Study Hacks Blog Decoding Patterns of Success

The Danger of Deep Procrastination

February 16th, 2009 · 93 comments

The Mysterious Burnout EpidemicWillpower

Our friend Leena once told me a sad story. It was about an old high school classmate. This guy was a certified math whiz: he took college-level courses while still in high school, then, after arriving at Stanford, jumped into upper-level subjects and advanced research. Somewhere around his junior year, however, his drive began to falter. As Leena recalls, his energy for math mysteriously faded away. He told her, at one point during this period, that he looked forward to surviving until graduation so he could go find a job in banking and make some money.

He wasn’t overworked: he could easily handle his classes. And he wasn’t lonely: he had plenty of friends. Something inside him just petered out.

Leena’s friend burnt out, and he’s not alone. An increasing number of students suffer from this mysterious affliction, which is marked by a sudden, unexpected drop in enthusiasm and academic performance in a once promising student.

In this article, I want to talk about a common cause of burnouts — a cause I call deep procrastination — and provide some understanding for why it happens and how to prevent it.

The Danger of Deep Procrastination

Deep procrastination is not the standard urge to goof off that afflicts every college student. It’s much more powerful. A student suffering from deep procrastination will delay important work to an excessive degree. He won’t start studying until late the night before or will delay paper writing until the sun is about the rise. After a while, he might begin to chronically miss deadlines, and find himself constantly negotiating with professors about extensions. Sometimes it gets so bad that he misses the extended deadlines — failing courses instead of completing the required assignment. No matter how dire the stakes, starting work becomes an insurmountable prospect.

I’ve advised numerous students suffering from deep procrastination of various levels of severity. In all cases, the causes were basically the same:

  • A major and/or post-graduation job aspiration that doesn’t match the student’s real interests,
  • combined with a difficult (though not necessarily unmanageable) workload.

Many students, of course, have difficult workloads. But when the hard work is motivated by a goal that’s misaligned with their real interests, students can develop resentment toward the work. They begin to see the effort required to keep up with their double major or crazy activity load as an intrusion from an outside entity — almost a literal attack on their happiness. Eventually a deep psychic aversion to the work develops, and they find themselves mired in deep procrastination.

This might be what happened to Leena’s friend at Stanford. His entire life, he had been told that he was a math whiz. But at some point, he began to resent the work required to live up to other people’s expectations. Eventually, the resentment boiled over: he was through with math.

Avoiding Deep Procrastination

My advice for side-stepping this problem is both easy to understand and hard to put into practice: figure out what you really want to accomplish at college, then choose your path based on an honest answer to this question.

To help you ponder this prompt, keep the following cautions in mind:

There’s a lot more to be said on this topic. For example, it’s important that you don’t mistake serious mental issues, such as depression or anxiety disorder, for deep procrastination. With this in mind, if you find yourself unable to work, always talk to one of your college’s counselors as part of your recovery effort, just to be sure that something else isn’t lurking. (It’s not a big deal, they don’t bite, and they love when students come in to chat.)

But the most important advice here is to avoid this mess altogether by taking the time to answer, on your own, the important questions about what you’re really trying to accomplish with your college career. After that, do your best to keep your choices consistent with this answer.

It’s an obvious idea. But trust me, it can prevent some serious problems.

93 thoughts on “The Danger of Deep Procrastination

  1. Bonnie says:

    Erm, you need an “S” in your post title. Not to be a jerk, just want to help.

  2. Tiffany says:

    Great post but with this economy many student, including myself, are forced to take on part-time jobs, go to school, in addition to other responsibilities. All of which leads to burn out sooner or later.

  3. Johanna says:

    said like a pro. haha i was in this situation last year (deep procrastination), i was a business major then woke up one day and decided to become major in psychology.. the best decision i made in my life!

  4. Great post, Cal!

    I do believe there is a thing as “deep procrastination.” It sucks. And I’m currently in the process of getting out of it.

    For the last two semesters, I’ve missed countless deadlines, and asked for many extensions…I was miserable. I felt burnt out (even when my schedule was lighter.)

    The reasons for burning out are many, but most go back to me feeling scared that I wouldn’t succeed, that I wasn’t good enough, letting someone else dictate my college schedule, and (which I think is the biggest reason), giving so much of my time to an extracurricular that negatively drained my energy mentally and physically. I felt I was subjecting myself to needless torture.

    It’s been a tough road trying to get back on my feet. It all started with standing up for myself and defining what I want for my future.

    Thanks for always being on the lookout for us, Cal! I hope other students will be sure to avoid reaching this deep of a hole in college.

  5. Jenny says:

    Do you have any tips for battling serious procrastination issues, even when your (meaning my) workload is manageable (six honors classes, high school)?

    I wouldn’t put off a paper after the deadline for weeks, but I generally push it up until the night before and pull all-nighters. Once, I handed in a paper two days late, and it could have been handed in on time, except I really didn’t want to write it, and didn’t have any motivation to push myself to work on it the day after the deadline, which is why it was two days late. I feel like my tolerance for heavy procrastination is increasing, and I wish I had the motivation to do my work. It’s not even that hard… I just feel lazy, like my brain is floating around in a swimming pool or something and doesn’t want to focus. Any tips?

  6. Kevin X. says:

    It appears that I suffered from this very recently, with the exact same symptoms: not starting assignments till it was too late, missing datelines and even extended datelines. I had no idea what was happening, just could not start making them deadlines.

