As college students, we’ve all had this temptation. It’s Wednesday and the teacher closes class by passing out your next homework assignment. After you let out an involuntary sigh, you look at the top of the paper and find some comfort: “Due next Wednesday.”
The temptation we all face is to translate that “Due next Wednesday” to “Do it next Wednesday—right before class.” Our inner procrastinator sits on our right shoulder and whispers, “Put it off,” while our inner workhorse sits on our left and shouts, “Do it today!”
As online course students, the temptation is even stronger. The flexibility of online courses often gives us greater freedom to choose when to do our work throughout the week. Sometimes that flexibility is a good thing—opening up time for relationships and extracurricular activities. Sometimes it’s not. For those prone to procrastinate, flexibility quickly turns to neglect, which inevitably turns to stressful last-minute cramming. In either case, flexibility forces us to choose between procrastination and proactivity.
Imagine this scenario: you live on South campus and your friend asks you for a favor. He gives you a heavy package and asks you to walk it to the post office on Franklin Street by next Wednesday. Since one week is plenty of time to carry out such a simple task, you don’t think much of it. You take the package, put it in your dorm, and forget about it until the following week. On Wednesday, you remember your friend’s request, pick up the package from your dorm and take it to Franklin Street.
Now imagine another similar scenario. You live on South campus and your friend asks you for a favor. He gives you a heavy package and asks you to walk it to the post office on Franklin Street by next Wednesday. But there’s one catch. Until you deliver the package, you have to carry it around in your backpack. Even though you have plenty of time to do the favor, you don’t want to carry around the heavy package for a week. As soon as your friend gives you the package, you walk to Franklin Street and drop it off.
When most of us think about assignments and deadlines, our minds turn to the first scenario. If an assignment isn’t due for another week, we can drop it in the back of our minds and forget about it. When the due date comes, we pick it back up and get it done.
But in reality, assignments and deadlines are much more like the second scenario. We can’t actually forget about a task. When we put it off and procrastinate, we carry around stress, knowing that we have to eventually do the homework. The task gets heavier and heavier as the due date comes closer, and it keeps us from doing the things we want to do.
Procrastination doesn’t bring peace; it brings pressure, causing us to carry around the load of unfinished tasks and upcoming due dates. Peace comes from proactivity. When we carry our tasks to the back of our mind, we still carry them around. But when we carry our tasks to completion, we can drop them off and rest.
So when it comes to assignments in your online course, don’t listen to the lie of your inner procrastinator. The workhorse on your left shoulder has better advice.