procrastination

What’s Better than the Assignment Deadline? Making Your Own Deadline.

How do you make your own deadlines? Why are your own deadlines important in the first place?

Whoa there! Let’s back track a bit first.

When you have coursework, what is your relationship with the set deadline?

If it’s like most people, you see a date a long way in the future (it’s at least a week, a month, a term away…) and you put the work to the back of your mind.

That date in the future creeps up much quicker than you realise…mostly because you weren’t thinking about it.

And BAM! You’ve got to play catch-up.

Then you have those wonderful (read: terrible) all-nighters to endure.

The easy advice would be to tell you to start working on your projects the moment they’re assigned.

But you may not want to follow the advice to start working on those projects straight away. You may have other commitments at the moment anyway.

The good news is that you can still prepare without the need for a desperate last minute attempt. It’s the happy medium between insta-work and much too late.

Make your own deadlines.

The Muse has helpfully published a piece on “4 Better Ways to Create Deadlines That You’ll Actually Stick To“. It’s worth reading of its own accord if you’ve got time.

And I’ll put my own take on those tips too:

  1. Make Them Urgent

You know you’re going to have to do that work. It won’t disappear if you ignore it. So set a deadline that works better for you. If you’ve got a quieter week next week, use it. Don’t wait for the official deadline when you’ve got another six pieces to submit…

You have to believe in your deadline, otherwise you’ll just ignore it. That’s why it’s easy for the advice to say “Make them urgent” and it’s harder to convince yourself of that.

My take: If you don’t take your own deadline seriously, you’re not taking the work seriously. Nobody is immune from procrastination, but some handle it better than others. If you slip at this hurdle, it’s time to admit that you need to have words with the little procrastination monster in your head.

I’ve got 10 ways to bypass procrastination. But if you want to understand loads more about the topic (and procrastinate even more!), Wait But Why has a great series of posts:

I said a procrastination monster. But yes, you may call it an instant gratification monkey. Each to their own. 😉

  1. Make Them Personal

“…consider whether focusing on the task in its entirety, piece-by-piece, or in relation to the rest of your projects will make you more likely to sit down and work on it.” – https://www.themuse.com/advice/4-better-ways-to-create-deadlines-that-youll-actually-stick-to

How you schedule your work is important.

Maybe it’s the task that feels scary. If so, break it down and work on little bits as you go along.

Maybe it’s the way you feel overwhelmed with juggling many deadlines at once. If so, work to your own deadlines rather than those imposed on you by others (see point 1).

Work out what’s stopping you from getting the work done and take action on that.

When it doesn’t feel personal, it can feel like an uncontrollable blob.

When you make it personal, you shape that blob into something cute and fluffy.

Something like that, anyway…

  1. Make Them Actionable

“If ‘finish report,’ will take all afternoon, ask yourself what you could do in 10-minutes: outline the first portion, design two or three slides, or edit what you’ve written so far?” https://www.themuse.com/advice/4-better-ways-to-create-deadlines-that-youll-actually-stick-to

In other words, get specific. Have quantifiable goals and explicit targets.

You can set a number of personal deadlines. A date for having made an outline, a date for a rough draft, a date for references, a date for editing, and so on.

If you start missing your own deadlines all over the place, that official deadline will feel even scarier. This may be enough to knock you into action, even if it’s mostly down to psychological unrest.

  1. Make Them Meaningful

The advice given is to make your goals known. Find a way to be accountable.

I have mixed feelings on this, although the tip to find meaning definitely stands. Without meaning, you’re nowhere.

But while some people thrive off having accountability buddies and promising the world that you’ll do something (or else!), other people become demotivated.

I recommend that you take Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies Quiz, to find out if you prefer to follow outer expectations or inner expectations.

Unless you’re a Rebel, you’ll probably find the best way to make meaning through your deadlines and promises.

And if you’re a Rebel (who resists outer AND inner expectations), Rubin says you may prefer to focus on the reasons why you want to hit that deadline, and even find ways of working that set you apart from what people usually do.

Deadlines can feel icky. Hopefully these tips from The Muse and my take on them will help them feel a bit more manageable from now on.

You may never manage to be deadline-free, but at least you can do it on your own terms now.

Next time, when you’ve finished an essay to your own deadlines, you can sit back and watch as others around you scramble around at the last minute.

But don’t be too harsh. Share this advice with them!

Avoid the Trap of Consuming Everything Before You Start Creating

consume-create-tub

How much research do you do for your coursework?

Do you power through and consume as much stuff as possible before getting on with the creation bit?

The more you can create out of what you consume, the more validation you give to consuming content. You won’t use all of it, but there comes a time when you stop looking.

But what if the search doesn’t seem to end?

The more you consume without creating anything from it, the more worrying the situation gets. Snacking on information without an end in sight.

Munch, munch, munch. One book here, another paper there, and a final web search just for luck. Maybe I’ll check the library one more time.

And maybe another time after that…

And it goes on.

When you consume far more than you create, you face a bottleneck at best. The reality is likely worse.

Words like “perfectionism” and “procrastination” start to rear their ugly heads.