    I have been quite a decent student for the past 2 years, achieving the maximum GPA for the past 3 semesters, but this semester, I seem to be burnt out. I suspect part of the reason was for the death of my immediate family (I live with grandparents – both of them died within 1 month of each other, but that was about 6 months ago).

    Still trying to solve the problem. The semester has ended, and it’s the exam period now.

  7. RT Wolf says:

    I actually failed my first year with that stuff. I took a year off, found psychology as my major (somin I’m interested in) and now take about 60% full course load which leaves me plenty of time for g/f, p/t job, personal projects, friends, etc. I also figured out the thing here:

    http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/

    “Dweck discovered that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.”

  8. Tim Greensgod says:

    Cal,

    Your post here will change my life, and I need to thank you. Like most “smart students,” I’m thick — I’m too rehearsed at defending my decisions (majors, courses, careers) to peers, parents, advisors, and myself.

    On the cusp of graduating (from an elite school), I’ve decided to take a semester off instead of finishing. Burnout. I pointed the finger at some outside factors. But never once did I allow myself to question my choice of major. I knew that I wasn’t enthralled with the workload coming from my major, but I Needed This Stuff. So what if I don’t enjoy the work? No pain, no gain.

    But your 773 words, read over the course of 2 minutes, have convinced me of what no one else could: It’s The Material, Stupid. The more courses I’ve taken within my concentration, the worse my burnout has become. Deep Procrastination. More than ever before. (The details in your description of Deep Procrastination are part of what convinced me: waiting until sunrise, missing deadlines, asking for extensions.)

    How to Win at College got me through the first 2.5 years of college with no regrets. And now you might have saved my last 2 semesters. For that, I am indebted to you.

    Tim

  9. Jessica says:

    Was so relieved to see you post this. I am a new reader, and am struggling with exactly this (halfway through my junior year, I can’t even find the motivation to go to classes, and I’m an honors student getting two majors- two degrees actually, one of which I can’t stand). I would like to see a few more suggestions, if you have them, for those of us with this problem who still have to make it through the semester before we can drop a major or reduce our course load. Thank you!

  10. Jen says:

    Woah, you’ve just ripped the rug out from under me with that article. I am currently doing Accounting because I think it’s “practical”. I’m suddenly examining all of my motives for doing this degree, and every one of them is “practical”. Should I be excited about cracking open a textbook? Aren’t some courses within each degree path inevitably bound to be more “necessary” than “interesting” to each student? I do – suddenly – agree with the importance of connecting with the varied reasons and motives for doing my chosen degree. I hadn’t done that before, thank you. I guess it’s better to get that Mid-Degree Crisis out of the way early, LOL!

  11. supergirl says:

    Any advice on getting your parents out of your life decisions? We pay by the credit hour in this country and the classes you’re taking get listed on the invoice for tuition, so keeping them in the dark has failed miserably.

  12. Peter says:

    As a student in the late-burnout phase, I’d like to hear something on when and how you should just finish the degree out.

    I’m a senior business admin major who knows he doesn’t like business or want to be an exec, but with two semesters left it seems like finishing out the seminars and gen eds which can be effectively procrastinated is better than a complete revamp of my major.

  13. Kayleigh says:

    Cal, thanks for this post. I’m already a few days late with an important essay and way behind with the rest of my essays – I will start writing now. Thank you.

  14. Samantha says:

    Great Post!
    What if the subject is of one’s own choice, the chosen field is which one is truly passionate about, the work that entails with it is what one finds pleasure in, however, somebody else comes along and sucks out all the fun from it? What if somebody turns one’s delight into drudgery?

  15. Study Hacks says:

    E-mail me (author [at] calnewport.com) if you want to talk in more detail about your current DP problem, and if you’re willing to have me post anonymously about some of our conversations. I want to write a follow-up post with some real examples…

  16. John says:

    Good post as well, I also experienced in deep procrastination. I used to be excellent before becoming normal student in college. I thought that is because I am a slow starter, and find out my way to get over it. Today I realized it is from deep procrastination. Pity I already graduated from college, but anyway this information is very helpful, still for me and my brothers.
    Thank you.

  17. Law says:

    This is very interesting. I wonder if it applies post-graduation, because it seems like that’s what I’m experiencing right now. I graduated at the top 3% of my class last year, but I haven’t really pursued (or even started) a career since then.

  18. Robyn says:

    I went through this, in a bit of a different way. I got a job working for a big company when I was 20, that paid well, and was just 10 hours a week. I thought it would supplement my income, and wouldn’t overwork me. I ended up adding more hours overtime, until I was skipping classes and going to work instead to make more money. My workload at school wasn’t overwhelming, but it didn’t seem relevant anymore. What was so great about school if I could make 40k a year at 20 years old? After a year and a half, I left and went back to school, and reevaluated my major and the direction I wanted to go in. I’m much happier now, even though I don’t make much money right now ;).

  19. Lindsay says:

    I know you’re always against double majors, but I don’t feel that they are always the source of deep procrastination. I’m a double major – Psych and English with a specialization in Creative Writing. I I did experience burnout in my English major, because I didn’t enjoy the subject; I had simply stayed in the English major for my Creative Writing classes and the rest bored me. My deep procrastination was certainly not to be blamed for my double major, though. I had hours from high school, so I never had to take summer school or more than 15 hours a semester. Most semesters I only had 12 hours, so my double major did not affect my workload in any way. Though I am a double major and a minor, I deeply enjoy my Psych major and Women’s Studies minor — I have no problems with the procrastination like I did with my English classes. Even in my Creative Writing courses, I never experienced deep procrastination.

