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CMU students’ work ethic battles online distractions

Zhong Liang starts procrastinating every 10 to 30 minutes, because every 10 to 30 minutes he gets a coding error. As a sophomore electrical and computer engineering major, he gets a lot of these errors, which leads to a lot of time procrastinating, which leads to a lot of time on Facebook.

This is a familiar story for many, especially at Carnegie Mellon, where work abounds in various forms: papers, midterm exams, projects, etc.

For Terry Zhou, a first-year math major from China, the way Chinese students take notes in class is different — they use only notebooks. But at Carnegie Mellon, Zhou mainly uses his computer. To really focus, he prints notes for class to avoid distractions. When asked if it’s better that students use laptops less in China, he said, “I think I use my laptop too much; I prefer to print something out and read it on paper, especially if it’s really hard and requires concentration.”

Zhou’s form of procrastination is spending time on Facebook. When he feels like he has spent too much of his time on Facebook, he disables his account, only to re-enable it a few days later.

In contrast, there are people like Matt Chabalko, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, who spends upward of four hours simply surfing the Internet. Explaining that he is most productive under pressure, he sums up his work ethic and life philosophy: “If it wasn’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.”

Then there is the exception to these rules — someone like Lizzy Madden, a senior in public policy. She works on assignments that are not due for two weeks. She said, “I usually do other work that’s not as pressing instead of doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

She explains that her method of focusing is to change her study location often. In the transition from high school to college, she realized that she needed to use resources that would help her work consistently. She said, “I found that going to office hours stopped me from procrastinating.”

Carnegie Mellon’s Academic Development center recommends moving around for 15 minutes for each hour of work to increase efficiency. Students are affected by their physical locations, the people that surround them, and their state of mind. Often, students like Madden, who have conscious realizations on how to eliminate distractions and use resources wisely, are most productive, according to Academic Development’s Fast Facts on Procrastination.

Zeynep Koraltan, a sophomore business major, calls her friends and family. S.J. Tanzer and Fiona Ryder, sophomore vocal performance majors, spend time talking to friends. Others, like fifth-year senior physics major Josh Tepper, seek out stimulation from other sources. He says that when he’s not finding fulfillment in his work, he tries to find it in other places, such as the New York Times homepage or on Facebook.

The solution to procrastination might lie in combining these seemingly opposite ideas: working with other students to satisfy a need for social interaction, while moving closer to tasks that need to be completed. Peggy Orenstein, a writer and editor on women’s issues, explains that while the Internet allows a person to indulge in a “perpetual pursuit of little thoughts,” it does not lead them to any result.