Consuming without getting anything valuable out of the process is wasteful. It happens to all of us on occasion, but it shouldn’t be a standard part of your research process.

And you can easily fall into that consumption trap. So watch out.

It feels productive to find lots to read in the library and online, but it merely gets in the way when you’re not using that content for your work.

Keep an eye on why you’re still researching. There are times when you need to look at far more than you’ll refer to, because you’re looking for inspiration or perspective. Or perhaps you’re considering several arguments before you put your own stamp on proceedings.

But make sure you’re not still consuming ALL THE THINGS simply because:

  • You’re scared to start creating;
  • You think you need to cover every possible angle that exists (hint: you don’t);
  • You’re putting off the next stage of your work;
  • You need to find a better research process to work with.

Reasons like those above aren’t good enough to keep you looking for more. Work with what you’ve got, or improve your process so it’s not so time-consuming.

You may have to be brutally honest with yourself. It’s not easy to admit, especially when you are afraid to start.

But when the pressure gets too much, remember that you can always start off without doing any in-depth research at all.

Work with what you’ve got. So long as you’ve had some input from lectures, seminars, set texts, and so on, you should have enough to get started.

And writing your own thoughts and ideas on the page is much better than staring at a blank screen. Or, worse, not even reaching the blank screen stage because you’re busy feeling overwhelmed by how much information is already out there.

When you do your research, go in with the aim of creating something soon. No need to get hold of all the research materials and quotations before you start your own creation.

Banish those bottlenecks. Find a flow that doesn’t involve all the writing at the very end of the process.

A drip-feed of research helps a lot of the information stay at the top of your mind. That, in turn, will get you engaging (and referring) to more of that research.

The more you practice this flow, the more you will create out of what you have consumed.

Why You Need To Think Beyond Your Grades to Make the Biggest Impact

Think Beyond Your Grades3

What worries you most at university…Your grade situation or your money situation?

9 in every 10 students are frequently concerned about grades, according to a survey by Jisc earlier this year. Nearly 8 in every 10 students worried about money.

They’re both big concerns, but grades are a worry for practically everyone.

Are grades a worry BECAUSE of fees and money matters? Have issues got worse as tuition fees have gone up?

It’s not like grades have ever been a shrug-fest, but think how much pressure you’re under today with ÂŁ9k fees as part of the deal.

It’s why there’s such a push and pull around the “students as consumers” angle, even though it shouldn’t be part of your day-to-day academic work.

You can be overwhelmed about all sorts of things without realising. Not that long ago, you risked wasting a lot of your time if you didn’t perform as well as you’d like in your degree. Now the risk is wasted time and money.

And while you may only pay off the debt when your earnings are high enough, the money remains as a constant reminder. Some students want the best grades so they can justify that student loan balance.

Balance ‘productivity’ with ‘good enough’

I don’t believe it’s worth forcing a First Class Honours. I can’t see the value in working solely to get the best grade possible. Make it a serious factor, yes, but don’t turn it into your whole reason for being.

A top grade isn’t the surefire route to future success.

No matter how much you’d like to grab that First (or at least an Upper Second), make sure you pay attention to the rest of your experience at university too.

In other words, look beyond the A grade. It doesn’t matter if you get a B. A Second Class Honours isn’t going to destroy your chances of a bright future.

A sole focus on the academic work alone, however…That could be a mistake.

Frugaling has listed 10 reasons why you shouldn’t obsess over the highest marks. Basically, work hard, but make sure you’ve got time and energy for other commitments too.

There comes a time when you investment bigger and bigger amounts of time to smaller and smaller gains. The magic is to find a sweet spot that combines ‘productivity’ with ‘good enough’.

There are some study fundamentals:

  • Turn up and do the work;
  • Seek help when you get stuck;
  • Make it a priority.

That last point about priorities gets a bit more complex.

You’d think the study priority is about doing really well in acing tests and excelling in coursework.

It’s not. Your priority is finding your version of good enough.

priorities

Priorities, Not Urgency

I’m not saying your grades don’t matter. I’m not telling you to take your work less seriously.

I’m pointing out that you have more than one priority. Studying is just one of those priorities.

And when you know several priorities need to be dealt with quickly, your issue is with urgency.

Urgency is different to prioritising, as I’ll explain in a moment.

Other priorities can include:

  • Work experience;
  • Achievements;
  • Extra-curricular activities;
  • Building a portfolio of work;
  • Investing in your future as a graduate long before you graduate.

These are priorities. Think of others that you’ve got. You need to juggle these.

Scheduling, deep work, practice, routines…There are ways to keep priorities in check so they don’t get in the way of each other, so they don’t overlap, and so they equal more than the sum of their parts.

If you only look at academic work while you’re a student, your other priorities will creep up on you. Deep into your final year (or worse, after you graduate), the other items I’ve listed above will become surprise priorities.

Avoid surprises as much as you possibly can. The more surprise priorities you have, the more urgent work you’ll have to do. At some point, it’ll become too much.

That’s why you need to pre-empt your priorities. Work out what your future needs are at the moment. Work toward those needs in small chunks while it’s not urgent.

Having nothing in place means you have too many urgent priorities. Stuff appears needing immediate action. Another recipe for overload.