    I understand what you’re saying when you consistently advise people to not double major, but I’m grateful I did. Even the English classes I hated did help me with my own writing, which is one of my deep passions. Besides, even though I hated analyzing literature (for school, at least), I do love to read, and I got to read some amazing texts. I feel that I’ve benefitted from having one major. I’m far more well-rounded than I would have been otherwise! Hell, if I had time, I would have probably majored in Women’s Studies, too, to get the chance to take courses in fields I would have never thought of taking myself; that major has courses in departments all over campus, including Anthropology, Cinema and Television, Journalism, Economics, History, Philosophy and Sociology.

    The only thing I regret is that my double major and minor left me with only ONE slot to take an elective (though I suppose I could have taken more when I had 12 hour semesters). I ended up choosing another Psychology course. Go figure.

  20. Nick says:

    Now I just cant wait for AP Calc next year!

  21. Daisy says:

    I so agree about not majoring just to please your parents! :D

    Hi, Cal. I don’t know if you remember me but it’s been a while since I last commented.

    just had time to visit so here I am. :)

  22. RT Wolf says:

    I suggest taking a double major, or at least a very wide spread of electives. I dunno how the system is at your colleges. Use ratemyprof.com to pick only the best profs and take those courses. My grades in a course are now more a function of how good the prof is more than other things.

    For my uni, to get a degree, you can do a specialist, two majors or a major and two minors. I’m doing two majors and i love it. I’m the kind of person that has a semi-deep interest in a number of things. This year is all psych courses, next year will be a combination of buddhism and maybe cinema studies. A lot more fun and reduces burnout for me, IMO.

  23. Jonathan says:

    So, what do you do if what you want to do and what you enjoy are mutually exclusive?

  24. Study Hacks says:

    There are lots of interesting questions and comments above. I’ve picked out a few of the most provocative for replies:

    So, what do you do if what you want to do and what you enjoy are mutually exclusive?

    By definition, that’s impossible. You probably mean “what you think you should do.”

    It’s not even that hard… I just feel lazy, like my brain is floating around in a swimming pool or something and doesn’t want to focus. Any tips?

    Two points. One, read through this post again. If you’re suffering from deep procrastination you need spend some time pondering the question: “why am I a student?” Then, once convinced with your answer, try to align your schedule appropriately. Two, a surprising amount of students discover part of their procrastination is due to some form of attention-deficit disorder. Never hurts to look into this.

    I suspect part of the reason was for the death of my immediate family (I live with grandparents – both of them died within 1 month of each other, but that was about 6 months ago).

    This is likely a major reason! A key source behind DP is a disconnection between work and what seems actually important to your life. Going through such a tough period can certainly trivialize the importance of schoolwork. I would look forward to the next opportunity to take some time off (the summer?) and get back in touch with the big questions of why you’re a student, you’re values in life, etc., and then use this to guide your student schedule going forward.

    Your post here will change my life, and I need to thank you. Like most “smart students,” I’m thick — I’m too rehearsed at defending my decisions (majors, courses, careers) to peers, parents, advisors, and myself.

    I’m very familar with these rehearsed answers — especially from my work with MIT undergrads, who are expert justifiers. Kudos for achieving some real self-insight.

  25. Study Hacks says:

    I would like to see a few more suggestions, if you have them, for those of us with this problem who still have to make it through the semester before we can drop a major or reduce our course load.

    I thought this question important enough to contain in its own comment. It probably deserves a post of its own, but here’s the short answer: What you can do right now is take some time to seriously consider the question “Why am I a student?” Once you have an answer that you believe, you can come up with a plan for future semesters that align with these insights. I think having done this work can significantly reduce the DP for this existing semester, as you see the path before you.

  26. Study Hacks says:

    More comments I found interesting…

    I do – suddenly – agree with the importance of connecting with the varied reasons and motives for doing my chosen degree.

    Right. The key is being clear and convinced about your answer to the question “Why am I a student?” It’s okay if your answer honestly involves learning a practical trade, the key is knowing and trusting that you’re in alignment.

    What if the subject is of one’s own choice, the chosen field is which one is truly passionate about, the work that entails with it is what one finds pleasure in, however, somebody else comes along and sucks out all the fun from it?

    This is incredibly common. I’ve advice two students in the past few days on exactly this issue. Not to sound like a broken record, but the key is to really take the time to convince yourself of your answer to the key “why” question (I won’t repeat it again!). If you believe your answer, it will be easier to resist the influence of others.

    I graduated at the top 3% of my class last year, but I haven’t really pursued (or even started) a career since then.

    I think this issue is different from DP. Take a look at my post on lifestyle-centric career planning — it might help you get unstuck:

    http://calnewport.com/blog/2008/05/21/the-most-important-piece-of-career-advice-you-probably-never-heard/

    I know you’re always against double majors, but I don’t feel that they are always the source of deep procrastination.

    I don’t think they’re always a source of DP. I due think they are often a source of unnecessary stress.

  27. Hmm, I see also some of my (high-school) class mates falling deeper and deeper into procrastination.
    We had to make an essay, and they go to the teacher ‘we have to hand it in TODAY, so we can hand it in on email, before twelve?’
    They are falling deeper and deeper.

