For a society that thrives on instant gratification, we’ve sure gotten good at putting things off. I used to think that the biggest threat facing society was apathy, but looking at the millennial generation, the real threat emerging is procrastination.
Our parents and grandparents grew up understanding the value of delayed gratification. Frankly, they had no choice. Thirty years ago, if a person wanted to learn the history behind the Emancipation Proclamation, they had to go down to the library and research using encyclopedias. Nowadays, you could get Siri to read you the Gettysburg Address while you’re waiting at a stoplight.
We’ve grown up having a world of information always available to us. We each have so many opportunities to learn and connect with the rest of the world, yet we so often fail to live up to our potential to make a real contribution to society. In fact, we often fail to even accomplish the bare minimum in fulfilling work and school obligations.
For example, writing a research paper for a class used to entail going to the library, finding books, searching for relevant information and ultimately compiling that information from various sources into a cohesive conclusion.
Now, we often take for granted the information available to us. Rather than digging deeper and taking time to think, we tend to wait until the last minute and skim the first five results from Google. The time we could have spent thinking and understanding a complex topic is instead spent tweeting about how cold the library is or pinning workout routines that will most likely never be used.
While social media has made us more connected globally, on an individual level it has created disconnect between our goals and reality. We exhaust excessive effort portraying ourselves in a positive light online, and in the process we can become distracted from actually taking steps to better ourselves.
No matter how many recipes I pin, the only way I’ll become a better cook is if I actually spend time in my kitchen. I can talk about my workout goals, career goals and educational goals on Facebook, but if I spend hours each night creeping pictures of my high school friends, I’m taking that time away from working on my true passions.
It’s not just college students who are affected by procrastination. Look at politicians today. The looming sequestration is the result of months of delayed budget talks. In all of the time spent playing the blame game in Washington, Congress could have at least started taking steps toward fixing the economy.
Instead, we now have democrats blaming republicans for refusing to raise taxes. Republicans are blaming democrats for reckless spending and unsustainable entitlement programs. The American public is blaming politicians based on whatever political fodder they glean from biased news media, and rather than being angry at the petty politics, everyone seems content just to have an adequate scapegoat.
Political procrastination left us without a congressionally approved budget for the last three years and counting, and, while we managed not to fall off the “fiscal cliff,” we’ve yet to see practical economic solutions in place. If the delays keep arising, on March 1 the sequester will cause $85 billion in cuts across the board before the end of the fiscal year in September.
The real problem underlying the nation-wide procrastination trend is a simple lack of priorities. Losing sight of what’s really important is an inevitable consequence of constantly being surrounded by distractions.
We’re living among a generation of people who have been raised taking time for granted.
In my own life, I’m equally guilty of procrastination. Every week, I tell myself that I’m going to write all of my news stories before press night, yet here I sit, working on writing when I could have had my section printed hours ago. I have no excuse. I’m busy, but so is everyone.
So why is it so hard to get things done on time? It often feels like I’m busy 24 hours a day. I’m always doing something for my various classes and student groups, but even with all of that work, I find myself constantly tempted to spend time on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc.
I’ve allowed myself to give in to these distracting temptations so much so that I jump like a well-trained dog every time an iPhone goes off in my general vicinity. Procrastination isn’t so much a choice as it is an assumed part of my day.
In order to get past my procrastination tendencies, I need to get my priorities back in order, and I don’t think I’m the only one. The world doesn’t need more petty distractions, scapegoats and goals that don’t materialize. We need to take a step back, roll up our shirtsleeves, and get to work.