Don’t get to that point. Take the time while there still is time. Make your priorities as relaxed as possible.

Imagine two people doing their coursework. One person spends small chunks of time over two weeks to get their coursework done. The other person does nothing until they pull an all-nighter just before the deadline.

Both people had coursework as a priority, but one of them let that priority become urgent.

In both cases, they could still pull off a top grade. In both cases, they may keep succeeding and land themselves a great job and fast-track an impressive portfolio.

But the all-nighter urgent priority case is leaving too much to chance.

Priorities in check

Putting it off, or always on?

If you’re prone to procrastination, Lifehacker suggests that it’s because you get an “impulsive tendency to do what feels easier, rather than the thing you know you should be doing”.

When you feel that problem, it’s worth checking out Wait But Why’s two-part series on beating procrastination:

[Yes, read both parts! I’ll wait…]

Once you’ve got past the procrastination, the next issue is getting those priorities in check.

On a casual level, you may think about your situation every now and then. You may be moved to take action over something random. Maybe not.

It’s time to face your priorities head on. Juggle them as you go so you don’t leave anything until the last minute. Or worse, until it’s far too late.

A number of relaxed priorities will help make a positive difference. A bunch of urgent priorities is far less forgiving.

When time is on your side, you really can relax to do more. That’s why it pays to face your priorities. When academic work is just one of the situations you’re dealing with, you continue to work hard, but not at the expense of everything else.

Keep all your priorities in check. Focus on both your present and future priorities. The importance of grades will become less rigid. And you may find that less pressure leads to a happier run on those grades anyway. Win-win.

And that’s why the all-nighter is a much riskier option than small, consistent doses of work, spread out over the allotted time.

Instead of the all-nighter, what if you want to spend every waking moment on your study? My suggestion is to step back for a moment and take a wider focus on your other priorities. Why are you studying without any other activity? What are your future plans? Are you plans likely to work out if you ignore everything except study?

If you’re prone to either procrastination or perfectionism, it’s time to bring your other priorities into the mix. Don’t let those priorities sit at the side and become urgent.

Instead, relax through all that you do. It can make a huge impact on your life, your grades, and your health.

Whatever your situation, you need to think beyond your grades.

Next time, I’ll tell you why your degree isn’t worth any less now than it used to be. And I’ll help show what you can do to be distinctive.

Are You a Planner or a Structured Procrastinator?

Doug Belshaw likes to plan. He’s even created his own daily planner.

But recently, Belshaw has been wondering if planning is required for productivity. Does everyone need to set out their day ahead to get ahead? Well, not necessarily.

Belshaw recently discovered structured procrastination and was amazed to find it was a real thing and not a joke. The plan is to get more done without a plan. Just work on what you feel like.

Such a simple idea sounds brilliant. But it’s never that simple, is it? Nevertheless, Belshaw found that high-profile people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger made use of structured procrastination to get things done.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (photo by Gage Skidmore) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Arnold Schwarzenegger (photo by Gage Skidmore) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Has this prompted a change of heart in Belshaw? Nope. He says, “I’ll keep my planner!”

To schedule or not to schedule? That is the question.

Or is it? I think a binary argument of schedule versus non-planning is too simplistic. A total lack of planning still requires an element of planning once the day is underway. And not everyone can dismiss timetabling completely, on a whim. Stuff happens around you. The world doesn’t pander to you, so you must respond to the needs of others. This, sometimes, requires a schedule of sorts.

One reason why I like the David Seah Emergent Task Planner is that it looks a few major tasks, extra tasks if you have time, plus emerging stuff because “Life just happens”.

The 1-3-5 Daily To-Do List is good for a basic schedule too. One big, three medium, and five small tasks on your list. That’s it. Nothing fancy. Just a basic breakdown of things to do in varying degrees of size/time/importance.

As you’d expect, there is no one-size-fits-all. Much depends on each person and their current individual circumstances. A structured plan is necessary for some activities, while it hinders others. Also, while some thrive on orchestrating every last minute to perfection (despite the realities), others don’t want to get bogged down with anything more than a basic starting point.

Structured procrastination sounds like fun. But it’s serious stuff. You have to be determined and driven to make it work effectively. Otherwise structured procrastination becomes…well, it becomes procrastination!

How do you work best? Much of the consideration boils down to the following questions:

  • Do you feel productive enough?
  • Are you satisfied with how you lead your day to day life?
  • Does this day to day activity correspond with your future plans leading to personal success?
  • Have you tried new approaches to improve your productivity, even when you feel confident that your current approach is successful?

If you have any doubt here, it might be worth taking the plunge. If you haven’t tried any other methods, can you truly be sure that your approach is best for you? You may feel efficient, but until you try alternatives, there may be a more amazing set of tactics to propel you further than you’d ever imagined.

One compromise is to only use due dates when absolutely necessary. Most of your schedule is free to do what you want, when you want. For the few matters requiring a definite time or your definite presence (either physically or emotionally!), get it booked in. Not only can you then schedule, but you can also keep the schedule to a minimum. Everything else is available to you and your whims.

What do you think? Are you a planner, a structured procrastinator, or something else entirely?