Avoid Student Syndrome

Student Syndrome occurs when the person with the task waits until the last possible moment to start. Some people spend their entire academic career waiting until the night before a project is due and then starting it, pulling an all-nighter, and getting some (hopefully adequate) grade. Student Syndrome isn't for me, but I know lots of people who do this.

I use these techniques to avoid Student Syndrome:

  • Ask each person to develop inch-pebbles so that person (and the PM if necessary) can track progress.
  • Use Estimation Quality Factor to continuously predict the end of their current task (not just the end of the project).
  • Ask “What have you completed today?” Just asking can help jiggle people into starting the work.

These techniques work for me too, not just when I manage other people. Just because I don't wait until the last possible moment doesn't mean I don't procrastinate every so often. (In English, that means I procrastinate too 🙂

Student Syndrome isn't the same as being stuck, although if I'm stuck, it can look like I'm procrastinating instead of working on the task. I use a timeout to see if I'm stuck. For any given task, if I can't make progress on it in about 30 minutes, I ask for help. 30 minutes may be too short or too long for your tasks, so adjust accordingly.

If you're a PM or functional manager, notice if your staff are waiting until the last possible moment to start. If so, try something to help people start earlier. Late-as-possible starts lead to late projects.


The reason I thought of this today was because of voting. I hate waiting in line, so I vote in the middle of the day. Mark is an early bird, so he voted at 7:30 this morning. On an errand, someone told me she might not have time to vote. I asked “Can't you take 20 minutes right now? There aren't any lines. You could do it and come back to work later.” (She has the ability to do this.) She replied, “I'll just wait until the end of the day.” Student Syndrome all over again. If you live in the USA, don't delay. Go vote.

3 Replies to “Avoid Student Syndrome”

  1. Thanks for your insight here… I wish I could have a whole strategy to avoid student syndrome. I’m busy with a study on ‘conative factors’ for e-learners and want to add something about student syndrome to that….

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