As midterm season launches, we’re suddenly hit with that icky feeling that is our own procrastination. The more we do it the worse we feel.
But lead author Leonard Reinecke from Johannes Gutenberg University at Mainz, Germany and his colleagues published an article in the Journal of Communication that explored the potential recovery benefits of media use—that is, of using it strategically instead of giving into the urge to waste time and feeling guilty.
“I sometimes procrastinate when it’s an inopportune time to do something,” says Sukina Dharsi, a third-year double major in English and math.
“I’ll watch a movie to kill the time until I’m more productive. For example, if I have an afternoon off, I’ll watch a movie in the afternoon to pass the time until evening arrives. But then something will interrupt the movie, and I’ll pause it, but then I’ll be like, ‘I have to finish watching it tonight and it will cut into the evening time when I’m more productive.’ ”
“It’s like I attack myself,” says Mary Kay Briones, a third-year double major in English and psychology. “I want to relax, but then I’m telling myself, ‘No, you can’t relax, because you don’t deserve to.’ ”
The authors write, “Ego-depleted individuals may be particularly prone to engage in negative appraisals of entertaining media use, perceiving it as an unjustified form of procrastination that, in turn, evokes guilt and diminished recovery effects.”
The study defines ego depletion as a “temporary reduction in the self’s capacity or willingness to engage in volitional action caused by prior exercise of volition”.
“Due to their reduced self-control capacity, ego-depleted individuals show a strong tendency to give in to the desire of using media, even in situations where this desire interferes with other goals such as finishing work or completing other important tasks,” they write.
The researchers recruited participants on a popular German gaming website, 4players.de, and from psychology and communication classes at two universities in Germany and Switzerland. They only analyzed data from participants who had engaged in work (job or school) and had watched TV or played video games the previous day.
To measure participants’ ego depletion, the researchers asked them to use a scale from one (does not apply at all) to seven (fully applies) when responding to the statements “Yesterday after work/school, I felt like my willpower was gone,” and “Yesterday after work/school, I felt drained”.
They similarly measured participants’ perceived procrastination, their feelings of guilt associated with media use, whether or not this media use made them relax, and finally, their enjoyment of watching TV or playing video games.
Reinecke reports that “ego-depleted participants showed a higher tendency to perceive entertaining media as a form of procrastination […] Perceived procrastination was strongly associated with feelings of guilt.”
He goes on to say that a negative view towards entertaining media “reduced the positive effects of media exposure on psychological well-being”.
So if our guilty attitude towards procrastination both makes us more likely to give in to the urge to check Facebook one more time or watch one last episode of House of Cards before studying for a test or starting an assignment, and yet makes us less likely to actually enjoy it, maybe allowing ourselves some controlled media time is the key.
Third-year English specialist Julianna Chianelli says she’s learned that taking time to relax is really important.
“At the beginning of my university experience, I had so much more energy and I would just buzz through things without stopping, like a machine. I feel like by the time I got to third year I was at the risk of being burnt out, exhausted both mentally and even physically,” she says. “So now this year what I’m learning to do, I’m learning to take the time to recuperate.
“It’s within these times when I relax that I actually get great ideas. I find working out actually helps my mind have these spontaneous essay ideas,” she adds. “When I get my thesis, I’m usually writing it down on a napkin.”