The depth of Student's Syndrome

syndromeEveryone has been a student.  What is the one behavior that is burned into every student's brain?  It isn't asking for better grades, or trying to get away with as much mischief as possible, or any of the other stereotypes attached to students.

It's Student's Syndrome: waiting until the last minute to do anything, usually because they have plenty of time - and because there are many other things to do instead.

I have known about this for quite some time in the effect on projects.  It goes something like this: Students (task owners) feel they have "plenty of time" to work complete an assignment because their original estimate had padding, and the due date is not pressing on them.  When they do start working, they discover that there is more to the assignment than they had predicted, or Murphy strikes and increases the work.  They either burn themselves out to get the work done on time (remember those all-nighters, anyone?), or more commonly, cannot complete the work in time and the students show up, begging for mercy from the instructor.  In projects, it's hard to get "mercy" from the business, so those delays ripple through the project, eventually making the project itself late.

But I was talking to someone today who introduced an even larger behavioral impact of the Student's Syndrome.  It's in the whole way we "assign" work.  Teachers - and I'd argue most management - don't expect people to start working on the assignment right away.  And, lord knows, they certainly do not expect anyone to deliver the work early.  It wouldn't do any good anyway: they will wait to review the material until everything has been turned in because they have set that expectation for themselves.

There is a vicious cycle at play here.  Don't expect early delivery, and you will never get it.  Hold people (and yourself) to dates, and you will never get things done early.

What behavior would you rather see?  How do you change away from Student's Syndrome?

[Photo: "syndrome" by Aziz Kocanaogullari]

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