I'm a terrible procrastinator. About everything. I'll make a note to do laundry rather than just tossing a load in. I send emails to myself to remind me to send an email to someone else.
I admit I have a problem.
A lot of us do.
But there's one thing that's actually holding us back from finishing projects on time and getting a massive amount of stuff done.
And it's not procrastination.
It's the idea that procrastination prevents us from doing the work.
All over the internet and in self-help books you hear of the evil within us called procrastination. Authors and bloggers attempt to give you tools to defeat procrastination. It's hard, they tell us. Small steps can lead you out of procrastination's dark haunted cave into the arms of organization and time-management.
But what if that struggle to stop procrastinating fails? What if you stop before you can start because it seems like too much work? What if we procrastinate to change our procrastinating nature?
For instance, I know that procrastinating helped me get straight A's at Berkeley during my undergrad. (Yes, this blog post shows you how.)
Procrastination is famously noted as, "putting off today what you can do tomorrow."
A lot of times, though, I need to push deadlines out (so often, it seems). I overbook, because I suck at time management. I need to make space for crises that crop up. I want to spend the day with my best friend but I didn't plan that in, and now I'm behind my work schedule.
Procrastination is not evil. It's not all that hindering if you learn how to use it.
And that's what I mean when I say it's the idea that procrastination prevents us from doing the work -- that you can use procrastination to your benefit, without having to struggle to change your so-called "bad" behaviors.
Today I want to show you 3 simple ways to use procrastination to your benefit.
This is how we do things here.)
1) Procrastination Builds Closer Relationships with your Professors
EVERY opportunity to email your professors or to go to office hour is an opportunity to grow your relationship. Even if you're writing them to say you're missing class or need an extension on a paper, you can use it as an opportunity to get in front of them and show them who you are.
Professors have hundreds of students on their roster, they see a sea of students come and go each semester.
The ONLY way your professor gets to know you is if you put yourself in front of them.
That means sitting in the front of class, maybe asking questions if you're bold enough to do so (I was shy as hell in class).
That means going to office hour.
That means writing emails when you have something to say.
And if you're emailing them for an extension you're putting yourself in front of them.
Here's a little myth that needs to get busted.
Professors are thrilled by the cookie-cutter A student from high school who can take perfect notes and regurgitate them on a test.
NOPE. So wrong.
No one spares much thought for faceless A-ranking students.
Professors are real people, with extremely busy, time-consuming lives. (Sure, they get summers off, which they spend meeting paper, lecture, and book deadlines.)
They only have time and attention for those students they know. And you start your relationship with your professors through office hours, attending outside events, and email. More on building that relationship here.
You don't have to think that because you're emailing them about being late on a paper you're a bad student.
I will challenge anyone who disagrees to a duel - the BEST students are those who act like real people.
And that means asking for a deadline extension when you need one.
That means NOT going "by the book" and plodding along as a "good student."
If you re-frame your email request as a positive, you position yourself as an excellent student.
Let me show you what I mean:
"Hey [Prof's name],
I'm knee deep in the final paper, and I'm almost finished, and I can totally turn it in if you need me to turn it in on time, but I realized that one of my ideas has a big flaw and I'd really like to spend X time to fix it. Can I talk about this with you in office hour? I know I can the best paper to you by [X date] if that's acceptable."
You're showing that a) you care about the quality of your paper and b) you're smart enough to recognize a flaw (which, believe, me, so few student's are capable of/spend the time to find a flaw/care enough to change it).
I have only ever had "yes" responses from professors for revising a paper I was unhappy about. (And I have done this alllloootttt.)
Writing that email is an opportunity to play with style. I've read on other college success blogs to always be formal with your professors. Booorrriiinnggg!! Don't you like people better with personality?? Doesn't EVERYONE?
Write your personality into your email.
I'm going to show you an oh-so-embarassingly real and extreme email I wrote to a prof that became one of my close friends. Totally un-edited. And yes, it 100% got me that extension.
His response (and by the way he's a magnificent and super famous Proustian scholar, no big deal):
No penalty, due date pushed out to the end of the semester, AND I halved the time of the presentation for myself and one happy classmate.
I've ranged from being completely over the top (as evinced in the email example) and reigned in to a more reasonable request. At no point has a professor ever said to me, "nope, sorry, it's gotta be in by deadline!"
(Often they give longer than asked for.)
Bottom line is, professor's don't want extra work for them. If you met the due date, you're turning your paper in with hundreds of other students who have also met the deadline. Your professor is not going to be reading all of those papers in one night. Of course you have an extra day if that's all you need, because they're not going to get to it right then.
It's not high school, where your crazy teacher is holding you firmly to a deadline. In college, deadlines are there for structure; they're a lot more flexible.
To sum up:
Office Hours are the best place to ask for an extension. Hopefully you're not slipping in there for the first time to ask for the extension. If you know you procrastinate, go a week before the paper's due to talk about ideas. Then, when the time comes and the deadline's looming and you're no where near being finished, you can email in a panic asking for more time.
