Advice from a Former Procrastinator

It’s Monday, and you just got home from a long day of classes. You check your syllabus and notice that you have a big essay due on Friday. What do you do?

a. Nothing — you lost your syllabus weeks ago.

b. Pull out your researched and well-organized outline and start writing!

c. Think about it for 5 minutes and decide you can do it all Thursday night.

d. Cry.

If you were freshman me, you chose C. (Okay let’s be honest it was probably A… or D.)

But since then, I’ve slowly been working toward being a real adult and consistently picking B, choosing to handle my responsibilities as soon as they arise.

We all know that when it comes to time management, college students often find themselves between a rock and a hard place, like having to choose between studying for a history exam and binge-watching 6 episodes of The Office until 2 in the morning the night before said exam.

Let’s face it: we’re busy. We’re stressed. We’re constantly being pulled in a million different directions, and we often choose the path of least resistance. But there’s a fine line between having the “ultimate college experience” and throwing over $4,000 at the registrar’s office every semester just to passively sit in class, do everything at the last minute, and hope to Blu that you pass.

For many of us, putting things off has become a defense mechanism, protecting us from the world of stress and responsibilities and, well, growing up and getting stuff done.

Or maybe you just get a rush from writing 10 page papers in one night and submitting them to D2L literally 30 seconds before they’re due. I don’t know your life. (But it’s actually my life, so…)

And maybe calling myself a “former procrastinator” is a bit of a stretch. Okay, it may be a downright lie. (Just maybe.) But I like to think that I’ve made a lot of progress since my first year at college, and I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t been difficult. But don’t worry — by reading this, you’ve already done what any procrastinator knows to be the hardest part: getting started!

So, here’s some advice I’ve learned along the way:

Always keep your end goal in mind.

What do you want to get out of these 4(ish) years? Where do you want to be 10 years from now? Most importantly, is what you’re doing now going to help you get there? Asking yourself these questions every once in a while will help you remember why you’re in college in the first place, keeping you focused and dedicated.

Don’t know where you want to end up yet? No problem! Career Services is a great place to start.

Don’t be like Tom.

Plan time for fun.

Knowing you have time squared away to do the things you want to do will keep you focused on the task at hand, making you more productive. Yes, this means you have to wait to do the fun stuff, but knowing that all your responsibilities are already taken care of will make it that much better.

Find a mentor.

I know this isn’t particular to studying or doing homework, but a mentor can help guide you through your time at UW-Eau Claire, even when it seems tough. Many people find that this person is their adviser or a professor they’re close with. They can keep you in the loop about internship and research opportunities, provide a lifelong connection, and even give some pretty good advice. And, they write the best letters of recommendation.

Stay organized.

The best place to start when it comes to staying on top of your day-to-day tasks, homework, and other responsibilities is to keep them organized. Keep all of your tasks in one place, and sort them out throughout the week. I do this by making to-do lists on Sundays for every day of the week. This will help you make sure that you’re starting the long projects early and staying on top of everything — all without over-working yourself!

An entry from my task notebook. An empty box means I haven’t done the task yet… #oops

Make a 4-year plan and stick to it.

If you’re like me, you’re what I like to call a graduation procrastinator. (I’ve only changed my major twice… that’s not that bad, right?) Although it’s tempting to shop around for classes and majors, you eventually need a definitive plan for the rest of your time here.

So, here’s my advice. If you don’t know where to start career-wise, head to Career Services, stat. Then, take some time to make a course plan with your adviser, and meet with them every semester to make sure you’re still on track. And make sure to plan in your high-impact experiences! You’re more likely to do them if you already have them crafted into your schedule.

Most importantly, don’t put off all your upper-level major classes until your last semester. Do you really want to be that senior taking 4 400-level classes at once? If you start taking those difficult classes now, you’ll lighten your load later on and will know sooner if you want to change majors.

Remember that self-care comes first.

actually me

The bottom line is that your education is about you. Exams, essays, group projects, presentations — they pile up pretty quickly, and it’s easy to wind up in a glass case of emotion in the process.

Self-care looks different for everybody. Sometimes for me, it means taking a 3-day weekend after a really tough week, going to Perkins at 4 o’clock in the morning in the middle of pulling an all-nighter, and most importantly, breaking the cycle of procrastination.

When you spend time working on your assignments every day, you do more than prevent yourself from the last-minute cram — you give yourself peace of mind. By doing so, you become comfortable with your workload and confident in your ability to succeed. Be reasonable about your expectations for yourself, and everything else will fall into place.

Alison Wagener is a junior English education major at UW-Eau Claire. She’s a student writer for University Communications and serves on Student Senate. Her short-term goals include mastering the ukulele, catching up on American Horror Story, and surviving college. Her long-term goals include becoming Leslie Knope. She’d love to knit you a hat if she ever finds any free time.

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