Ask SmithProfessional

Dear SmithProfessional,

As clichéd as this may sound, I have trouble keeping from procrastinating. I find it hard to focus for long periods of time and I just can’t bring myself to complete — and at times even start — an assignment. I’ve tried following schedules and working in groups and by myself but nothing seems to be working. How can I make sure I get my work done on time, especially with finals only about a month away?

Okay, so I often feel like anti-procrastination tips aren’t really out to solve the problem. It’s not that I don’t know tips like “start early” or “make an outline.” It’s just that I can’t seem to get myself to DO those tips:

Put the wrong due dates into your calendar. When professors hand out the syllabus, immediately put the due dates of all major assignments into your calendar, but put the due dates in a week before it’s actually due. The act of putting it in my calendar is essential – it holds you responsible for the work and serves as a visual reminder of what you need to do.) Then you spend the rest of the semester working under the assumption that it’s due a week before the official due date. Then when the fake due date comes around it’s a pleasant surprise. I then spend the extra week editing and perfecting the paper.

Make up more imaginary due dates. By breaking down a huge task into smaller tasks throughout the semester, the project becomes so much less terrifying. If you have a final paper due at the end of the semester, create a due date for your overarching topic that happens one or two weeks into the semester — then, in another week, hold yourself responsible for four or five sub-topics or areas of interest. It’s crucial to put these dates in your calendar. Getting the notification that you have something coming up is an incredible incentive to do it.

Set up meetings with professors. Once you have your overarching topic selected, email and make an appointment with your professor to discuss and approve the direction that this topic might take. This will keep you from panicking about your topic and will make it feel like a more approachable and accessible project as opposed to a nebulous academic stressor.

Create an “Idea Dump” on your computer. This acts as a general space to collect all your general, tangentially related thoughts on the topic. Any thought that even mildly pertains to the topic, stick it in there. If it feels particularly interesting, do more research on it. This keeps it from feeling like boring and dry research. Then when crunch time comes around, you will already have a list of things that you find interesting.

And of course, remember that we’re all in the same boat ands feeling overwhelmed is only normal. In fact, it’s probably the one thing that unites all us college students. So take it easy, follow these steps and good luck for finals!

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