July 23, 2019 | 67° F

Rutgers professor analyzes procrastination, the battle to curb distractive habits for productivity

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Feeling the urge to procrastinate on tasks or responsibilities may have more to do with distractive habits, like cell phones and social media, that draw an individual’s attention than anything else, says Arthur Tomie, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology. 

The post-study break procrastination that arises after not wanting to complete an assignment may have more to do with distractive habits than anything else. 

Arthur Tomie, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology and the Center of Alcohol Studies, said people tend to procrastinate when they are not prepared to complete a task. He explained how taking the time to think about a task is actually helpful because trying to sit down and start without having any plans is typically a waste of time. 

“To me, that’s not procrastination. You’re putting it off, but it’s for a good reason,” Tomie said.

Tomie discussed how a person’s habits can influence their levels of procrastination. He explained how, as a member of the Center of Alcohol Studies, he typically uses the word "habit" to refer to alcohol and drug addiction, but it can also apply to concepts like cell phones and social media. He defines a habit as something that pairs similarly to a reflex.

“It’s like you have to do this at this time or at this place or in this environment,” Tomie said. “This is something you feel like you have to do and you feel uncomfortable if you don’t.”

He said habits compete with tasks at hand, and in this way, lead to procrastination by getting in the way of said responsibilities. 

“Next thing you know you’re fooling with your cell phone and you’re doing your social media out of habit, and all the other things that you need to get done aren’t getting done,” Tomie said. “The more of these things that you have, the more you’re going to procrastinate.”

Tomie said that sometimes procrastination can be beneficial in that some people work better under the stress of an upcoming deadline, but the result may not always be of the best quality.

Isabella French, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, agreed that sometimes the work she produces at the last minute is not her best, depending on how long she has put off the task. 

“It depends on how bad I procrastinate,” French said. “Sometimes I procrastinate to the point where I really only have a certain amount of time to do something so I’m rushing through it.”

Jonathan Ordonez, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, had a similar opinion. He said that, for him, the quality of his work when he procrastinates depends on the topic he is writing about. 

“If I don’t know jack sh-t about it, at that point, I know I’m probably gonna get a bad grade,” he said.

On the other hand, Ordonez said that working under the stress of an upcoming deadline can sometimes motivate him to put in his best work.

“If I’m very knowledgeable on the topic then I think the pressure kind of makes me want to write my best,” he said. 

French said that sometimes procrastination can be beneficial and that she has stronger focus when she feels the pressure of working last minute. 

“If I’m thinking ‘Okay, I need to get this done,’ then I’m only focused on that so I’m not having any outside thoughts or taking so many breaks,” she said.

Like Tomie, Ordonez and French both pointed out that procrastination is not always so beneficial. This is why Tomie believes that all students should understand how habits influence procrastination and how habits form in the first place.

He said that several habitual behaviors are not productive and often get in the way of productivity, interfering with things that should be getting done. Habitual behaviors can have adverse consequences, which for some means procrastination.

Students who struggle with procrastination can take control by looking at their habits and addressing their root, Tomie said. 

“When something becomes habitual, and it becomes something that you do without thinking, and it encroaches on your other activities because you have to do it, a student needs to think about how that happened,” Tomie said. 

Hannah McClain

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