Campus - 05.09.2016 - 00:00 

Procrastinate better

Procrastinate. A difficult word, but easy to do: things to do are postponed, deferred, put off. Procrastination is particularly common among people who work very much on their own, i.e. also among students and academics. How can we best deal with procrastinitis? An article by Dana Sindermann.

6 September 2016. The daily schedules of students and academic staff are often booked solid: students go to lectures, do their homework, job on the side and work on a project to boot; faculty prepare classes, write up their research, work on a practical project and attend a handful of meetings.

Allow for doing nothing

"If you have planned your day to the last minute, you should set aside an hour for procrastination," says Florian Schulz. He is in charge of the Counselling and Psychological Services of the University of St.Gallen. His appeal should also be understood as a countermovement to the comprehensive trend of self-optimisation, for he and his team have observed that doing nothing, just simply hanging around, is something that many students and faculty fail to allow for.

"Many people who approach us in search of advice have very high demands," says Mark Laukamm, who is also on the staff of the Counselling and Psychological Services. People often had an economic notion of daily schedules. "They draw up a kind of project plan for the day, along the lines of 'there are 24 hours in day, during which I’ll have to do so and so much'. They impose economic thinking on themselves but fail to fully take into consideration that every task requires attention, and this is an exertion for body and mind. You can’t deliver constant performance all day long. There’s bound to be a slump sometime, because we can’t do without breaks."

Mark Laukamm’s colleague Katharina Molterer approaches highly ambitious people with an initial offer of appreciation. "Many of them then have an aha moment: 'Well yes, that’s true, actually I do quite a lot as it is…'" Subsequently, in three or four meetings, their own demands or image of themselves will be balanced out, and priorities will be set.

Crises caused by procrastination

However, the Counselling and Psychological Services team are also aware of cases where procrastination leads to serious personal crises. Cases in point are students who still have to earn 50 credits just before the end of the standard period of studies, candidates who pretend to be writing their thesis but permanently distract themselves with their mobiles in the library, doctoral students or post-docs whose thoughts are everywhere but on the specialist articles they should be writing urgently.

In the academic sphere, in particular, procrastination appears to be a well-known phenomenon. There can be structural reasons for this, says Mark Laukamm: "In academic life there is one qualification hurdle after another, i.e. Bachelor’s thesis, Master’s thesis, doctoral thesis, habilitation thesis, and the project must be pushed through somehow or other. Demands are high every time and get higher and higher." So there are always new, big challenges looming which people must cope with on their own. Florian Schulz agrees. He can see that procrastination is often caused by a mixture of extremely high demands and helplessness."People don’t have a clue how they can meet these demands, what they have at their disposal and what resources they have to achieve what they want to achieve. And because the demands are so high and they don’t know how they can cope, they switch to avoidance mode."

Actively overcoming avoidance

What is important, he says, is to find a way out of powerlessness and to actively overcome avoidance. A good strategy in this respect is to start off with small doses. "You start off with five minutes and then increase the time. It also helps to discuss the issue with others because a sense of shame often preserves avoidance." The team of the Counselling and Psychological Services supports the University’s students and faculty individually with regard to procrastination.

There are further contact points at the HSG:

  • The Counselling and Psychological Services provide the University’s students and faculty with extensive support in their psychological concerns, also with regard to dealing with procrastination.
  • The Writing Lab offers students and faculty coaching sessions, advice and professional support with regard to individual writing processes.
  • The Career & Corporate Services (CSC) advise students with regard to all questions concerning career planning and people’s entry into professional life.
  • The Young Investigator Programme supports young researchers with regard to issues such as the establishment of competencies beyond specialisation, as well as questions and conflicts that accompany the qualification stage and career planning.

The author, Dana Sindermann, is a research assistant at the Institute for Business Ethics.

photo: Mr. Nico /

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