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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

The Internet Explorer: Social media and the fall of productivity

JENNIFER WU/ AGGIE
JENNIFER WU/ AGGIE

garcia_opAs I’m writing this, I’ve probably watched 10 YouTube videos and compulsively checked my Facebook feed three times in the span of the last hour — all before eventually slipping down the rabbit hole that is Tumblr. Maybe another hour will pass before I resolve to start my essay or study for my upcoming exams. I’ll probably devote five minutes to these more urgent tasks before I check my Facebook a fourth time. They say the first step is admitting you have a problem, and believe me, I know I’m procrastinating by spending way too much time aimlessly wandering around cyberspace. I suspect the same of many other college students.

The most striking feature about my bad habit is that, as I’m clicking on another Kardashian-themed Buzzfeed article, I’m relishing the fact that I’m putting off responsibilities. It sounds weird, but I experience a sort of thrill when I’m stalling online, despite having pressing deadlines. I find myself wondering if people’s tendencies to procrastinate have worsened with the emergence of social media. And I also question whether I could be purged of this bad habit. If so, how?

According to a 2014 study conducted by Stop Procrastinating, a productivity app, social media is the largest source of procrastination among American undergraduate students. The study showed that 51 percent of students admitted to losing at least one hour of productivity a day to social media and internet-related distractions. And about 44 percent of these respondents were worried about the diminishing quality of their work. This same study quoted participants’ thoughts about social media use as a form of procrastination.

One of them said, “If I could change one thing about myself, it would be [my procrastination habits]. At this point, I think telling someone to stop procrastinating is about the same as telling someone to stop being depressed. That’s just not how it works.”

Another participant offered a different opinion: “I don’t see the Internet as the direct cause of procrastination. A lot of it is just wanting to enjoy oneself.”

Given these opposing conjectures, it seems as if one’s opinion towards social media as a form of procrastination is contingent upon one’s personality and, more specifically, one’s self control.

Personally, I have poor self-control. Tell me that I can’t watch another episode of Friends before I finish an assignment, and I’ll wager that I can read effectively with the show in the background. But more likely than not, I’ll be completely engrossed in my tenth viewing of an episode than by the assignment that I’ll eventually resolve to read the morning before class.

Self-control, as I understand it, is a psychologically rooted mechanism predicated upon one’s brain chemistry and long-standing habits. Rather than succumbing to immediate impulses, self-control allows us to plan and evaluate alternative actions. Ultimately, by practicing self-control, we can refrain from doing things we’ll regret. If we want to increase our willpower to diminish our procrastination tendencies, there are a few things we can do.

We must first understand that self-control is a cognitive function that involves conscious and purposeful decision making. In an effort to overcome procrastination, we must adopt a goal-oriented mindset that allows us to follow through with our plans. Having an itinerary is good place to start, but more importantly, we must be more assertive in the language we use to motivate ourselves. For instance, instead of “I should finish this paper,” one should say, “I’m going to finish this paper.” I know this inner dialogue sounds cheesy and similar to many time management tips you may have heard before, but I’m willing to bet that many of its skeptics knock it before they try it. Alternative steps to improving self-control include meditating, engaging in longer sleep, exercising and adopting a more nutritious diet. These options are worth trying if your goal is to discipline yourself. In the end, you stand to gain self-improvement in not just the mind, but the body as well.

I don’t pretend to have a command over the topic of self-control; I’m the queen of compulsive behavior and just a really cynical person. I mean, I actually had to Google these suggestions. But that’s beside the point. The point is that when it comes to self-improvement, no solution, large or small, is trivial. We must take a step back when considering our procrastination habits and actively prioritize our goals and desires. Reading a Kardashian article is not worth flunking that essay.

You can reach Jazmin Garcia at msjgarcia@ucdavis.edu.

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