Dilly-dalliers cured

January 31, 1997

HELP is at hand in Quebec for students who avoid their thesis advisers or cram for exams.

According to Canadian surveys, procrastination adversely affects 40-45 per cent of students. So twice a year counsellor Anne-Louise Fournier of Universite Laval in Quebec City holds a series of workshops to help students understand why they leave until tomorrow what they could do today.

"Procrastinators are experts at getting extensions," Ms Fournier says. She has heard all the excuses for late assignments: from dead relatives, illnesses to personal problems.

One postgraduate avoided her department for two months so as not to bump into her adviser. Students also told her of how their work habits led to incomplete marks and failed exams.

In the workshops of eight to 12 students, the procrastination habit is attacked on two fronts. First, students look at time management and are shown how to establish priorities, set realistic goals and plan their time. Second, they look at the psychological factors contributing to their procrastination, like perfectionism and fear of both failure and success.

The goal is not to cure but to equip students better to deal with their habit. She sees procrastination as a symptom of a greater problem. "It's a defensive reaction. Some people deal with the stress by way of alcohol, others with drugs. And some use procrastination."

Ms Fournier, whose office has been offering the free workshops for five years, says whenever there is a rise in procrastination she tells lecturers to give students frequent small tests.

Procrastinators tend to fall far behind when dealing with big assignments and exams that cover a wide area. The small tests are a way for the student to stay on top of the work, she says.

Although her department does not do any follow-up, students have revisited her office to tell her how much the sessions have helped them. One pulled out a diploma that he said would not have been gained if he had not stopped putting off his work.

Ms Fournier says procrastination is not sufficiently explored in the field of psychological research.

She is planning to write a book on the subject but because of all her work in the counselling office, she has, she admits, been procrastinating a bit.

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