Science Of Slacking: Why The Back Of The Class Is Where You Get Ahead

by Dan Scotti

For myself, and many other young people, obtaining a formal education required a lot of hard work.

School was a constant grind and class each day presented me with a new challenge. Having said that, the majority of struggles I faced and effort pushed forward went toward avoiding the work that was formally assigned to me by my teachers.

So, yeah, I guess you could call me a slacker. The thing is, my grades never really slumped. If you’re anything like me, yours didn’t either.

It’s not like you were in the dark about your habits. You doodled, you daydreamed, you passed notes. You found new, innovative, ways to get by outside the lines of conventional “study habits.”

Sure, you might’ve ripped off a few naps during the actual class, you made up for it on your own time – even if that meant staying up all night in order to do so.

That’s the beauty of “slacking,” though: All nighters don’t feel as sluggish given how refreshed you find yourself after days spent doing, well, mostly nothing.

Also, whenever I would turn my brain off for a few classes, which – in reality, was probably more than just a few – I felt a need to compensate for it.

Whether that be getting the notes from a friend to study at a later date, or seeking help through a third party tutor, I always made an extra effort to counterbalance the time I spent slacking.

In a way, I felt sort of morally obligated to. If I sensed myself, or my grades slipping, I would feel guilty.

That’s the difference between good students – who are also slackers – and otherwise poor students. When less diligent students fall into a rut, they won’t be aware of it, and rarely will be able to dig themselves out.

Slackers on the other hand, enjoy the luxury of their time goofing off, yet still find ways to pull through before they hand in that final exam.

So, all is well that ends well, right? Apparently, science tends to agree with that. There’s a number of psychological benefits to “shutting down” during class, and taking a load off.

While these things might not be the best things for your GPA, which could be a concern for students battling for competitive academic standing, there’s certainly reason to believe they’re better for your overall wellbeing.

Doodling will actually help you pay better attention in class.

According to John Cloud of Time, doodling actually helps you pay attention! Making use of a new study conducted by psychologist Jackie Andrade of the University of Plymouth, when compared to those who didn’t doodle in class, doodlers retained more of the “tedious information” lectured to them under experimental conditions.

One of the reasons that Andrade proposes for this development is that, while you doodle, you’re not daydreaming. Hmm.

As it happens, daydreaming is the real enemy to retaining information, as daydreams occupy a large amount of the brain’s processing power.

So, the more you daydream, the less information you’ll be able to take in from a given lecture – even unconsciously.

Daydreaming, on the other hand, utilizes a very small portion of the brain’s processing capacity, and therefore allows the doodler to absorb information despite the habit.

In fact, according to Cloud, doodling will occupy the brain’s faculty just enough to prevent the student from daydreaming, yet won’t inhibit their retention of information.

Turning your brain off for a bit will make you more productive, afterwards

According to Tony Schwartz of The New York Times, slacking might be the key to your productivity problems.

As counterintuitive as it may sound, in order to jumpstart your efficiency in the workplace – whether that be the classroom or your office – the first step is to just relax.

The support behind this notion revolves around the theory of strategic renewal, which relies on deliberately timed “break periods” prior to periods of great productivity. Schwartz continues to say, as humans, we’re “not designed to expend energy continuously.”

Instead, Schwartz affirms the importance of periods of work and equally important periods of rest.

By slacking off in class, but making up for it at home or during library hours, you’ll find yourself working more efficiently than a 24/7 grind, which isn’t sustainable according to Schwartz’s case.

Slacking will do wonders for your stress levels and also give you more energy

Sue Shellenberger of the Wall Street Journal proposes a case that suggests slacking might not only make you more productive in the long run – but also less stressed in the short term, too.

Based on the findings of a study, conducted by Tracy Hecht and Julie McCarthy, slackers who “withdraw and, say, lie down and take a nap instead of tackling dilemmas right away,” actually are best apt to cope with stress. Additionally, they have more energy.

Melissa Dahl supports the benefits of slacking off, highlighting a study aptly titled “Rest is not idleness,” which maintains that periods of decreased mental exertion can be linked with increased memory retention.

So, although you might be zoning out in the back of your lectures, there’s a good chance you may still be able to recall the course’s information without necessarily knowing it.

Which, after the amount of evidence provided by the studies above, might not be the worst idea.

Just make sure that when you finish slacking off, you handle all your business.