It’s 11:20 p.m. There are ten minutes left to meet the deadline, and you’re typing like mad to finish your final paper. This paper is no ordinary paper – no, this is the most creative and thought-provoking paper you’ve ever written. A combination of 50% panic and 50% determination, your focus is unmatched. Almost there and, PHEW! A sigh of relief as you submit your paper to the Dropbox with one minute to spare.
Does this sound like you? It’s okay; it used to be me, too.
I used to consider procrastination a positive motivator to “do my best work”. Thinking this way, particularly in my first year, I was getting by on coffee-induced all-nighters, and handing in my work sometimes two minutes before the Dropbox closed on My Learning Space. I was flirting with academic danger and I knew it – even worse, I was justifying it because of the surge in focus I got racing against the clock. I convinced myself that, under the pressure of time, not only am I more focused, but I am more creative. In reality, I just didn’t want to do my work beforehand. I continued this until my second semester when I learned the hard way that my procrastination ways were not positively motivating me; I received a C- on a project worth 40% of my final grade because of poor quality work done the day before. The project grade lowered my course average, which in-turn lowered my GPA… cue my existential crisis.
Sure, surges in creativity and efficiency can happen when you put off your work until the last minute, but what about the downfalls? In addition to low project grades (like the one I received), Zarick and Stonebraker (2009) highlight other downfalls that can outweigh the potential creativity and efficiency that students can experience from procrastinating (p. 213). Procrastination can cause “lower quality papers… lower exam scores and, to a lesser extent, late or missing assignments” (p. 211). So much for your creative work if you miss out on the deadline, right? The most shocking part of their study to me, however, was that procrastination is a rational choice students make (p. 211). That’s right friends, procrastination (despite some people’s objections) is something we do to ourselves, not something done to us. I was doing it to myself by solely focusing on the positives and not the negatives I was experiencing. Knowing this now, you may be wondering, how do I stop procrastinating and get down to business??? Never fear, for over the past three years I have devised some tried and tested ways to counter procrastination.
From one seasoned student to others, here are my tips on how to stop procrastinating:
- Understand your work
Zarick and Stonebraker (2009) state that “uncertainty about what research topic to choose or what resources will be needed or how much study time should be allocated can throw the most well-intentioned student into a frozen stupor” (p. 212). Uncertainty can put you off from even wanting to think about your upcoming assignment. When you get your assignment, make sure to read it right away so that you can ask questions. The sooner, the better. You will also be able to prepare all the materials you will need in advance, so you’re all set to get started to avoid that “frozen stupor”.
- Plan time to work
With technology, we have so many options available to plan our time. You can use your phone calendar, a reminder app, your giant Laurier dry-erase wall calendar, or an old-school agenda, to plot out due dates and plan your study/work time accordingly. Colour-coding makes it fun for me. At Writing & Study Skills Services we offer some fantastic templates for time management for term-planning and weekly-planning. You can drop in to the centre or access resources like the assignment planner here.
- Make it personal
Not all of your courses may be your cup of tea. With test-heavy courses especially, it can limit how personally stimulating some material can be. If you have a paper or assignment, hopefully, you have some autonomy over which topic you focus on. I find that picking topics that interest me personally make my work more engaging. If I’m eager to investigate and research an interesting topic, I’m more eager to put my new learning onto paper.
- Break it down
One enormous task to cross off your to-do list is daunting. Zarick and Stonebraker (2009) state that by making “bite-sized” pieces, students are less intimidated by their work (p. 214). Breaking up one massive task into smaller, more manageable sub-tasks makes it easier to begin and gives you an action plan to follow. Plus, who doesn’t feel more motivated when crossing all those small tasks off their to-do list??
- Pick a productive environment
I LOVE my roommates to death; it’s non-stop laughter when we’re together. The laughs are great, except for when I’m trying to get a 20-page paper done. Find out who you can do your work with and where you can get it done. For me, it’s usually by myself sitting in the SC Johnson Building on the main floor outside of the Career Centre.
- Turn it off
No, I’m not kidding – turn off the access to wifi and turn off your phone. If it’s not completely realistic to fully disconnect, put your phone on do not disturb for the duration of your work session. You need to focus on your work instead of sending memes to your friends, trust me.
- Sit down and do it
Self-discipline baby. For the first five minutes, I find myself fussing about with paper headers and making sure I like the brightness of my screen. Try your best to sit down for five minutes and become engaged with your work. Eventually, I get down to business, and next thing I know, I’m half-way through my assignment.
- Perfection isn’t productive
We all fear failure. As Zarick and Stonebraker (2009) reiterate, when we fear failure or making mistakes, especially on things important to us, it further delays our work (p. 212). Honestly, your first draft won’t be perfect, and that’s okay. The beautiful thing about completing your first draft of your assignment is that you can make it your best work by letting it sit for a few days and then coming back to it with fresh eyes. Or, you could even schedule an appointment with one of our skilled peer mentors to get feedback on whatever you are working on.
There you have it friends. Three years in the making and those are some of my personal tried and true techniques I use when I need to get to work. Now, instead of staying up until 4:00 a.m. briskly typing away at a paper due in hard-copy for my 10:00 a.m. lecture, I am drooling on my pillow by 10:30 p.m. with my paper polished and printed, ready to hand in. Every now and then I fall victim to my procrastination urges (hey, I’m only human too), but accepting that I am the master of my own work and of my own procrastination has been academically life-changing.
Now, go forth and write those final papers and review those study notes! You can do it. And never forget, Writing & Study Skills Services is always here for your academic support.
Go get those good grades Golden Hawks!!
Zarick, L.M., & Stonebraker, R. (2009). I’ll do it tomorrow: The logic of procrastination. College Teaching, 57(4), 211-215. doi:10.3200/CTCH.57.4.211-215