  28. Jenny says:

    Thanks. I did look into ADHD, but I’m not sure if I have it. I’ve been focused and disciplined my entire life… but that started to decline at the end of middle school. Now my procrastination is getting worse, and I can’t concentrate on the material. I feel like I could get back into the swing of things if I just had more discipline to actually try to be a better worker.

    But thanks for the post :).. they’re always so helpful

  29. Eric B. says:

    This is a great article. To me, the best point is not allowing others to pressure you into choosing a major. As selfish as it might sound, you have to do things to benefit yourself. By finding a major you truly love and are passionate about, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding deep procrastination.

    Great post!

  30. Stu says:

    I seriously think procrastination is a problem for everyone at different levels. These are some good tips and warnings about it. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we’re procrastinating. Here’s another good resource for how to stop procrastination

  31. Kimberly says:

    This post really hit home for me. For the past year, I’ve felt burned out and unable to motivate myself to do well in my classes. This is my senior year and I should be graduating in May, but I’m not, due to the fact that I withdrew from 3 classes in my major in the past two semesters. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I often wonder how I ever got to this place.

    The sad thing is that I used to love school and I used to be very self-motivated. I was a straight A student in high school and even now, despite my deep procrastination, I have a 3.8 GPA… but all the joy is gone. I have no idea what I’m going to do now. I hope others learn from this post and don’t make the same mistakes I did…

  32. Study Hacks says:

    I have no idea what I’m going to do now. I hope others learn from this post and don’t make the same mistakes I did…

    You can recover from Deep Procrastination! Such recoveries usually follow from: (a) simplification; (b) introducing activities into your life that reconnect your studies with your values.

    It can work. E-mail me if you want to discuss…

  33. rcas says:

    wow..this article sort of defines me. I got suspended from an elite tier one university, simply because of the fact that I was waiting for the innate intelligence within me to take over my coursework and exams. I continuously refused to believe that all the classes I had aced till before entering university were because of the extensive hours I spent studying.I seriously think effort should be lauded more than intelligence, I was burnt out because even though I came from a great family background that supported me completely and could fund my education, I was burnt out listening to others opinions and taking my own emotions too seriously as the focal point of life all the time, I was so fascinated by everything around me in the US because I came from another country, a developing country The fascination and extreme happiness for my new found freedom overtook the boredom that used to make me study before back in my home country with my parents. I found so many other things that I could do, that I did not feel like studying and was very distracted, or in own thoughts at that point, I was more attracted by other interesting things. Studying lost its priority in my life.I knew the consequences and knew what I was doing was wronf and had serious implications, but I really wanted to learn new things other than academics that I felt I could learn anytime I was willing to listen because of the inherent intelligence superiority complex I had.
    However getting over deep procrastination isn’t easy. Deep procrastination is caused because of resentment and living in a society/peers that hides the fact that effort goes further than happiness in the long run, resulting in laziness accumulated over years.As unbelievable as this is, I am seriously happy I got suspended at the right time. It was a wake up call for me to not get carried away by people and getting a hold of my life by being independent in the mong I don’t resent one bit anything that caused me to be suspended. Being overwhelmed by the culture and allowing myself to meet all those new people, and learning to fall in love with humanity in general, was an experience that I felt was worth the bad grades. Life is very short, I think learning to love is more important than any grades.
    The primary reason I’m glad I got suspended was because I gained back my love for learning. When i will return to university in Fall, I;m happy to know that I would be studying out of love for material and respect for professors rather than taking class with friends or doing classes and homework as a means of social interaction. In my words, the time away from university helps to revert back to your personal “good default settings”

    I seriously think that people should respect others who are taking time off or have been suspended. Going through it right now, I can assure everyone that people who are suspended or who have taken time off for a substantially long time(around a year or couple of months atleast) have almost certainly some form of unique wisdom in their life gained over that time off. They most likely are subsequently following their dreams and know how to face bad circumstances and still enjoy life. More importantly, they have a grip over their thoughts and have learnt how to isolate themselves from the trigger that overtly excites or depresses regular people.

    Infact I would even go to the extent to saying that if you think that you can’t do without anything/anyone around you,and are obsessed to anything/anyone to the point you can; or are addicted to something, take months off from college,I know it seems hard to do at first,but believe me it would do wonders in helping you find the direction of your life and make you get a grip of your life.
    Never look down on someone simply because they have been suspended or kicked out for academic reasons or have lower grades in general than you,Chances are that they themselves purposely caused the action so that they got a chance to obtain time off to perfect themselves when they continue studying. Ofcourse people who don’t try or are drug addicts wouldn;t fall under the same category. I am talking about people whose passions lie in another area because they’re burnt out and just need time to sort things out and get back on track and entirely focussed. Perfectionists are the ones who get burnt out the most because they do things perfectly or don’t do them at all.
    More often than not, people who have taken time off to relax, have learnt something in the time off that you in no way can because everyday life is preventing you from seeing beyond what;s obvious and right in front of you.
    I think people shouldn’t be judged at all or given jobs or admission to grad school because of grades, I think their attitude to learning and perseverance as well as passion for the job is what predicts how motivated and successful they would be in their job. It’s all about finding the things you love just the right amount, so that you can love it forever. Lust , hate and jealousy are short lived, but genuine love for a job takes time to nurture and lasts forever :D

  34. RT Wolf says:

    Throwin in a few more ideas: sometimes you need to take time off from school to let your natural interests arise again. I did that and I found myself reading psych books, coming back and doing psych was a no-brainer. It may be tough sometimes, but that year off was the best decision I made and still the best time I’ve had in my life three years later. I did over the very strong objections of many people in my life, so you’d better have a really good excuse if you want to do this but you aren’t.

