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!

Identify Your Five Weekly Wins Every Week – TUB-Thump 020

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Do you feel overwhelmed with the number of tasks on your list each week?

Do you struggle to work out what the most important issue is in each area of your life?

On today’s TUB-Thump, I talk about finding five weekly go-to points so you can easily identify your big wins.

Whether it’s the academic, the social, the personal, the career, or anything else, you can target what’s important to you, each and every week.

Ready to dive in?


Here are the show notes for the 7-min episode:

  • 01:10 – One academic win. The most important focus-point for each week. Sure, there’s plenty of work to be done, but this will ground you. Sometimes that’s all you need to stop procrastinating on the thing that’s actually so crucial to your academic week.
  • 01:50 – One social woo. If you can’t fit any other fun in your schedule, make sure you have at least one event to look forward to.
  • 02:40 – One personal upgrade. Around the home, to do with a hobby, improving a personal skill…When you specify a single area to make progress in, you commit to pushing further than the minimum expected of you. Go on, do it for yourself!
  • 03:20 – One career boost. No matter how big or small, with 52 weeks in the year, that’s 52 different steps in the right direction. Reach out to someone, write a blog post, do some job research…it all helps. And it doesn’t have to take up a lot of your time in the week.
  • 04:20 – One wonderful wildcard. What is important for you? Add this one thing to the mix each week. Be creative, be methodic, be however you wish to be with this wildcard. As with the other schedule pointers, this helps to ground you in scheduling actions each week, and can also help you develop habits.
  • 05:30 – This method also assists in avoiding overwhelm. Instead of a huge list of tasks, you have your five big wins for each week.

Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!

How To Read Your Set Texts, Even When You Don’t Want To

Read Set Texts, Even When You Don't Want To

This has probably happened to you. It’s certainly happened to me.

You love your course. But there’s a book you’re meant to read.

Most books are fine. But this one…Oh, this one is a stinker.

You try, you fail, you try again, you fail again, you fear the book, you eventually stop trying.

Because not all books are fun to read.

And the more you put off reading the text, the less time you have to consume it.

Then you’ve only got a day left to read it.

Lifehacker has an article to help you read a book in a single day. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to wait until the day before a seminar to read the book you’re meant to be working on. Especially if you’re not engaging with the way it’s written.

So you’re worried about it, or bored by it. And as soon as you feel like that, you break out in a rash of procrastination. It happens to all of us!

What you need are new tactics. Methods that you don’t normally use when reading. But now it’s time to bring out the big guns. If you don’t, you’ll just panic and end up not reading the book at all.

That’s no good for your class and it’s definitely no good for you.

No matter how long you’ve got left, it’s time to tackle the reading.

Here’s what to do:

  • Work out how much time you’ve got left and in your schedule;
  • Break the text down into sections, so you don’t have to read in one go. This could be divided into something like equal numbers of pages per day, or chapters per session;
  • Put those chunks into your schedule, spaced out between now and when you need to have finished.

You can vary your methods, depending on how long you’ve got to do the reading. Hopefully you’ve still got several days, if not weeks, to do the reading. Even if you don’t have that luxury, there’s some advice below.

When you have several days/weeks to do the reading…

The earlier you start, the more time you have to space out the reading. You can casually read a small amount each day without much hassle.

Imagine you have two 50-page documents to read for a seminar in a week. That’s 7 days and 100 pages.

Maybe you don’t want to read on each of those seven days. We can make it five days instead. 100 pages spread equally over five days is…drum roll…20 pages a day. Much better than 100 pages in a single session.

A focus on fewer pages will also keep you in the mood to make notes and comments as you go through the writing. You may also get so involved that you’ll want to carry on reading.

Better than anything, though, is that you’ll find the challenge of 100 pages less scary when you space it out in smaller chunks.

You may be tempted to do the reading in a single session, but that’s where most people fall. Five pages in, you realise how huge the task in front of you really is. Without a backup plan, you add further stress to the mix. One hundred pages only works in a single session if you’re truly engaged in the reading.

I understand why it’s so tempting to get the reading done in one go. Your brain convinces you that one session of work is better than five sessions.

But as soon as you set yourself smaller doses, the task feels easier. You’ll be more open to spacing the work out as opposed to slogging through an exhausting marathon. Little and often trumps the overwhelm every time.

When you only have a day or two to do the reading…

You’ll never do yourself justice, but there are ways of cushioning the blow. Once in a while, you can probably get away with it. All the time, however…That’s a different story.

When time has got the better of you, here’s the drill:

  • First off, read the Lifehacker article. It covers most of what you need.
    In short, it’s about location, the right kind of noise (or silence), intervals with short breaks in between, making notes, the right food and drink, and using physical books where possible.
  • Know what you’re reading for. Is this for general seminar discussion, a major set text for a module, due to be part of a future exam or piece of coursework, for an overview or to discuss a specific point in the text? The reasons make a difference.
  • If the text is for discussion now, but is most important for an exam or an essay further down the line, you’ve already bought yourself more time. You won’t be able to work so well in a seminar session, but at least you can properly schedule reading time before it’s time to complete the marked coursework.
    Get a good overview (consult a cheat-sheet summary or synopsis first if you must…just don’t rely on it ongoing!), find answers/discussions for any set questions you’ve already been given, and concentrate on the major points expected.
  • If the text forms part of a module that’s about to start, you may have a little more time than you think.
    Sure, the first lecture is up tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean you’ve only got one day to get through the entire text. Instead, get that overview, at least start reading the text, and schedule more realistic reading sessions as discussed in the section above when you have several days to get the reading done.

The more time you have, the more you can space out the reading. It’s less daunting. You just need to develop the habit of committing to a bit every day. Yes, it feels strange at first, but you get used to it. Spacing out the work is preferable to doing all the reading in one go.

Finally, don’t make things too complicated. It’s just reading. Some stuff is a slog to get through. I know, I’ve been there. Despite all the Shakespeare I did for GCSEs and A-levels, I still found the process of reading it tough at university.

What type of reading bothers you the most?

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 £9k 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.