Columns, Opinions

Richardson ’20: Pinpointing procrastination

Staff Columnist
Thursday, April 6, 2017

According to my friends, I was nowhere to be found first semester and practically non-existent up until this point in second semester. No group work. No kickbacks. No parties. No drama. Apparently, when we returned from spring break, they were downright shocked to see me. I was the epitome of the student who took as long as possible on assignments, even if that meant cancelling on my friends a few too many times. Though they often wondered how I spent my time, I felt best when I invested in being a college student: a life which consists of a lot of long days and long nights.

A conversation with my friends stands out in my memory. Three of us were at a men’s soccer game talking about classes and the homework we had to complete before the coming week. One of my friends said, “I have four assignments due this Wednesday. All of them were assigned last Wednesday, and I haven’t started any of them.” While my group of friends started laughing, I stared at him blankly. An older man sitting behind us commented, “You need to do your work,” and walked off, disgruntled. A few nights later, around 7:30 p.m., I was talking to another friend who mentioned having a six-page paper due at midnight which he had not started.

Why are stories like these so common at Brown? I tend to interpret this phenomenon as a kind of destructive competitive impulse, where people strive to do better than others while doing less. Studies have shown that procrastination stems from being forced into a challenge that we feel unprepared for, which results in “self-handicapping,” or deliberately doing things that set us up for failure. Echoes of this explanation sound in my mind as I think of Brown students. I find that we have a tendency to over-achieve in everything we do. The stress created when striving to attain “good” grades leads us to procrastination. Perhaps Brown students purposely wait, even subconsciously, until the last minute so that they can provide excuses for an undesirable grade, in an attempt to mitigate the constant pressure to get a 4.0.

In a piece in the Atlantic about the psychological reasons for procrastination, Megan McArdle argues that a procrastinator’s tendencies are overcome only when their “fears of turning in nothing eventually surpasses their fears of turning in something terrible.” When we suppress our fear of failure by procrastinating and thus make excuses for work we recognize as insufficient, we act contrary to what it means to be a Brown student. Where is the confidence and pride in our work we demonstrated on our Brown applications? Of course, getting it all done can be much harder than we ever imagined. But we were each accepted here for a reason — we have the ability to produce work that we can feel proud of, if we put in the time to do so. At a college that provides us with so many unique academic opportunities, it is important to maximize every minute of our time here at Brown.

This is not to say that we should be robots who solely focus on the completion of academic responsibilities — a balance that many here struggle to strike, myself included. Rather, engaging in truly gratifying activities without worrying about returning home to complete an assignment that is due at midnight is far more fulfilling than anything procrastination has to offer. Time management is not easy to master, but it is a critical tool that will be used daily, especially once we graduate from Brown. With the close of this semester approaching, I encourage you all to set aside your fear of failure and procrastinate your tendency to procrastinate: Postpone procrastination so much that all of your work is completed during the time that you usually spend putting off the actual assignments. Instead of waiting all day to start something, start it so you have all day. Reframing your perspective on deadlines is the first step in emerging from the abyss of procrastination.

Randi Richardson ’20 can be reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and other op-eds to