had so many choices and so much free time to explore it all. According to a recent article in The New Yorker by James Surowiecki, that freedom alone often leads us to procrastinate. With so many choices in front of us and little idea of where exactly each of them will take us, we worry about the risks involved and delay our decisions. And so procrastination has become a daily ritual in any college student’s life. We live in an environment with only a few scattered deadlines, which makes it easy to push those looming exams and term papers out of our minds until they’re due the next day and panic finally sets in.

No subject is immune. It’s easy to put off studying for a midterm in the unwanted core curriculum course I dread, but after a few months, I’m equally likely to avoid the political philosophy class that sounded so fascinating during registration--why would I want to slog through Aristotle when the Yankees game is tied in the seventh inning? Shutting off technology can certainly help, but it doesn’t stop me from chatting with a roommate, making another pot of coffee, or simply exploring the meandering paths in my own mind.

The solutions to procrastination are not all that unique. If I carefully budget out my time each day and set small goals for myself, I can usually hold myself a bit more accountable. It’s far more rewarding to meet basic deadlines--writing one page by nine, taking notes on chapter three by midnight--than it is to attack a giant project thinking it all needs to be done at once. Economist Thomas Schelling described procrastination as the result of an inner battle between various inner selves--something we can manage, but cannot fully control--nor should we aspire to. There are always times when we need to turn our minds away from the most pressing task at hand and clear our thoughts, if only for a little while. And then we can head back to work, reinvigorated and ready to meet our deadlines.

After we check our emails, of course.

Mike Meaney is a regular columnist for The Georgetown Dish and President of the Georgetown University Students Association. Karl Schuettler, GUSA Director of Communications, contributed to this column.