This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.
Ever notice how the word procrastination looks like a good thing? It starts with “pro,” and if you are a pro, then you are good at whatever it is that you’re a pro at; or, if you make a list of good things, its a list of pros. We should change PROcrastination to CONcrastination, as nothing good ever comes from procrastinating.
My one greatest strength is my ability to talk myself out of doing just about anything. It always seems that the more important a task is, the more easily and more often I can talk myself into doing something else. For instance, the closer I get to the due date for my five-page, whole-letter-grade paper, the more important it seemingly becomes for me to reconnect on Facebook, balance my budget, clean the house, read that book I started three months ago and do all the other things I’ve been putting off.
Coming to Terms With Procrastination
Just going to college can be enough to bring some people to the edge of a nervous breakdown. Then, add in trying to balance school with a job and a family, and it gets even easier to procrastinate–and even more important to try to refrain from doing so. For me, the stress of an impending deadline is what makes me feel like I might lose it.
Over the course of my first semester of college I had to force myself to come to terms with the realization that “procrastination” is just a pretty way of saying “lazy.” I’m so good at procrastinating because I’m lazy. I don’t like being lazy. Lazy has such a bad connotation. Someone calls you lazy and it’s like a slap in the face. To be able to overcome my lazy procrastination I had to take some tips from many different sources, because I had been a pro of procrastinating for a very long time.
Managing Time and Eliminating Distractions
I have found the kryptonite of procrastination: implementation of time management techniques, coupled with the elimination of willful distractions and heavily spiced with rewards.
When planning your homework time, try to keep in mind this saying that I learned from one of my all-time favorite instructors: “Be sure to DO your assignment before it is DUE.” I’m sure I’ve butchered it but you get the gist. The most effective time management technique I have ever learned is to take your project, break it down into steps, estimate the length of time needed for each of those steps and then divide those steps into manageable chunks. Try to create blocks of 30 to 45 minutes, and see how many chunks you get. On a calendar or planner, count backward from your project’s due date, one day for each chunk, and add one more day, just in case. Then pencil in the blocks of time for each day and hold yourself to completing each chunk for each project each day, preferably all at one time.
We all know that distractions happen. I put “willful” in front of “distractions” in my definition of the kryptonite of procrastination because there are some instances in which distractions can’t be avoided, such as when you have small children: “Mommy, can I have a cookie?” Then there are the other distractions that, deep down, you know that you really should get rid of, but just don’t want to: “Having the TV on in the background helps me concentrate.” It takes a lot of willpower to remove distractions that you really don’t want to get rid of, like that new TV show that you started watching this season; you haven’t missed a single episode because it’s so awesome and everyone is talking about it. You think, “I just can’t miss this episode, it’s only an hour, I’ll write during commercials and turn off the TV right after it’s over.” In that scenario the show should be a reward for getting your homework or studying done in time to watch it. Which brings me to another important tool in the anti-procrastination utility belt.
Rewards: A Better Incentive
I’ve noticed with my children that rewards are much better incentive to get something done than a reprimand for not doing it. I’ve also noticed that I can use this same rewarding strategy on myself. I like to read fantasy novels and crochet stuffed animals, as well as watch TV and eat ice cream. So, as an extra incentive to get my homework done, I record my favorite show and don’t let myself watch it while eating some Ben & Jerry’s until after my scheduled homework is finished.
At the end of the day when I know I’ve had enough time for everything, and I’ve done everything that needs to be done, I can go to bed with a less burdened conscience. I know that tomorrow, I’ll have enough time to accomplish what needs to be done because I’ve managed my time, and I’ll be able to reward myself for a job well done at the end of that day, too. College life can be hard, but getting off your butt and stopping the procrastination cycle will free up more time than you knew you had and will reduce your stress to easily-manageable levels.