It took me forever to finally sit down and write this article, which is ironic, because it’s about procrastination. But really, procrastination is wildly popular and common in all of us, and while some of us work better under pressure, it is a bad habit to fall into.
Regardless of what year of school you are in, it’s not too late to try and fix a bad habit. If you’ve never been one to leave things until the last minute, then that’s great for you! These tips can still be helpful for you getting a friend to kick the habit, or perhaps even help you figure out a better strategy for getting assignments done.
1. Make a schedule
Look at the syllabus for the assignment and look at what work you have to do. This will allow you to compartmentalize the assignment into smaller, more manageable sections AND it will give you a chance to review it in case you have any questions. It’s better to get any questions out of the way early on so everything is done correctly and the professor can’t tell you waited until the last minute.
In this schedule, allot yourself time for research, drafting (yes, you should draft papers), writing, editing, and finalizing. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to scramble to find valid, published, relevant sources? In the research phase, develop your approach to the topic at hand. Create your thesis, theory, design your poster, project –whatever it is- and list the information you need to find. Use databases in your library and schools intranet to find scholarly articles or booksthat apply. I feel it’s only necessary to warn you against Wikipedia here, though you could hypothetically use some of the sources a Wikipedia page lists as a reference, if they prove to be legitimate and of actual intellectual value.
2. Make drafts
Okay, this is technically included in making a schedule, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be its own step. Youwill much prefer to make mistakes here than in your final copy, so gather your research, data, and information and start planning how it all comes together in support of your finalized assignment.
This also doesn’t mean to do all the drafting in one day; that wouldn’t be productive. Your first draft could be a skeleton of what you know and think satisfies the requirements of the assignment. As you do more research, update this outline. Once your outline is starting to fill up and you’re gaining sufficient second and tertiary supporting points, you’re gaining enough information to put into paragraphs. When you find yourself writing a paper instead of an outline, edit the completed draft. Look at grammar and spelling, but also look at the points your paper makes. Are they solid? Do you need more information to support points?
When you get your final draft, edit it. Break out your red pen and go to town, baby. Be cruel to it and challenge the points your paper makes. Look for adequate references in the paper (and make sure they are correct too!) and that the citations are where they need to be. When in doubt, overcite. That’s not a word, but you get the point.
Editing is a vital step that procrastination inherently leaves little to no time for. It’s a tedious process to look through a paper you wrote and find mistakes, especially if you don’t know you’re making them, but it’s a good practice to get into as you learn more. It will make you a better writer, too. If you aren’t a strong writer, go to the tutoring center and see if you can have it edited. Befriend an English major if you need to (I say that as if we’re bad people, but we aren’t, I swear). Editing will help keep the focus of your paper on grading the quality of the content you present rather than the professor being distracted by mechanics. I’ve edited papers before, and it is difficult to read a paper when I have to pay a lot of attention to grammatical and spelling errors.
4. Go to the computer lab
What, you thought I was done? No way. A huge cause of procrastination is your environment. Tell me that you wouldn’t prefer to binge watch Netflix and keep a straight face. Get out of your room! The environment you created to live in is full of things that are there specifically to gain your attention; that’s why you brought them to college! And if you’re commuting, my point still stands. Instead,go to the computer lab. Go to the library (bonus: the library has research tools too).Put yourself in a situation where you will have less distractions and will be able to focus.
5. Live in the now
Stop thinking about how the assignment should be crafted or what it should be about. The syllabus in front of you is the reality trapping you, and no red pill is going to set you free (dated reference?).
6. Try and have fun
If you start your assignment early, you have time to play around with it. You might even enjoy your time (gasp!). Try not to let your mind get weighed down by the size of the task at hand or how much research you have to do. Find interesting things to learn about the topic at hand so the experience is more fulfilling.
These tips might not work for everyone. We all have reasons for procrastinating, and sometimes life doesn’t make time management easy. However, spreading out the work will ultimately reduce the stress you put on yourself and the risk you’re taking with your grade. Oddly enough, starting out a good habit early on will also make it easier to kick bad habits! The school year just started, so start off on the right foot!