From excuses to practical uses
It's here. The signs are everywhere: Santa is at the mall and you're in search of some Adderall. The end of the semester stress of papers, group projects and exams often precludes the joy of the holiday season. Face it, this is college, and the procrastinators far outnumber those syllabus-loving, calm, happy-go-lucky individuals who are on top of all their assignments. Maybe next semester — or the semester after that or the semester after that — we'll finally have the foresight to prevent this frantic sprint to finish mounds of work, but for now we'll have to settle for finding a workable methodology for getting through the next several weeks of horror.
Year after year, I've watched my dad turn into a ravaged recluse around tax time, and my brother's panicked rush to submit his college application materials made me very thankful I was not in his position. Of course, having done this finals freak-out before, I should have been a little more sympathetic knowing my time of stress would be just around the corner.
Unfortunately, that epiphany where I discover my inner motivation to manage my time more wisely and get my work done ages ahead of deadlines does not seem as if it's going to happen. Yet I have somehow found a way to repeatedly navigate the muddle of end of the semester tasks successfully without losing my mind, resorting to drug-induced study sessions or any form of cheating. So let me propose some techniques, from one procrastinator to another, for making this highly unpleasant process more bearable.
Prioritize: Remember those syllabi your professors so thoughtfully provided on day one of the semester? Perhaps it would have been wiser to follow them to the letter all along, but being that there is nothing we can do about that now, pull them out and start working through them. It is not too late to get back on track with months of reading. Certainly, it won't all get done, but get 50 percent of the assignments under your belt and you're in a much better position come finals.
Lists are your friends: It can be scary to lay bare every task you have ahead of you in one place, but unless you can get that big picture of what you have to do, it's impossible to figure out how you're going to do it.
Don't skip class to get work done: Even though you might have to crank out long-term projects in a short amount of time; it's unwise to ditch classes, especially coming down this final stretch. Believe it or not, your professors are very likely to expect that you have been using their syllabi and that you have ample time to complete the work they assigned. So, they are still teaching classes and covering material that you are responsible for knowing. I hate to say it, but to devote the hour and 20 minutes that you should be spending in class to working on an assignment is very rarely fruitful, because we procrastinators are always looking for every excuse to procrastinate. Which bring us to…
Stop justifying bad decisions: If you're not in class because you thought you might be able to get some work done, what happens when you are offered an invitation to Brower Dining Hall or even if you get a phone call from your mom? The fact of the matter is you are likely to take it, because, hey, you wouldn't have been working on your paper had you gone to class anyway, so you might as well take this break and resume your work later. It is a backwards logic of course, but it is all too commonly used as justification. Notice though that this innate ability of a procrastinator to turn anything into a valid reason to not get your work done now has real value. Put that persuasive brain of yours to real use defending the thesis on a paper you have due.
Make outlines for your papers: In the same way a list is an appropriate jumping-off point when it comes to starting to wade through all this work, there is a way to parse through tons of research and incoherent ideas when it comes time to write a paper, and that is with an outline. You may think that the outline was something taught to you in elementary school through high school as some sort of torture device to waste your time. I bet you have thought that now you are in college and no one is watching over your shoulder, you can go about constructing this paper any way you please — I know I did. But think this one through. Why make things harder for yourself? You already have enough to worry about. The last thing you need is to stretch your paper writing into the laborious stages of editing and re-editing because your argument or your structure doesn't make sense. Not only do you save yourself time in the long run, but if you start a paper with this step, you make it easier to write the paper in pieces as you find yourself with free time, rather than in one terribly long sitting. We did learn how to outline for a reason, and I suggest you don't make the mistake of writing a paper without one in order to figure that out.
Take advantage of your resources: In case you have forgotten, we have a number of libraries across this campus. Don't forget our libraries have a Web site with tons of online databases for your researching pleasure. There are also learning centers with tutors galore who understand the pressures and problems you might be going through. But you may find that your best sources for help are your classmates and friends. Ask the people who sat next to you all semester if they would be interested in meeting to go over class notes before the final or dividing up the readings and formulating one comprehensive study guide. Even if you have never spoken to them, now is the time to start. It is not unusual to find that many of your classmates are in the same position you are, and instead of suffering through this stress alone, you have the ability to lessen it for each other.
You don't need Adderall or No Doze to make this happen. Yes, this can be an incredibly trying time in the semester. For many of us, our term papers or our finals are one of two grades we will receive for an entire course and can make or break our grade, but you still have time to stack the odds in your favor and do all you can to make sure you have something more to show for the past few months than your parking citations and Halloween photos. It's mind over matter.
Larissa Klein is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in English and art history. Her column, "Definition of Insanity," runs on alternate Thursdays. She welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.