It’s 10 p.m. on a school night. You’re curled up in bed, watching your new favorite show on Netflix. Just as you’re about to start the next episode, your phone buzzes. It’s a text from a classmate asking about how your ten-page paper is going.
Why are you starting so early? It’s due next week, you text back.
Actually, it’s due tomorrow, she responds.
You instantly break out into a cold sweat. You haven’t even finished reading the book the paper is based on, much less written a single word. Suddenly, your relaxed night just got busier.
This scenario is a common one for procrastinators. While some students thrive under pressure, others wish they could break this seemingly never-ending cycle of panic, sleepless nights, and slapdash projects.
So, if you’re willing to admit you have a procrastination problem, here are a few tricks that can help you break the cycle:
- Get organized. Set up a calendar system that works for you — whether that means using your phone’s calendar, a paper planner, a bullet journal, or writing a list of things each Sunday night that you need to accomplish during the week. (Or, use a combination of those strategies.) That way, a deadline will never sneak up on you again.
- Set your own deadlines. Always asking for extensions for your papers? Set up fake “extensions” for yourself. Write down the deadline for the assignment a few days earlier than the actual due date in your planner. Then, start setting small deadlines and reminders for yourself. (Don’t forget to set up appointments in the Writing Center as well!) If it’s a larger project, break it down into steps. Schedule regular blocks of time to work on the project and set realistic smaller deadlines for yourself so you don’t have to complete it all at once. That way, even if you don’t quite finish all the steps by your deadline, you’ll still have a few days left to leisurely complete the project by the actual assignment due date.
- Strategize. What absolutely needs to be done first? What can be put off to do at the end? When you get the harder parts of the project out of the way first, the rest of the project is easy to complete.For example, if you have to write a ten-page paper with at least six sources over the next month some of your steps might look like this:
Week One: Go to the library / library website and look up at least ten sources for your paper. Read through your sources and eliminate less relevant articles or books. Write an outline / road map for your paper based on the materials you’ve re.
Week Two: Write at least one page a day. (Or, if you’re better writing in “chunks,” split up the writing by sections – write at least one point of your paper a day.)
Week Three: Write up your Works Cited page. Edit your draft. Check out one or two more sources for a few gaps in your paper.
Week Four: Rewrite the weaker section of your essay. Edit your draft again.
- Avoid distractions. When you sit down during your scheduled time to work on a project, make sure you’re being productive. Silence your phone, go to the library to work, or turn off your computer’s wifi. (Another great asset for digital distractions is the Freedom app.) If you want to be a little more “old school,” here’s my tip: set a kitchen timer. While the timer is ticking, I “race the clock” as I work. Once the timer goes off, then I take a quick break and enjoy some of those distractions.
- Treat yo’self. This concept isn’t just a philosophy on Parks and Recreation. Set up little motivators for yourself as you work and visualize yourself enjoying these treats. For example, if you do finish your research by Wednesday like you planned, then you’ll get to go to the movies that night with friends. But, even more importantly, celebrate when you do achieve a goal and remember that wonderful feeling. Want to feel that way every time you hand in a paper or a project? Now, you can!