The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday September 23rd

Column: Procrastination is perfectionism in disguise

First-year Jade Henderson studies for her upcoming Intermediate Written Chinese midterm in Davis Library on Tuesday Feb. 25, 2020.
Buy Photos First-year Jade Henderson studies for her upcoming Intermediate Written Chinese midterm in Davis Library on Tuesday Feb. 25, 2020.

As the semester winds down and finals are closing in, so does a seemingly inevitable wave of student procrastination. We seem to avoid work more than ever during this academic season, despite it being the time when we have some of the heaviest workloads of the semester.

So where does this procrastination come from, and more importantly, how do we stop it?

The stress of major exams and semester-long projects just rounding the corner is enough to overwhelm even the most confident student. And in an academically rigorous environment, such as UNC, the fear of producing inadequate work sometimes leads to an aversion to the task at hand.

In other words: perfectionism leads to procrastination. Procrastination does not mean you’re lazy — more likely, it means you’re invested in the work you produce and fear it might not live up to your standards.

When we are afraid our work will not be as good as we want it to be, we avoid starting our essay, project or studying to push off that feeling of inadequacy. This procrastination inevitably increases our stress when we do finally start the assignment — and oftentimes yields less than ideal work. 

During finals week, the pressure to perform is at its peak, and thus, so is our procrastination.

However, there is a solution. Shifting one’s mindset is the first step to stopping the perfectionistic procrastination cycle.

One reason perfectionism is so common in high-achieving environments is the tendency for students to equate their academic success and their value. However, your worth is not limited to your GPA, and you are valuable beyond your academic accomplishments. Therefore, imperfect work does not negate your worth. 

Remembering this is the key to making overwhelming tasks feel more achievable. A fear of failure is less scary when we remember our successes don’t define us.

With so many academic, social and work-related obligations nearing an end this semester, it’s important to maintain balance. Hanging out with friends is incredibly important for social and emotional health, doing your laundry is undoubtedly essential and taking an extra shift at work is great — but oftentimes, these activities are hidden ways of procrastinating the thing we really don't want to do. 

Being able to recognize which areas of your life are the ones you procrastinate most will help you maintain a more balanced schedule and feel fulfilled in all areas of your life. 

Finally, it’s important to recognize when it’s time to shift your expectations. As college students, we juggle a lot of work (sometimes all at once!), and delegating and prioritizing assignments is inevitable. Therefore, having the same level of excellence for every assignment is nearly, if not entirely, impossible. Recognize when your expectations need to shift and what objectives deserve most of your attention. Sometimes, a good paper is simply a finished paper.  

Stopping the procrastination cycle might seem impossible. After all, it takes much more energy to break a habit than to form one. However, reducing procrastination is both important and achievable.

So, go into this finals season knowing your value and prioritizing your needs. You may find yourself feeling a little more in control of that procrastination urge.

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