Dealing with Procrastination I

Robert Byers, an English Ph.D. candidate, shares his experience and provides 3 Quick and Dirty Tips.

Okay, so we all procrastinate. It’s almost become an unofficial requirement for college. That last-minute stress of having a deadline makes us totally manic and crazy, and we bust something out just in time to turn it in the next day. We all do it, and we have this idea that we shouldn’t do it, but we just can’t help ourselves.

But I’m going to suggest something a bit radical—something that may sound a bit crazy. This requires a major shift in perspective, because you’ve been thinking about procrastination all wrong. What I’m suggesting is this:

You’re not procrastinating hard enough.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean you should wait until even closer to the deadline to do your assignments. What I mean is that you, young grasshopper, have not yet reached the highest form of procrastination. Despite all your practice, you have not yet perfected your procrastination technique. You’ll know you have reached the highest form of procrastination when you can say:

“I’ll procrastinate later.”

How can you achieve such splendor? The Procrastination Guru has answers.

To an extent, without any other motivating factor, it can involve tricking yourself. And tricking yourself can be much harder than tricking other people. As George said in the Seinfeld episode where Jerry had to take a lie detector test to see if he was lying about not watching soap operas: “Jerry, just remember… it’s not a lie, if you believe it.”

And “you believing it” is the hard part. So the first trick for this is to force yourself to start early. When your professor gives you the prompt for your final essay, take it back to your room, and as soon as you can follow the below tips:

Tip #1: Save a document to your computer now, that will become the essay later.

Open up your word processor of choice, make your heading (name, course, professor, date), add in a placeholder title (this can be anything, just remember to go back and change it later!), and type a random, throwaway first line. So for example, if you’re writing about economic exploitation in the third world, your first line could be something like: “Hello Mr. Cummerbund, my name is Admiral Trilby and I like turtles.”

Now save that document to your desktop and walk away from the computer. That’s it! In terms of time, half the work is now done, because you’ve started. This brings us to the second trick:

Tip #2: Only write a little bit each day.

Otherwise, you’ll get sick of it. When you do anything for prolonged periods without a break, it starts to wear on you. So to save more time, get better grades, improve your writing so you’ll look better for a job, and just to have an overall pleasanter time each semester, open up that document each day and just write for half an hour or something. The first day you can free-write some stuff. The next day, you can just play around with an outline—put down the major points of your topic/argument and move them around ‘til you’re happy. And so on. And now, the final trick:

Tip #3: Type in single-spaced, not double-spaced. (Only double-space right before you print it off.)

This is the weirdest one, because it’s all mental. If you start typing single-spaced, after a while, you can trick your brain into thinking you only have to write half the length of the assignment. So if you have to write a 10 page paper, you write 5 pages single-spaced, and boom! Double-space that essay and you’re done.

But this isn’t just useful for the mental aspect; there’s also a practical aspect. By single-spacing, you fit twice as much of your essay onto the screen at a time, and you only have to scroll half as much to get to other parts of your essay. This lets you see your paper from a broad, overall perspective more easily, so you can move paragraphs/topics around with more efficiency, thus saving you time and helping you write better.

So there are my tips. As you perfect your procrastination, you’ll come up with more tricks on your own. And once you start following this path, you’ll find that the rewards at the end are sweeter. After all, delayed gratification is a sign of maturity. So save that document to your desktop and come back to it tomorrow—but write something when you do—and you’ll begin to achieve perfection.