    Also, sometimes deep procrastination can trigger the feeling of not being smart enough or thinking you’re stupid cause you don’t get whatever you’re working on instantly. You can read about that here:

    http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118000121/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

    About the smartness thing, I wrote about it here:
    http://www.mind-manual.com/blog/index.php/2008/09/28/improving-self-awareness-to-achieve-your-goals/
    A few paragraphs in, I talk about Dweck.

  35. Study Hacks says:

    However getting over deep procrastination isn’t easy. Deep procrastination is caused because of resentment and living in a society/peers that hides the fact that effort goes further than happiness in the long run, resulting in laziness accumulated over years.

    Another way of looking at it, is that you have to find a way to integrate your academic experience as an important part of a happy life. In some sense, this is what the Study Hacks philosophy of “Do less; Do better; Know Why” is all about.

    Throwing in a few more ideas: sometimes you need to take time off from school to let your natural interests arise again. I did that and I found myself reading psych books, coming back and doing psych was a no-brainer.

    A gap year before college can help accomplish the same. I agree, at some point you need the equivalent of going into the woods and figuring out what you want to do — thus providing a strong foundation to the work that follows.

    (Also, thanks for the cool links.)

  36. Emily says:

    Wow…this exact thing happened to me this year. Only I was a senior in high school taking 6 AP’s and filling out my college applications at the same time. Needless to say, my grades were terrible, since I couldn’t work up the motivation to do any work. I still got into a school I really like, but I’ve lost a lot of confidence in my ability to handle the rigors of a difficult academic courseload. Now that I’m heading off to college in a month, I’m really worried that the same slacking off will happen again. I’ve taken care to select courses that I will (likely) enjoy, but whenever I try to think about the big questions like “what do I want?” or “what motivates me as a student?” I still get very confused. Ahh! I really hope my freshman year won’t turn out as bad as last year. I’m thinking that there will be more freedom in college than in high school to choose to do what I really enjoy. Now if only I can figure what that is…

  37. MB says:

    This is an informative article, but I am left with questions.

    What if I choose a major that is challenging, like a foreign language, so that upon graduation I have a valuable skill that can be put to use in any career path? Even if I don’t excel right away in this foreign language, is my interest enough to keep me passionate? Is it enough to have faith that learning a foreign language is priceless?

    Not meaning to dis history or music majors, I personally believe that paying 11% interest to study fun things that I could study for free is hardly going to give me the advantage that learning a foreign language could. What if the subject I excel at is history or choir and I don’t want to major in a subject that will limit my career options? Should I go with what is easy, or should I step up to call of the future and make myself useful?

  38. William says:

    I think the key is to recognize your own ‘stupidity': Where do you suck? Time managment, learning in gerneral? You have to get to know yourself and use that knowledge to your advantage. And then do trial and error: You get distracted easily on your own comp? Go to a library spot that usually empty. Doesn’t work? Try to tell someone about what your about to do/join a study group.

    Speaking of study groups – one of the reasons most people get sucked into this is that they can lie to themselves with no outside checks and balances. They keep up appearnaces and don’t talk about their problems. Especially former star students that never had to consciously think about learning: it might be true that your good at a subject but you might suck at learning. Get over it and start learning to learn.

    It’s in itself so ridiculous: Everyone has problems with something: If you suck at learning and organizing your life, start there. You will quickly find that you maybe even better at the subjects themselves than most others – there is, in my experience, no correlation btw. sucking at learning and sucking at a subject itself.

    So try, try, try. And do what always works: Look at what the best people do, copy it, add your own flavor through doing it, see what works and go on from there.

  39. Olivia says:

    I disagree with the just two reasons behind deep procrastination. They maybe the reasons for some people but the problem is usually deeper than what it appears. This is something I had experienced and it had nothing to with the subject and a lot less with being burnt out. But more with circumstances and what life had in store. And, not being able to accept life’s circumstances or having much power to change them. It’s somethings that hits you hard once in a while.

  40. Mars says:

    Having also recovered from a bout of deep procrastination, I’d just like to point out that these can also be signs of clinical depression.

  41. Natasha says:

    But what about for high school students? I am currently taking an advanced class which is interesting, but the readings/required note taking is a bit thick. I often procrastinate studying and work until ridiculously late. Recently my prefered studying method has been to wake up at 4 am the day of the test and open the textbook for the first time. It’s worked OK though, I guess I work well under pressure. No amount of you have a test tomorrow, have to study now, works. I’ll even do work from other (equally hard) classes to avoid doing this work.

    I like going through practice questions, but actually reading or reviewing notes is a nightmare.

  42. Fernando says:

    May I suggest reading a book called “The Fountainhead” by author Ayn Rand? I found the inspiration and the mental focus Cal talks about.

  43. Sean says:

    Cal,

    Why have students developed the idea that success = impressing their parents/friends with heavy workloads of things that they don’t like? The opposite seems true. Do what you are passionate about –> more happiness –> do well in school –> impressing your parents/friends.

