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On Procrastination, Productivity, and Burnout 

-Hilda Molsa, MA student from Finland

Closing towards the end of the semester is typically the time when students and staff are feeling the brunt of exhaustment. We tend to work very hard especially in the beginning of each semester, perhaps taking on more responsibilities than we can maintain. As time passes, some of that initial enthusiasm starts to fade out. Perhaps we start to realize we don’t have as much free time on our hands as we first thought. If we are lucky, we can put some of those responsibilities aside and focus solely on whatever is the most important to get through the end of the semester, such as major assignments, exam preparation, or presentations. However, often we still end up overwhelmed.  

In my MA program, I see a cohort of intelligent, devoted students. I also see perfectionism, completionism, and burnout. From previous students, I have repeatedly heard the sentiment of growing so fed up with their theses they don’t want to touch those projects again after graduation. I believe this is partially due to the perfectionist, completionist drive that seems to run through the program year after year. Working until burnout has become a norm. 

I am a procrastinator through and through. While my procrastinating tendencies often make me feel guilty and bad about myself, I think we shouldn’t necessarily view procrastination as a sole bad thing. Academic work is rigorous, but it is also creative. Creative work necessitates leisure. Our cognitive capabilities thrive when we are able to take our minds off whatever project we are working on for a moment and do nothing. “Nothing” is a pretty vast concept in terms of doing things and could mean different things to different people – perhaps it is taking a nap, or taking a walk, or spending time with friends, or laying around at home playing video games. Perhaps it is just sitting outside in the sun (my favorite). Taking your mind off your tasks for a moment can help clarify your thoughts and return with fresh ideas. 

It is somehow easier to feel compassion towards other people than forgive ourselves for procrastinating. We live in a world that values productivity over individual well-being. Although we are seeing some shifts in these views as mindfulness penetrates the corporate world, more often than not we are told to take care of ourselves in order to be more productive and thus more valuable to society. Some of this is true. In order to stay productive, you do need to take time off. However, pressure arises from the end goal: society seems to determine the value of the individual by the amount of work that they are able to produce. But we are not working machines. We are organic beings that experience our beingness through many different lenses – emotional and reactive. Each day is a little bit different depending on a variety of causes and conditions coming together. On some days, it is easy to put in twelve hours of work. On other days, you need to take the entire day to focus on yourself. 

Obviously neglecting all your tasks until your house is on fire is not the way to go. What I’m trying to say is that we need to find balance. This is a challenging task that, again, looks different to different individuals. The baseline is that we need to learn to take breaks. We need to stop burning the candle from both ends and identify the signs of burnout before it’s too late. We need to learn to be compassionate towards ourselves and listen to our needs. Finding this balance will help keep us focused on and interested in our projects. While it is important to see those projects through, it is also important to remember that your productivity does not equal your value. Your project will still be there after your nap or your walk, but recovering from a burnout can take months. So, prioritize your energy levels and take care of yourself. Nobody else can do it for you.  

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