Alternatives to Procrastinating
Jessica Winck, Assistant Director
Approaching the end of the semester can be a stressful time, and those of us who are inclined to procrastinate might feel especially anxious. I tend to believe that procrastination involves more than just actively avoiding work. It often relates to a writer’s sincere challenges with any of the following: understanding an assignment; feeling overwhelmed by the workload in college; worrying about whether s/he “has what it takes.” None of these is easy to deal with, and we know that avoiding work doesn’t help us in the long run. If you’re worried about procrastination, try some of these strategies:
Contact your instructor about any questions you have. This might sound obvious, but not everyone feels comfortable with this approach. What if my instructor will think I’m stupid, or that I’m not trying hard enough, or that I’m not good enough to be in this class? Meanwhile, confusion about an assignment prevents us from working on it. Email your instructor or ask to visit her or his office hours, which are set aside specifically for helping students address questions and concerns.
If you have a large assignment on your hands, consider breaking it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. How we see the task plays a large part in our approach to it. “Write a research paper” sounds like a scary and overwhelming task. Try talking to your instructor about how you can approach the assignment in parts. You can also go to the writing center and work with a consultant on setting some manageable goals for completing the assignment. These should be goals that you can reasonably meet in the amount of time you give yourself. You will get more done, and you will likely feel more confident about finishing the assignment.
Try setting a timer when you write. This might sound like an odd piece of advice, but it’s one I always stand by. I often use the Pomodoro method: write for 25 minutes, then take a 5-minute break. Write for another 25, then take another 5. Writers who struggle with procrastination might find this method especially helpful. Over time, you start to notice that some tasks don’t take as much time and energy as you imagined. Tasks become less intimidating and more manageable. Plus, you don’t have to focus on writing for an indeterminate amount of time. If you grow tired or you need a coffee break, you don’t have long to wait; but for the time being, you write. Also check out what Alex Clifton, a writing center consultant, wrote about some online resources that help you keep writing in pre-set blocks of time.
Write with a friend or a group. Working alongside others can be encouraging, and it also keeps you accountable. My colleague Meghan Hancock and I often meet for the specific purpose of writing and working. It’s a great arrangement because we have a shared understanding that we write when it’s time to write (and yes, we set a timer). Since your classmates are working on the same assignment, ask them to join you. Though the time you make is for writing and working, it also presents the opportunity to get to know more people and to feel supported at the same time. Contrary to some of the received wisdom out there that good writers work independently without any help, you actually don’t have to do all this alone.
On that note, make an appointment at the Writing Center. We will be happy to sit down and work with you wherever you are in the process of writing. Plus, having specific times set aside to talk with others about your writing helps you stay motivated.
There are many alternatives to procrastination, and I hope you try some of the ones here. Have a great rest of your semester!