  44. Jen says:

    I’m 31 and a mature student at university. I’ve been academic my whole life (took time out much like rcas mentions) and I’m currently experiencing DP. This though has coincided with me moving home lol, all I can think about is nesting and pottering about my fab new place! I think this is what has caused my problem because I am interested in my subjects and focused on them. Since moving and the whole albeit exciting disruption on the domestic front I’m more interested in making my new home comfy than doing my uni work!
    Ah well, at least I know what the problem is – that’s halfway to solving it.
    Just thought I’d post to offer my experience as another example of what can cause DP ;-)

  45. Titus says:

    I agree, I have seen a lot of my friends struggle in this area because they are not sure if what they are majoring in is really what they really want to major in. When I first entered college I took the same path too, and it ends up wasting a few quarters and almost a year of my life trying to really understand what is it that I want. But later on, I settled for CS and never regretted ever since.

    My advise is this, ask yourself this question

    “If you have a million dollar today, and you basically don’t have to work at all, what is it that you want to do for the rest of your life?”

    This question alone have helped me a lot in seeking what I’m really passionate, not just for pleasing anyone or to impress family members.

  46. Iffy says:

    Thank you so much for this article. What happened to Leena’s friend there is exactly what happened to me in the last 5 years. Twice. All because I didn’t understand any of it and stepped in the same trap again.

    Now I am finally realising that I am not a complete failure and part of the blame can be laid elsewhere. This fall I will start up my University studies again, but this time I’ll be choosing the major I have wanted to study since I was a little kid. Even if that means paying the tuition out-of-pocket.

    I will definitely be an eager subscriber to your work during my studies and onward.

  47. Student says:

    One of the main reasons of deep procrastination if not the main reason is trying to be a perfectionist or aiming to be perfect.

  48. Christine says:

    I found this article extremely helpful! That’s why, although I have an interest in Biology, but hate math, chemistry and am not putting in the effort in my classes, resulting in failing, I must not want it bad enough. DP seems to be my problem. I’ve been in denial, hoping I can find the “passion” again to my major, but this vicious cycle occurs over and over again, until I burn out completely. I’d like to email you to further discuss this. What is your email?

  49. Dan says:

    Wow, this article describes my time in undergrad. I wish I’d seen it as a freshman.

  50. Kareem says:

    I found this article to be very true and refreshing. I personally was pushed to become a doctor while growing up. When I got to college I studied Biology to repare for med school. It was not until my last year in college that I realized what I really want to do, start a business related to helping students. I have been living my dream and even though I am not making as much money as a doctor, I wake up every morning with a smile on my face :)

  51. A. Abua says:

    The engineering thing actually happened to me – took me years to climb out.

  52. Mike says:

    The past half semester has really sucked for me, and I’m just realizing now that DP is why. My major, biology, is something I want to do because I want to work with animals and conservation. Early this semester I got an internship at the National Zoo working with some of the best conservation biologists in the country (and the world, really), but since then my other major, computer science, has been eating up my time when I should have been focusing on bio (Projects > studying for exams). Originally I was just taking computer science because I loved it and thought, “Hey, it can’t be so bad, it’s so easy for me now.” But I realize now that even though I love it (and I still do), its higher level classes are too time consuming. Majoring in a hobby is stupid. It’s not something I want to do for the rest of my life, so I should back out of it before it eats more of my time — time that I should be devoting to bio and becoming awesome at it. Thanks for helping me see this before it was too late. Now only one semester sucked, rather than the next four. I owe you one! Well, many actually, because this isn’t the first post that has changed how I see my education and lifestyle.

  53. Mia says:

    So… is there a way to recover from a burn out? I can’t seem to find any motivation for this course I’m taking, it’s awful. :\

  54. Marco says:

    Cal,

    First of all, you are truly a person I look up to. I remember reading your book in high school and I felt like I was going to be a superstar in college. When I entered college I tried to be on top of things, like every other college freshman. I guess I was not as bright as I though I was and I took a small hit, but it was not a problem.

    I realized that I have a problem with procrastination. I am driven but when it comes to doing the task at the moment, I lack enthusiasm. I feel like I daydream too much. I set goals that are not realistic. I became so burnt out the past two quarters( I’m in the quarter system) that my grades took a bomb downward.

    What advice would you give me? I don’t know how to start getting back on track. I feel lost and when I go to sleep I do not feel accomplished.

  55. Crystal says:

    I’m just reading your “How to be a Straight-A Student” and I came across your blog. Is it even normal to experience this as a part of “senioritis”? I can remember recently letting my astronomy grades slip so much (by missing assignments) that by the end of it I just did all of the major assignments just to kill my 57%. Thankfully my teacher was lenient and gave me back most of my credits, which bumped my grade back to an A, but that was a serious scare. Now that school’s out, I’m still not over it. The prospect of doing anything is horrific to me, even household chores or things that I enjoy, like TV, practicing my music or reading books I love. I’d rather stare at a wall than watch TV. It’s rather depressing. All throughout the school year, I felt like I was drowning and somehow still pulled high honors but after college results came out I just went under. My ADHD has given me a lot of trouble during high school (untreated) and I can’t even think about going to college without getting depressed that I’m going to be stuck in the same loop, despite getting into quite a prestigious one. Starting papers at 2 AM, sleeping for 3 hours consecutively for a week, or unable to do even a simple assignment worth 15 points that would have taken 15 minutes, are no stranger to me. Everyone gets senioritis, I get it, but mine is just overblown. I feel physically and mentally exhausted now that graduation is near.