Always give a reason. Family crises work, but are frail. The best way to ask for an extension is because you want to improve your work. You professor doesn't want to read a crap paper. And who can say no to, "I just need a few more days to make this really good."?
If you don't want to go to office hour because you're shy or nervous or whatever, write an email. Infuse it infectiously with your personality. Be bold. Be honest. Give your professors a glimpse of what you've got going on in your life. That makes you more of a person in their eyes, and being a real person has awesome benefits.
2. Here's the Procrastinator's Guide to Getting S*!t Done
Last night I really didn't want to tackle any of the 8 items glaring on my "past due" list. So I didn't, and I got a good amount of stuff done. Then I watched TV like the zombie I felt I was.
I can get bitten by the procrastination bug pretty hard. But I've learned how to get work done while still putting off the "big task" that I can't bear to think of.
You can use procrastination to your benefit on those days when you feel you just can't do what you need to do.
Step 1: Earn Your Extension
If you're procrastination has you backed up against a deadline, spend the time you would be manically trying to finish your project toward asking for an extension.
I had a catalog copy due last night, and instead, I emailed (using the helpful email tips I wrote about above) to ask for an extension.
I made sure to highlight the positive reason: I wanted to improve the copy and therefore needed more time. I answered "why" I couldn't have improved the copy sooner, by saying (truthfully) I'd been reading a few blog posts about copy writing and learned new tricks that was excited to implement.
The best formula for asking for an extended deadline:
- State a positive reason (like improvement) for your request
- Highlight a benefit for the recipient of your request
- Show a negative consequence for not getting the extension (optional)
Send that email off and you're halfway to watching your favorite TV show.
Step 2: Set Up for Success
Don't work on a big paper or project if you can't do good work on it. Time is so precious - don't waste it. I was way too tired last night to be able to make any sort of meaningful impact on that catalog copy. So I worked around it.
Whatever your main task is, figure out little sub-tasks that will help you do your big project faster, or better.
Let's take an essay here as an example of the big nasty project that we can't bear to look at, although you can apply this strategy to any discipline or project you have looming around the corner.
1) Watch a video
- about your topic
- about how to write an awesome essay (or part of an essay, like the intro, or supporting evidence)
2) Read an article/blog post
- about your topic
- about how to write an awesome essay (or part of an essay, like your thesis)
3) Focus on Notes
- review your notes
- organize them
- annotate them
P.S. Want a free worksheet you can finish in minutes that will help you write better essays?
5) Invite Yourself to Work Tomorrow
- clear your desk of EVERYTHING not related to your project
- prettily arrange everything you need to get started tomorrow (including that glass of water you'll be jumping up to grab the minute you sit down)
- write an inspirational note for yourself tomorrow
6) Use Your Social Media Addiction to your Benefit
If you have to get on facebook, twitter, or Pinterest (guilty), spend your first 10 minutes surfing working toward a goal that will help you with your project.
Search for your topic. See what other's are saying. Maybe you'll find inspiration.
I like to dig through Pinterest for blog posts that will tell me how to do what I need to do (like write marketing copy) better.
Time. Block. These. Tasks.
Set your timer for 30 minutes and review your notes. Watch an hour-long Stanford University video on Behavioral Genetics (I love Sapolsky, and yes, I took this course for fun.) Spend 20 (timed) minutes reading a journal article in bed.
Time blocking is AWESOME for procrastinators.
You can focus in on one small task, and not harbor the fear that you could be spending hours trying to do one thing.
Ok, I know I said you're halfway to watching your favorite show halfway ago, but I want you to do one more tiny thing before changing into your jammies and plunking on the couch.
Bonus: Do 1 Small Task You'd Have to Do Tomorrow
If you're anything like me, you're not just procrastinating about one thing.
There's a whole list of tasks that need doing and some of them aren't school related. If you can't do your big work, do one essential thing you'd have to do tomorrow, completely un-school related, like dishes, or laundry.
If you need to limit your anxiety around this, set the timer for 10 minutes.
Just do dishes for 10 minutes. Or clean up a room. Something that will pull a sigh of satisfaction out of you when you wake up in the morning.
The idea here is that you'll be more relieved, feel less pressure, by taking care of another pressing task.
3. Knowing How to Use Procrastination Lessens Your Stress
Every time I send an email off to my professor asking for an extension, a huge weight is lifted from my shoulders.
The time before submitting my request is always horrible - stressful and tense.
When you're approaching a deadline and you're starting to feel anxious, knowing you can ask for a reprieve is pure gold.
As you work toward the ultimate goal of learning how to manage your time better (coughstillworkingonitcough) you can mitigate stress by asking for time allowances.
Additionally, if you have a due date looming ahead, knowing how to work around your big work when you just feel like you can't - that's a relief.
Get good enough at working around the work and you can work your way around to doing the big task.
This may feel like a summary, but being able to procrastinate well is itself a tool in your procrastinatin' bag.
Knowing that you know how to use procrastination makes it less of an anxiety-inducing fact of life.
And anxiety is largely what makes us procrastinate.