Problems with procrastination

Drew Baumgartner

Dear Drew,
After pulling three all-nighters in as many weeks, I’m starting to think my approach of putting everything off until the last minute isn’t working, but I just can’t motivate myself to do anything ahead of time. Any tips or tricks for getting work done in a timely manner?
-Procrastinating in Plantz
Your question is quite timely, Procrastinating, as I’ve been having similar troubles myself. While I generally like to think of myself as reasonably motivated, I’ve found myself wasting more time this term than at any other point in my college career. I’d written it off as a flare-up of senioritis, but your question has got me thinking about the nature of motivation, and I’m pretty sure both of our problems are goals that don’t quite line up with our work.
Sure, seniors have the general goal of graduating, but most of us have more pressing issues: getting into grad school, writing a killer honors project or nailing that senior recital. The problem is that these are all largely over – grad school applications were due months ago, honors projects are moving into their final stages and most connies with brains got their recitals out of the way before spring term – so we feel accomplished rather than motivated.
Add to this the fact that mostseniors completed their major requirements ages ago and so are free to S/U creative writing classes and you’ve got the perfect recipe for thumb twiddling. While we only need to put forth the minimum effort at this point, the problem is that it’s more than zero effort. Also, senior nights at the Viking Room are on Wednesdays – whose bright idea was that?
Freshmen, on the other hand, tend to struggle with motivation largely because their goals don’t line up with required courses. Freshman studies? Writing skills are for suckers. Music theory? Don’t waste my time with petty abstractions. Overcoming this tendency can be a long-term goal, but I think there are some quicker fixes that might save your sleep schedule.
My best advice is to focus on what motivates you to pull the all-nighters in the first place. If it’s the cute girl that’s also habitually up late in the lounge, you might be out of luck. If, on the other hand, you actually want to succeed in class, or at least not fail, it might be possible to cultivate these motivations, however small, in the days and weeks before your deadlines. Try to imagine how you’ll feel the night before the big research paper is due and you might just get some work done now.
If that sounds lame, you won’t be surprised to learn that procrastination is still a problem I struggle with. I’ve started off many a term with the best intentions – getting a good meal before class, keeping coherent notes, even doing the assigned reading – but I invariably slip back into the more typical behaviors we all expect from our classmates. I know the situation sounds pretty hopeless, but here’s the big secret: It’s possible to do just fine anyway.
The simple fact is that as long as you have a grounded conception for what you can handle – how quickly you can spit out a passable paper, how late you can reasonably stay up, how many classes can you handle juggling – you can trust your fight-or-flight response to take over the larger-scale planning. The trick is to not kid yourselves about your limits.
Maybe your friend can ace the test without studying, or do all her practicing the day of her lesson, but that doesn’t guarantee that you can pull the same stunts; another friend might need to do the reading every night, but that doesn’t mean that you need to, either.
As long as you have a handle on what you need to succeed, your fear of failure – the same one that’s currently keeping you at work on these all-nighters – will make sure that you’re always doing at least the bare minimum. Anything more just requires the will to do it.