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How to Procrastinate—And Do it Well: the SLN Guide to Embracing (And Fixing) Your Bad Habit

Written by Celina Gabrielle

Fill in the blank: “Hi, my name is ________, and I’m a procrastinator.”

We’ve read the articles. We’ve downloaded all the apps that promise to whip us into shape. We’ve even stayed up all night until 4 am swearing we would never do this again. You probably even clicked to read this article while actively procrastinating on something, but here we are.

We are the procrastinators. 

I’m here to try and help you. Maybe. Possibly. Dear SLNers, it’s time for us to stop viewing procrastination as a lack of study habits and start viewing it as a study habit in its own right. You heard me, note-taking, colour-coding, finish-the-paper-two-weeks-before-it’s-due people: we’re reclaiming our bad habit!

Do your work in short bursts, not all-nighters

“You can have my Red Bulls and all-nighters when you pry them from my cold, over-caffeinated hands!” I can hear you shouting. I promise, I’m not bashing your right to stay up until the wee hours of the morning and cry onto your keyboard. The most effective way I’ve found to stay up working all night is to give myself a small amount of time to work and then promise myself I can do one fun thing after it’s done. Rinse and repeat. So, for instance, to write this article, I set a timer on my “StayFocusd” Chrome app (more on that later) for two hours. I now have two hours of steady writing to do and then I get to marathon Parks and Recreation.

The reason this works is that you’re setting mini-deadlines for yourself, so your procrastinating brain is “tricked” into feeling like it needs to get all of the work done now. Not only has this helped me write many an essay overnight, but it also helps me feel accomplished when I finish something before the allotted time I gave myself!

Know which things to procrastinate on

Like all great heroes, we need to know our weaknesses. There are some things you can procrastinate on easily, but there are some things where spreading the work out over a few days will be more beneficial. Writing a 5-pager in one night? Sure, provided you’ve actually thought about it before you sat down to write. That gigantic project your professor explicitly put on the syllabus so that you could work on it all semester? Probably not. I know that most of us will try, anyway, but there really are some things that need to be worked on a few weeks before the deadline.

A handy way to figure out what you can and can’t put off easily is the amount of research required: if it’s a huge research paper in a science faculty, you should probably lock your sources down a week before. Quotes from a book you read for an English class? You’re probably safe looking those up right before they’re meant to be handed in.

Buy a gigantic dry-erase wall calendar

Or an agenda, or set alerts on your phone—just anything that you can’t ignore every day.

“Oh, that’s nice, Celina,” I can hear you muttering as you look over at your twenty blank agendas collecting dust from every year since Grade 5, “like I haven’t heard that one before.”

Hear me out. On your first day of classes, get the syllabus, and note all of the days that the assignments are due. Now, write them into your calendar/agenda/phone as due a few days earlier than actually required and never look at that syllabus again. (Just kidding, hold onto that. It has your professor’s email and office hours on it for when you overestimated your abilities and genuinely need an extension on something).

Likely you will procrastinate on these assignments, but setting your own fake deadline can actually help motivate you. It’s the same idea behind working in short bursts.

Find the app that works for you!

I know I lambasted apps earlier, but having an app on your web browser is life-changing for us procrastinators. I use StayFocusd and its ‘Nuclear Option’ is the best thing that’s happened to me since Rachel got off the plane. Not only can it help you with the study strategy I outlined above, but it kind of helps you realize how much time wasting you do on the Internet anyway.

Don’t compare your study habits to your peers

I have a friend that writes out a detailed list of notes that includes the learning outcomes, is highlighted, and in alphabetical order so she knows where to find everything she needs at the drop of a hat. Meanwhile, I have one notebook that I shove everything into and sometimes accidentally leave at home. The thing is, I’ve tried to be her, but I just don’t have it in me. I know what works for me (the pressure of the deadline and the adrenaline behind racing to finish something), so why would I try and change that? As long as you’re not failing your class because you put things off so much that it actually affects the quality of work you’re submitting, don’t worry about that person scribbling down everything the professor says. They probably find your ability to finish an assignment in one night and get the same grade as them just as crazy.

Be an active procrastinator, not a passive one

A passive procrastinator is someone who is procrastinating on doing something, but not actually doing anything else. For instance, if you have an assignment that you’re putting off, and you’re putting it off by just sitting on the couch staring into space? Probably not the best idea. My favourite activity while I’m procrastinating is to clean my room, and if it’s clean, I bake cupcakes. These are both examples of ‘active procrastinating’ because I’m doing something productive and that I enjoy, which in turn puts me in a better mood and makes the other, less enjoyable things seem less daunting.

When all else fails, ask for help

You know that friend I talked about? A week ago I asked to study with her because I couldn’t bring myself to read a play on my own. We sat down, made tea, put on some chill music, and then studied in silence. The very act of having someone next to you while you’re trying to do schoolwork can actually force you into that frame of mind. Just make sure you guys don’t spend the whole time talking about Rachel and the plane.

Got your own tips for successfully procrastinating? Comment away after you do five other things first.

Photo courtesy Raymond Bryson

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.