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December 3, 2013

The Horrors and Evils of Procrastination


by: Kevin Hagan


            While watching the Saturday morning news one weekend, I found myself nodding in agreement and making mental tick marks in my head as a life coach talked about the habits of procrastinators and the damage they were doing to their lives.


“And the next twelve people who email us at the station will receive a free one year membership to Coach Anderson’s Life Lessons Workshop!”


Huh. I could really use that. My life would be so much simpler if I didn’t procrastinate so much. I sat on the couch, sipping my coffee and considering my chances of being one of the chosen twelve. I’ll get some more coffee, and then I’ll send that email. Hah! I caught myself in the act. But, about ten minutes after the call had gone out, I was sitting at the computer, typing away. I sent the message, certain I was too late. How many times had I been the eleventh or thirteenth caller at the radio station? This was going to be like that.


            I got up from the computer and went back into the living room, sat down, and my phone buzzed. I had an email from the station. I made the cut! Now, all I had to do was look at the available times for his web seminars and choose one. That was six months ago, and I still haven’t responded. I should have known. I’m a compulsive procrastinator.


            It’s the time of the semester when all the things we’ve been putting off for three months start to pile up. We see them looming overhead all semester like rocks on a bluff; every once in a while a pebble or medium-size stone will roll down the hill. Some students will deal with these interlopers in a timely fashion, others of us will pick the offending stone up and toss it back up into the pile; “Excuse me, professor, is there any way I can get an extension on this paper?”


            It’s so easy to put off all these looming deadlines. “I’ll just finish last episode of Orange is the New Black. Then I’ll do some research.” We sit at the computer with the best of all intentions, and Oh! A Facebook message! Hey! Did you see this video of Sam on Youtube? No. No, I haven’t. The internet quickly becomes a solo wikirace mixed with a mental Rube, it’s two in the morning, and there’s a word document sitting there in the split screen with half a dozen words which were supposed to mean something.


            Suddenly the end of the semester is upon us and we’re frantically picking rocks off the pile and chunking them down the mountain, trying desperately to reduce the number of tottering stones before the whole thing falls on our heads. Rest assured fellow rock-picker. There’s hope yet. It’s time to focus, roll up our sleeves, and get to it.


            Prioritizing the pile can be difficult. It seems at first that those with the most impending deadlines should come first, but the proximity of the due date must be weighed against the amount of work that needs done and the number of hours allotted to study. Once the priorities have been assigned, start with some brainstorming.


            Get ideas down on paper so you at least have an idea of your direction. This will allow you to break bigger projects or papers in to smaller, bite sized bits. Try an outline or free writing, maybe some bubble clusters. Don’t just stick to what you’ve used in the past. Sometimes using a new method will bring fresh ideas to a subject you’ve beaten to death all semester. Brainstorm for fifteen minutes, and then switch to another form unless you’re on a roll. Getting an idea is important to maintaining focus once you start research.


            Next, actually do that research. Once you have an idea, start searching the internet for key facts or interesting slants you may want to explore. If you find an angle that interests you, the paper may be easier to write, or at least less onerous. After fifteen minutes of earnest work, if nothing is working, this may a good time to switch to some other topic or paragraph, get a cup of coffee, or pet the dog. Sometimes inspiration will come for one topic when working on another. The important thing is, you’ve started on it. If you have time, you may consider getting help on your topic or just discussing it with someone. Sometimes just talking through a sticky or rough spot is enough to grease the wheels.


            The good news is there are a lot of people who are willing to help you. Friends and classmates are a good source to start with if you just need someone to rant to. Instructors are (usually) willing to lend an ear and some advice. Most of them remember what it was like to be a student. No, really, stop laughing. They do. The library and the University Writing Center are both good places. It is (almost) never too late to get help with a paper, and the only time it’s too early is before you get the assignment. But that’s not a problem we procrastinators typically have to deal with, so I’ll move on. The tutoring center might be able to help out as well, especially on those “Writing Across the Curriculum” assignments. Librarians—ask them. They’re a wealth of knowledge. Some of these are also great resources to share success with. If you’ve had that epiphanic, “EUREKA!” moment of triumph, share it. Reward yourself, but get back to work. Orange is the New Black can wait a little while.



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