  56. Bill says:

    This hit really hard these past two quarters. I am a bioengineering major and freshman cannot take biology or bioengineering classes because we need intro chem and physics. I honestly gave up on my classes. I hated them because they required so much time and effort to master and were both extremely dull. I used to be intrigued by my classes and I used to love almost everything about them. Now, they’re a burden and a huge time suck. I just want to go back to being excited about learning. Can I really blame this feeling on the classes I am taking? Or is this something that runs more deeply within me?

  57. Maria says:

    WOW! The example in this article is almost a COMPLETE copy of my situation.

    [BE WARNED, THIS IS A LONG POST, SORRY!!]

    In high school I was one of the top 5 in my school, I had a great GPA, worked hard, was involved in school, and had aspirations of college. I got into UC Berkeley so I did good on that lol. However, I was always conflicted though over what I wanted to major in, and if I really wanted to pursue becoming a doctor in the future. I used to want to be a doctor really badly when I was a child, really badly…but once my family started to say stuff and assume I would be going into medicine as it is good and earns good money, I got confused as to if it was THEIR guidance that made me want to be a doctor, or if I genuinely did still want to. I am a bit of a rebel, so in this case it worked against me as I lost my motivation for medicine thinking it was a push rather than my own decision.

    Anyways, I wasn’t sure what to major in, nothing really held my interest. I went into a major that I don’t really care for and am not passionate about, Social Welfare, because it was open and the classes to fulfill it are VERY BROAD in terms of subject matter [econ, poli schi, psychology, anthropology etc], which I liked a lot.

    Deep procrastination hit me in my 2nd year, and HONESTLY, I still have it. i was taking classes for my major and pre-med classes, both of which I did not really care for, and as a commuting student I was not able to participate in campus life nor make many, if any, new friends. THAT I think is another thing people should do, get INVOLVED in some way at campus so you have at least some motivation.

    My procrastination is BAD. I have even had to stay an extra YEAR to retake classes and try to finish all sorts of incomplete grades, some of them have already lapsed into F’s. Some got extensions but I missed those deadlines as well so I got F’s. My GPA has suffered SOOOO much, I am ashamed to tell anyone in my family about it. They don’t know and I really hope they never will. I have SOOO many regrets, and if given a second chance I wish I honestly could just REDO all my college years….alas that won’t happen. I have to accept the past, look and analyze what I should have done differently, and then TRY TO CHANGE from there.

    It is NEVER, never an issue of the work being too hard, it’s easy enough. It always, ALWAYS has to do with my MOTIVATION to even START something. I have completely lost it in college. I had it in high school and I don’t know how to bring it back…I would even prepare myself and give myself time to write a paper or complete a reading, and then I would end up wasting time on frivolous stuff.

    At this point in my life, I spent an extra year in college that my friends around me don’t even know about, I totally lied to them and said I had a part-time job. I have lied to a lot of people about this and I feel really bad. My parents know, but they don’t know WHY I stayed an extra year….

    IN CONCLUSION: I have ZERO motivation to do stuff. My brain just feels really lazy and I have a lot of self-hate and depression going on as a result. I have graduated with a degree I don’t care for, and have STILL not figured out what I want in life. This is bad LOL.

    I learned my lesson WAY TOO LATE on how procrastination could go from a once in a while thing to a lifetime embracement…I just hope I get out of it.

    First thing is first, try to find the motivation to look for a job…LOL

  58. Maria says:

    ^^^

    Oh, just to add, I agree with Bill’s comment above mine.

    I ended up getting turned off from medicine from all the science classes as well the mentality of some of the students who would be very selfish and not wanna help others learn [basically UNKIND human beings] or would even hinder them if they could. It disgusted me.

    I used to LOVE learning, and I actually LOVED math and science as well. But now I am completely over it, I don’t really care for any of the science and math subjects I used to love. I wish I did…Now I’m just bored and uninterested.

    UNINTERESTED, that is the worst thing a student can be…

  59. Jennifer says:

    Hi Cal!
    I am currently a junior in high school, and I have found the tips on your blog extremely helpful, since my grades are improving. However, I do think I have some serious “focus/concentration” issues, according to my Bio teacher. Whenever I’m studying for a test or writing an essay, my mind completely wanders off and I just lose my focus. I’ve tried everything (even pinching myself) but nothing works! Any suugestions as to how I overcome my bad habit?

  60. Cara says:

    wow, this describes me right now

  61. Cara says:

    I feel like such an idiot. I choose to major in biology, a subject i intially liked in high school but now dislike in college. I mean, I do like studying it most of the time but i did job searches and nothing seemed interesting. It’s only now i discovered there’s a difference in studying something and getting a job in it. I’m a biology major who doesn’t like lab work or research. That’s pointless cause that’s what biology is. I discovered this halfway through my degree but continued because i was already in two years and i figured i might as well finish. At the same time, I discovered what i really wanted to do all along: art. I always liked art but never thought i was good enough and thought bio would be more practical. I was so close to switching over but logic convinced me that i should finish a bio degree since i was already 2 1/2 years in. And i guess disappointing my parents was also a reason. So now here i am in my fifth year about to graduate and i’m going to fail one required class. Well, I guess i won’t be getting that $25,000 piece of paper that said i accomplished something. I don’t really care either. It’s like rounding: a small part of me cares but most of me doesn’t so therefore i don’t. I feel like an academic psycopath, i just don’t care anymore. I know i should study but just can’t. I just start crying when i do math homework because it’s literal pain for me and i hate it. But then when i finally do manage to find some studying time it doesn’t amount to much because i still fail! Nothing i do works! How are you suppose to stay optimistic when you get the same grade studying as you do when you don’t study??? T And then that leads me to i spiral deeper down into a void that i’m already in. It’s a constant negativness all the time. I feel slightly better knowing that this is an actual term because i was feeling real stupid and useless. I can’t wait to escape…even if it means through failure.

