In college, I was the Empress of the All-Nighter. An absolute champ. I’d open up a blank Word document, spread my class notes and books around me in a 360-degree rubbish heap of thoughts, crack a Red Bull, and just go, for hours and hours. I’d mutter to myself, half nobly and half self-pityingly, the lines of Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”: “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” The deadline pressure made me focused and strong, and I’d crank out page after page in the sortof silence of a college dorm at 2am. I even liked it. There’s a particular pleasure that comes with the next-day weariness of enormous academic output, and the nap I’d take the next afternoon when classes were done for the day – oh yeah, that was good stuff.
These days I’m somewhat reformed. I no longer cram major intellectual labor into one epic night, now knowing with age and experiences of both triumph and shame, that I’ve got better ideas when they’ve percolated over days, weeks, even months, and I’m more crafty in my delivery when I’ve been through several careful revisions. I break projects up into daily tasks and try to get through them all, one at a time, at a reasonable pace. And generally speaking, when I finish my work these days, I’m proud of what I’ve written, and it’s done on time. Maybe not well in advance of the deadline, but at least on the right day, by 11:59pm, Pacific Standard Time.
But I’ve still not conquered the day-to-day procrastination problem. I’m the worst. I’ll call random friends, make 19 cups of tea, answer not-at-all-urgent emails, and of course, click on random internet bullshit.
Here’s my list of the Top 5 Categories of Internet Distraction I am Likely to Click On:
1) shark or orca videos. Never cats. Gross.
2) photo galleries of Kate Middleton’s outfits.
3) 100% of theonion.com
4) political articles, especially the kind that make me angry
5) personality quizzes, all varieties. Today I discovered in the “Which British Film Acting Legend Are You?” quiz that I’m Dame Judy Dench. Unexpected, but I’ll take it.
Recently, I asked one of my classes to write for a few minutes about what their writing process looks like, what they like about it, and what they hoped to change. There were lots of cool things in that stack of papers, but one frustration shared by many was a penchant for procrastination. Over the years, I’ve had many a student sheepishly admit to this problem. But never fear. I assure you, this particular brand of self-loathing is widely shared amongst students and faculty. I therefore dedicate this blog post you, my people! My fellow distracted, stalling people! Solidarity!
But also, mentorship. Procrastination is far from the deadliest of sins, and we shouldn’t feel too terrible about being engaged in non-work things that give us joy. Joy, I think, is downright essential. But, beyond the penalties that go with missing deadlines, procrastination can have another harsh consequence. When I was in college, I was smart, engaged, and interested. I did all my work and was invested in the ideas my courses engaged me in. But because I was overbooked, bad at planning, and a terrible daytime procrastinator, I wrote all my papers at the last minute. I always got good grades, but I never had the satisfaction of knowing I’d drained the tank on a particular task. Each time, I knew I could have done more. So let me share my very best anti-procrastination tips with you, as one who knows the struggle, and as one who knows the lingering disappointment that comes at the end, when you know you had more to give. We can’t get it right every time, but my goal for myself and for us all: feel this way as little as possible.
Top 5 Procrastination Curbing Practices:
1) The Buddy System: find a friend who is far better at focusing than you are, and beg them to be your work buddy. Ideally someone whose disapproval you dread enough to shape up and buckle down. Clark and Moretti are both good picks, for the record.
2) Internet-Free: so important. Find an Iona wireless deadspot or a cheap-o coffee shop that won’t give you their password, or if all else fails, turn off your wifi. If you can’t bear the idea of leaving your phone behind, bury it somewhere in an inconvenient corner of your bag.
4) 3 hour Chunks of Time: never write, study, etc. for more than 3 hours of a time. Take a break. But also, really crank during those three hours so that you deserve it.
5) Take Inspiration in Your Successes: when I’m starting something new and feel like I’ve completely forgotten how to write a good sentence, or whatever the task may be, I look into my archives of Done Work. It’s so reassuring to remember that I know how to survive this task and even do it well.