Do you invariably start studying for an exam at the last moment? Or delay working on an assignment till the deadline approaches? And, while doing so, do you get stressed out? Or take long breaks when working? You are, if the answer to anyone of these questions is yes, one of the 9.5 students out of every 10 students across the world who is influenced by “student syndrome” (as per a specific research). It is the most prevalent among the several behavioral issues exhibited by students. Associated closely to this term are two other issues namely, stress and slack. Let us begin by discussing what these three are -
Student syndrome: student syndrome applies when students (or people in general) start their duties/tasks as late as possible and waste safety margins, thereby putting themselves under pressure and stress. In simple terms, it is planned procrastination. Parkinson’s Law, which says that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion", talks about how a student would prefer not to complete an assignment/work ahead of schedule even if she/he is capable of doing so. It is in a way related to student syndrome.
Stress: stress, as you would have read somewhere by now, can be good or bad. There exists an optimum level of stress at which performance of an individual will be the best. Stress levels which exceeds this optimum range will result in decreased performance and burnout, while stress levels below this range will result again in decreased performance due to lack of seriousness/motivation. This is where stress is related to student syndrome. When a student recognizes that at the optimum level of stress he/she delivers exceptional results, it becomes a subconscious behavior to purposely delay work until that particular extent of stress is reached. This implies that student syndrome increases during occasions when stress levels are minimal, while the same decreases when stress levels are high.
Slack: the reason why we take breaks during work is to give ourselves some time for innovation. During a break time, an individual is consciously being distracted from the problem, while subconsciously focusing on the issue seeking for a solution. It is imperative to take breaks to allow time for ideas to spur. But, when breaks become frequent and long they lead to reduced performance, because of excessive distraction levels. Slack, similar to stress, has an optimum level. Slack above this point will lead to more interruptions and laziness, whereas slack below the optimum range will result in less time for innovation and eventual hidden inefficiencies. This indicates that high slack will result in increased student syndrome, and low slack will result in decreased student syndrome.
Effects of these three behavioral issues:
Decrease in quality of work: because all the work is delayed and cramped up in a shorter period of time, quality of the work will be negatively affected. Also, the scope for extra research or efforts will almost be absent. Put simply, you may not be able to give your best shot.
Increased risk levels: since the safety margins are clearly wasted because of the delay, any inconveniences or emergencies if occur, may not be addressed effectively. What if you start work and feel sick or your laptop crashes a few hours before the deadline? You may eventually not be able to submit your assignment, while you could have started earlier.
Increased stress levels: we as students are very familiar with how stressful last moment studies are. Stress not only affects the quality of work but also leads to burnout or exhaustion.
Loss of motivation: long breaks and increased procrastination may eventually lead to loss of focus and laziness.
Ways to tackle student syndrome:
Break your task, plan and start off: analyze the problem in hand and break down the whole task into smaller tasks and have a fixed plan. By dividing work into smaller doable chunks will make your job easier and will keep you motivated. And, most importantly, after your plan is set start working immediately! By delaying you will end up falling into the same old trap. Utilize the extra time left to review and polish your work. If you manage to finish off well within the deadline, then chill out and treat yourself, what more can you ask for?
Stick to your plan: this part of the solution depends entirely on your determination. You may feel uncomfortable initially sticking to a fixed schedule, but you will get used to it eventually. Answers to certain complex issues are usually elementary. So, ensure you stick to your plan.
Take adequate breaks: plan your breaks in such a way that you don’t end up spending more time away from work. Let’s say a one hour of work may have a single break of 10 minutes or two breaks of 5 minutes. Depending your style of work, have sufficient breaks and time to refresh.
Just like how stress and slack have an optimum range, student syndrome too has an optimum level and can be controlled for effective results. Since this phenomenon is applicable to human beings in general, and not just restricted to students, immense research has been conducted in the field of project management to control student syndrome among IT employees. Concepts like Agile project management and SCRUM were developed to reduce the ill effects of this phenomenon. The traditional water fall model of development has specific stages for planning execution and validation, with execution phase placed in the end. This resulted in increased student syndrome and slack among employees. Agile methodologies which have frequent phases of execution (usually weekly) and short development iterations have increased stress levels and reduced student syndrome. It’s similar with SCRUM and its short sprints which also allow time for recreation.
Nikhil Murthy is a second year student at IIM Indore and a part of the InsideIIM’s student team 2016-17. He is also a part of IIM Indore’s campus radio and captain of the basketball team. His interests include writing, travelling and DJing.