  62. latecrasher says:

    Procrastination and lazyness has pretty much ruined my life.

    Like many procrastinators, I was one of those smart kids who never needed to study up until the end of high school. I recently met again with a childhood friend who recalled with amazement how i never, ever studied. My mom tried to warn me while we were growing up that lazyness was dangerous but it seemed more convenient to not listen to her at the time.
    Fast forward to university. Without stressing too much about it, I got admitted to one of the top 3 schools in Canada in science. My serious problems started. At the school I went to, I was still somewhat above average in smarts but I was way below the norm when it came to conscientiousness. I started to fall behind on the necessary work. Once in a while I’d find motivation and do absolutely great. It’d never last a whole semester though. Because I was smart, I could still manage low Bs and Cs while doing everything at the last minute. I’d foolishly take pride in the fact that I could still pass the class while studying at most 1h per week. But Bs and Cs weren’t what I was used to. I was a smart kid and that was the only thing I knew how to be. Since I wasn’t getting good grades anymore and i just couldn’t put myself to work, my self esteem took a nosedive. I eventually failed out of the physics program at McGill university. I deeply regret it because had i stuck around, I’d have not only enjoyed a great education but I’d have gathered an incredibly accomplished peer group.
    I worked at lame, unskilled jobs for a few years. I put off finishing university for a few years. I finally found the energy to go back in math at a lower ranked school. Not much had changed about me so I pretty much procrastinated my way through my degree. Granted, I did work a little bit harder that time. I graduated with a decent but utterly average GPA.
    I think I was still smart because the classed where I got the best grades and that I enjoyed the most were the most challenging math classes where I was able to find :
    1)a student i studied together
    2) a teacher i discussed the class with regularly so i had to keep up
    I’m still struggling with lazyness and procrastination.
    I’m doing some professional examinations in which you have several months to study for a test. These examinations cannot be crammed for in a few days. Yet i foolishly waste money registering for those tests and then not alloting the recommended time to study for them. In the 3 or 4 days before the test I typically put in 10hrs of study or so per day but that’s never enough.

    I hope most of you find a solution to that problem sooner than later like me. My life isn’t over yet but procrastination and lazyness has pretty much ruined my 20s and 30s.

  63. latecrasher says:

    sorry for the formatting in the comment above. i was expecting a preview before submitting.

  64. Sara Carbone says:

    Procrastination is a serious problem for kids in high school – and can just continue to be an issue going into college. Your post stresses the importance of really taking the time to identify what you are aiming for in college, what drives and interests you. However, I find that a problem for many high school students (I am a tutor) is that inherent to primary and secondary school is that you do what you are told, in the way others want you to do it. Your own goals and interests are not usually clarified and affirmed. It’s a serious problem, as this sets many students up for your “deep procrastination” then and in college. A key piece of my tutoring tends to be identifying kids’ goals and trying to do some activities that center around their own passions. It helps them find some kind of internal motivation. schoolnuggets.com

  65. Vivek Shukla says:

    Man u have described my current state exactly!!!!
    I was an ace student of my school and was always among the top 3
    i secured 94% in my 10th finals(INDIAN SCHOOLING SYSTEM)
    i opted for PHYSICS CHEMISTRY and BIOLOGY as major subjects and by the end of 1st semester i was at the stage of burnout
    in the second semester i failed to submit assignments and missed deadlines which eventually landed me in failing and repeating another year this is very shameful for me

    in fact i opted to cheat in my tests instead of studying which lead to devastating results i was caught and now my life is totally messed up

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  67. Dwayne B. says:

    Something that may also be going on is the person setting themselves up for relief. Relief is a huge powerful emotion and nothing feels quite like it when you have put off and put off things to there is this huge pressure then you can just drop it because you are so overwhelmed that you’ll never catch up. The last day for dropping a class is an example of how this works.

  68. Raquel says:

    Thank you Cal, last semester I listened to your advice on this post and it revived my motivation.
    But I didn’t change my major, and now it’s more than deep procrastination, I simply stopped believing that my happiness had anything to do with completing this course.
    I’m not even worried about going to class or my grades. It’s liberating but I’m on my last year, and if I give up now my parents will never forgive me.
    I’ve asked so many times for a sign of what I was to do with my life professionally and now that I know what not to do, and that I’ve realized that I have to be brave and trust in the unknown, I’m actually trying to convince myself not to do it, but it feels so right and so me. And I’m not scared of going, I’m afraid of being free.

  69. Mari says:

    You know… Those points you wrote to “Avoiding Deep Procrastination”
    lead me to think “if not these, then what? follow *our passion*?

    A lot of us choose to major in something because we either had a head start like the math kid, or we didn’t know our passion and picked something where we thought we reasonably could put a lot of work in (even if it was suggested by others or looked practical) and thought we will come to like it after we learn to become competent at it.

    If you want to say , follow your interest, its same as follow your passion.

    I am not sure what the take-away from this article should be then.

  70. May says:

    I just came across your blog, and wanted to say thank you so much for your articles. Deep procrastinating is exactly what I’ve been struggling with for the past month, and fortunately, it feels like I might be able to figure out a new way out of this ditch from your blog. Thanks.

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