True Confessions of a Certified Procrastinator

We've all been there: Sitting in the computer lab trying to finish the assignment you should have started a week ago, the initial energy draining away along with the caffeine boost from your last coffee. You watch the minutes pass as one by one your fellow students desert you for their warm beds until it's just you and ten pages on the violent terror of Genghis Kahn. At some point you make a half-crazed wish the warmonger himself would climb out of your history book and put you out of your misery. But wait! Stop! We're back to the beginning of the semester and I want to tell you it doesn't have to be this way. Many of my friends used to know me as one of the worst procrastinators, but this past semester I tried hard to improve my work habits, and saw great results. I know that these same tips will not work for everyone, but even the process of analyzing your study habits and dedicating yourself to make positive changes (especially for you underclassmen) can improve your sleep schedule, stress level, and maybe even that pesky-all-defining-parent-pleasing-or-displeasing number on your transcript.

1) Choose your environment

When it comes to studying, the top three factors for selecting a workspace should be the same as if you were buying a home: location, location location! Personally speaking, I get distracted in a dorm setting so I make my way to various spots around campus: one of our libraries (the School of Theology Library is practically deserted during finals for those of you with bikes/cars), the reading room, the “fishbowl,” an empty classroom, any café if you don’t mind the chatter, and if it’s sunny (we do live in SoCal) head outside for a couple hours. If studying at the same library carrel sounds boring to you (you can reserve a personal one on the first day of classes, look into it) take the initiative to find a few places where you’re comfortable and switch it up every once in a while. If you prefer to work in your room, make sure that you keep your desk and general workspace organized. I hate to sound like your mother, but she’s right (isn’t she always?); if the area around you is cluttered it makes it more difficult to concentrate on the task in front of you. So get the clothes in the hamper, the dishes washed, and your bed made to keep you focused on your work. Lastly, minimize outside distractions.  This includes a silenced cell, friends at a safe studying distance, and internet use on check with a little Self Control.

2) Establish a routine

After hitting the snooze button a couple of times every morning, I put on some music and while I munch on some breakfast food (your mom was right about that one, too)  I try to plan out what I absolutely need to get done that day, as well as what I would like to get done. Even if you don’t want to take a few minutes to jot down a list, you can take a minute to mentally organize your day. I grab water, snacks, a sweater, the books/print-outs I need for that days classes, and most importantly, any work for the next day. I’ve noticed the less often I need to come back to my room the less I’m tempted to knock on my neighbor’s door, check out Netflix, or Skype with a friend when I should be hitting the books. Being able to go from class, to lunch, to the library, to class, to dinner or work, to Poppa or the reading room, and then make it back to my room before ten to wind down for the night is what works for me. Find the time of day at which you work best and make sure to make the most of that time. Learn to break up your day so that you can avoid any one task for too large of a time block. Varying your studying as well as rewarding yourself with short breaks in between will help keep your mind from wandering.

3) Get organized

When your professor hands you your syllabus at the beginning of the semester, he or she is laying the foundation for your mentality in that class. Don’t avoid looking ahead more than a week because you don’t want to stress; getting a handle on the expectations and work load for the course will help you plan your semester. Whether it’s an iCal, a planner, or that animal calendar from grandma (maybe associating baskets of kittens with econ midterms isn’t so bad?) note the dates of all major assignments, quizzes, exams, and papers in one place. Make sure to organize your computer files by semester and course (and maybe back them up while you're at it) so you won’t find yourself struggling to remember the title of a stray document you saved last year somewhere in the depths of your computer. Establish a filing system so that you can keep all of your syllabi, Sakai print-outs, class hand-outs, and returned work in one place (this also helps with visible clutter); you’ll be glad you did when exams roll around.

4) Shun the deadline mentality

Many of us tend to work toward deadlines, letting them dictate our schedules, rather than working fromthe date the work is assigned. One of the most difficult and important pieces of advice is to start preparing for assignments and tests well in advance. Say I have a ten page essay due; as soon as the prompt is assigned I brainstorm topics. A daunting assignment cannot be tackled until you physically put ink to paper or words to screen. At least a week before the essay is due I meet with the professor if needed, I gather my sources, and start outlining my work. And then I edit until I know that it is the best of my ability. Does this mean I end up working for more total hours on the same assignment than the guy who writes it the night before? Definitely. But when most of us applied to CMC we didn't picture our finest work coming from cram sessions.  The work we can be most proud of comes from an intellectual dialogue with professors and peers, research on a topic stemming from genuine curiosity rather than convenience, and time spent conscientiously crafting an essay or project that reflects your opinions and arguments. That’s the tricky thing about procrastination; you shouldn’t avoid it because it doesn’t work.  In fact for many students it works just fine, but in the process you cheat yourself from being the student you can be.

But when you come across one of those unavoidable sleepless nights of furiously typing away at the computer or pouring yourself over the pages of your thickest textbook, just soldier on and remember that you’ll be able to appreciate a lazy day that much more.

For those of you whom would still enjoy procrastinating (it's ok... it's early in the semester), relive the famous infamous 8:27 procrastination project. Procrastinate here (aren't animals amazing),  here and hereHaven't procrastinated enough? Here is the full list.