by Cindy Wang, Peer Learning Assistant
On the first day of classes as a fourth year student, I was handed an assignment by my thesis supervisor. The task: to complete a five-page single-spaced review article on an enzyme that would be the topic of my project, which I knew next to nothing about. The purpose of the review article would be to ensure that I do the necessary background reading and gain a general understanding of my project before I start doing work in the lab. There was no specific deadline, but the earlier the completion, the better.
And that was when the procrastination started. For some reason that week, no matter how many times I wrote down in my planner: “Work on review article!”, it would never be worked on. I would instead find a multitude of other things to do in its place. By the second week, I knew that it was time to get a handle on the situation and do something about it. I might not have completely conquered procrastination, but here are some tips that I’ve gathered from the whole process that might help you in beating the beast that is procrastination:
- Recognize the signs of procrastination. There’s nothing worse than procrastinating and not even realizing that you are doing it. For me, if I catch myself watching a series of random Youtube videos, more often than not, I am trying to get out of working.
- Identify the cause: are you procrastinating because you think what you are doing is boring? Or are you procrastinating because it is difficult? For me, I tend to procrastinate when the task at hand seems really difficult. There are several ways to conquer this mental block:
- Talk to your prof: they will always be open to help you clear up questions or help get you started. I wasn’t sure how to approach this review article writing process, so I went to my professor and asked him to give me a big-picture perspective of what I should be aiming to accomplish. After having talked to him for ten minutes, I felt much more ready to tackle the work that I was given.
- Break your task into smaller chunks: Make molehills out of mountains! A five-page essay may sound daunting, but having smaller goals such as outlining or coming up with an introduction are much more achievable. This includes what you write down in your planner. Instead of writing, “work on essay,” write “work on introduction of essay.” These small differences go a long way in breaking up your task.
- Motivate yourself with intrinsic rewards: if boredom is the problem, think of the feeling of satisfaction and general awesomeness that you’ll get from having accomplished the task. Also, we tend to forget that assignments and tests are ultimately designed for us to learn about a subject matter that is of interest to us. Take advantage of this opportunity to develop that interest!
- Now that you are ready to start, get started! Give yourself a specific time to start your task. For example, I have to start brainstorming at 2pm.
- Stick to the task for a minimum amount of time:
- Even if you were working for only ten minutes, do nothing else except your work for those ten minutes. Once I promised myself that I would start writing my introduction for ten minutes, it actually became a lot easier to work past those ten minutes as I got into the work that I was doing.
- Do not “multi-task” during this time. We are all guilty of doing this, but our brains are sequential processors, so multi-tasking is in fact our brain switching between tasks, therefore lengthening the amount of time needed for each task.
- Have a small 5-10 minute break at the end of your allotted time, but also stick to the time indicated.
With this strategy, hopefully soon you’ll find it second nature to beat procrastination. And don’t worry, you’re not in it alone. If academic stress is a constant problem, come talk to us in Stauffer library. We are here for you! Every Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday from 5-7 p.m. in Room 143!