Monday, October 12, 2015

How to Survive a Terminal Case of Procrastination

By Cameron Roman

Some people have their lives so figured out.  Whenever a professor hands out an assignment, they open up their well-worn planners and write out exactly how they plan to have the paper written.  A week before the due date, they’ve given a copy to the professor, a teaching assistant, their parents, and probably several random people on the street for proofreading.  I am not one of those people.  You, in all likelihood, are not one either.  All of us poor folks who aren’t named Hermione Granger tend to rely on a different strategy.  You know what I’m talking about.  I know the thought process: “Okay, the paper is due at 11:59 P.M. on Tuesday.  I’ve got this.  Wait, what day is it?” 

You know what day it is.  It’s Tuesday.  You’ve got five pages due at midnight and haven’t written a word.  Panic sets in.  Your heart starts to beat faster.  Your breath catches in your throat like you’ve been caught by a boa constrictor.  You start to wonder if dropping out of school is an option.  I mean, with the minimum wage going up, flipping burgers has started to have some real appeal. 
But you’re better than that.  You can do this.  I know you can do this because I know your pain.  I’ve been in more of these situations over the course of my college career than I’d care to admit.  In order to spare you some suffering, I’ve put together some helpful tips for you to follow as you hustle to make your deadline.  We’ll start with what you should do before you start writing. 

Before you start a writing binge, there are several things you should do in order to maintain your productivity and your sanity: 

1.     Find a place to work where you know you can focus
-This is different for everyone.  Some people like to work around other people; others prefer absolute solitude.  Whatever your preference, find a little place where you won’t be too distracted by the things around you. 

2.      Set a timer
-This should be the one thing you use your phone for during a binge writing session.  Set a timer for an hour so that you have time for short breaks in between intensive writing periods.  If you only have a matter of a few hours, shorten this to five minutes (but only if you have to!). 

3.     Turn off your phone
-Besides your alarm, you shouldn’t be able to receive a notification from anywhere.  If possible, also turn off the Wi-Fi on your computer to avoid distractions from other outlets. 

4.     Get rid of things that help to track time
-The key to writing well in a time crunch is remaining cool, calm, and collected.  Constantly looking at a clock is guaranteed to make you even more miserable, especially in tight places.  Take off your watch, put your phone away, put a black shroud over the clock on the wall above you. 

When you’re writing:

1.     Don’t worry about spelling or grammatical errors
- Focus on getting your ideas out on the paper/screen.  Every professor wants a beautifully written, well-polished product to read.  However, even the most poetic works fall flat if they aren’t backed up with evidence to create a reasonable narrative.  Have you ever read The Scarlet Letter?

2.     Remember that timer
-Every hour or so take a short break to stretch, use the bathroom, and get a snack.  Breaks are important.  You’ll spend less time worrying and be calmer about the entire process by taking just a few minutes to collect yourself.  Chocolate, oranges, and peppermint gum have all been found to boost energy and help power the brain over short periods of time.  Eat up and get back to work. 

3.     ***Self-pity is counterproductive***
-I cannot stress this enough.  If you stop writing at any point to complain about your paper, you’re going to be less satisfied with the result.  You got yourself into this mess.  But you can get out of it as well.  It might be a rough night, you may very well miss the Packer game you were looking forward to.  But you can do this if you’re willing to put the work in.  Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.  Let’s keep moving. 

So, now you’ve gotten everything out.  The paper lies before you.  Don’t be sad with what you’ve done.  You created this, and it is beautiful.  Even if it has three heads and two eyes between them.  But realize that your work isn’t done.  There are several necessary steps after you’ve written your first draft:

1.     Take a longer break if time allows. 
-At least a half-hour.  You need a few moments to collect yourself again.  A lot of us get very passionate about our writing.  If you hop straight into the editing process after you finish a paper, you’re going to miss critical errors that you would have caught if you’d taken a little while to detach yourself from the paper.    

2.     Reread your thesis statement. 
-At the very basis, does your central argument make sense?  This is the backbone of your paper. 

3.     Reread the first and last sentences of each of your paragraphs
-Do these sentences connect back to your thesis?  How well do the concluding sentences lead into your next paragraph?

4.     Reread for holes in your argument
-Any glaring holes in your paper should be addressed.  It’s easy to contradict yourself when you’re trying to write quickly. 

5.     Reread for errors
-Good writing should be marked by excellent control of the form.  This goes for both grammar and spelling.  

-***Notice how far down the list this is*** Get all your ducks in a row before you start honing in on small errors. 

Finally, turn in your paper.  Sit back.  Cry a little.  You survived.  You’ll try to tell yourself that you’ll never procrastinate again.  You might even buy one of those fancy planners.  But I know as well as you that once the next paper rolls around, you’ll be back in this spot again.  Just remember to keep calm, stay confident, and power through.  You may not be a Hermione, but at the end of the day, Ron still gets to be an Auror. 

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