It was three o'clock in the morning and I was still researching. I had spent hours and hours going through my sources and finding just the right quotes. I had written a little, but the paper needed to be ten pages – and that was the absolute minimum.
I closed my laptop and piled all of my books and notes into my backpack as quietly as I could so as not to wake up my roommate, threw on a pair of flip flops and hiked to the Eagle's Nest. The coffee from earlier had worn off. I bought a Rockstar energy drink and opened it as soon as I left, sipping from the cold, tall can on my way to the library. Already I was starting to feel better. I would get this done, and get it done well.
Well, I got it done, at least. Six and a half hours later I was putting the finishing touches on my Works Cited page – that is, in-between trips to the bathroom to throw up and frantic phone calls to my mom. Apparently, too much caffeine can make you sick, as well as panicked and jittery. Knowing it was probably the worst paper I'd ever written, I emailed it to my professor in tears and told him I would not be able to make it to class that day.
This was not a fun experience. Lying in bed feeling too sick and jittery to sleep when you haven't done so in over twenty-four hours is not a good feeling. However, worse than the physical consequences was the dissatisfaction I felt with my paper – and the grade I later received. It's impossible to do an assignment well when you save it for the last minute.
Learn from my mistakes – here's some advice for getting research papers and other large projects finished early:
- Break projects into smaller sections. For a researched paper, a basic breakdown might be: research, pre-writing/outlining, writing, more research, revising, and editing. Even these sections can be broken down further. Breaking it up makes the project less intimidating
- Don't plan on doing everything in the same day. Don't even do all of your research in one day. Set goals for when certain tasks should be finished and stick to them.
- Start early. The day you get the assignment, if possible. If you don't have time, find a way to make time.
- Look at your schedule and see where you can fit in time. Don't plan on doing a lot of research on a day when you also have 400 pages of reading, for example.
- Work in spurts. For me, about an hour and a half to two hours at a time is ideal – after that I need a long break. Figure out what amount of time is long enough for you to really get into the material, but short enough that you won't get burnt out.
- Know how long it takes you to write, and allow extra time. It helps to time yourself. For example, I know that it takes me about 20 minutes to write a page that includes a lot of research – however, that page will require substantial editing later.
- Don't think about grades. I know, this is pretty radical – but thinking about how well you need to do on this paper puts a lot of pressure on you, which can lead to panic and procrastination.
- Think about what interests you about the assignment and your topic. Obviously, this is more difficult when the topic is assigned, but the odds are that there's something about it that sparks your interest. Giving yourself a reason to write your paper other than grades will help you stay motivated – and it'll make it a lot less painful, too.
- Just do it. Temporarily deactivate your Facebook if you have to.