I always feel vaguely guilty as I scold my freshmen for putting off an assignment until the last minute or handing it in late. I’m convinced that somehow they will see through my stern demeanor to the fact that I was up until midnight grading papers they had handed in almost a month ago. My personal excuse for procrastinating is that I work better under pressure; I’ve heard that from students as well. But the reasons I hear more often are that they weren’t sure of the assignment, were embarrassed to come for help, and then ended up feeling completely overwhelmed and defeated.
The hard part of breaking a procrastination habit is simply that; breaking a habit. Changing your ways won’t necessarily be easy, and it definitely won’t be fun. But once you’ve felt the satisfaction of getting a full night’s sleep the night before a paper is due, you’ll be hooked!
Tip 1: Write it down.
It’s stressful to feel like you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing. Get a planner or notebook and write down everything you need to do; and I do mean everything! From reading the next act of Romeo and Juliet to making sure you have an ironed shirt for the sports awards dinner, no to-do is too small.
Writing down everything you need to do gives you a greater sense of control. There is nothing more satisfying than crossing tasks off your list (I usually start my to-do lists with “make to-do list” so I have something to cross off right away!). Also, it’s much more stressful for your brain to try and keep track of twenty things it needs to do than it is to write it down and focus on one thing at a time. Which leads me to our next step:
Tip 2: Break it up.
Nothing makes a task more manageable than breaking it into smaller parts. In the long term, this can mean breaking down the parts of a term paper into an outline, a draft, and a final paper, or studying five vocabulary words a day instead of fifty the night before the test. Write down the intermediate steps, assign them dates, and treat these dates as if they are concrete deadlines.
In the short-term, break smaller tasks into chunks. For me, grading research papers is a long and painful process, so I make a list of small rewards, like a cup of coffee, checking my email, and throwing in a load of laundry (yes, that can count as a reward!). After every five papers I grade, I get to take a quick break. Doing this can keep you motivated, and also prevent your mind from drifting if there’s always something fun to look forward to in the very near future.
Tip 3: Ask for help.
This could be the most difficult step on this list. Asking for help can be a scary thing, especially because you know if you get someone else involved, you’re more likely to be held accountable for your actions! In the long run, though, you’ll be setting yourself up for success if you share the responsibility. Show your parents your to-do list. If your high school requires teachers to post homework assignments on a webpage or to keep an online gradebook, give your parents the web address. Make an appointment with your teacher on the day you’ve set for yourself to finish a rough draft. Enlist a like-minded friend to review vocabulary words over the phone every night. If you are serious about changing, outside help may provide you with the boost you need to establish better habits.
Now is the time for you to be developing good study and life habits. In college, your parents won’t be around to nag you and your professors don’t have the time to be as involved with their students as your teachers now do. It will be up to you to manage your time responsibly. To help, follow steps four and five which I’ll finish writing after I get a snack.