Ah, the dawn of mid-term season is upon us once more. Six weeks into the semester, and I fight the onset of mental breakdowns several times a day. Don’t get me wrong; I love college and its relentless torrent of opportunities, but attempting to balance every opportunity that I naively thought I could handle can be overwhelming (“Pro” tip: Don’t be afraid to leave some programs until next semester. Joining everything at once is a mistake more typical of a freshman than wearing a UF’19 shirt in public. Prioritize!).
I have a selective memory that I don’t select myself. I’ll remember that Tuesday is Taco Night at my sorority, but I will completely fail to remember that I have four math quizzes due that night following my journey through Mexican cuisine. How do I combat the imminent panic attack that results from my own involuntary amnesia? I plan ahead. Procrastination can be killer, but if you don’t give it the opportunity, then you’ll be a happier, healthier, and more productive UF student.
To avoid a Marston all-nighter and eventual descent into a pile of Cheeto crumbs and tears, I have some sage advice (that you can obviously trust, because I’ve been a college student for a whole six weeks) on how to nip procrastination in the bud and emerge from this semester VICTORIOUS.
Invest in a Planner
There is no book more important than a sturdy, hardbound planner to last through the shine or inevitable rain. Not those flimsy plastic ones they handed out in elementary school—I’m talking laminated tabs, ribbon bookmark, elastic closure. This baby has gotta be able to weather coffee stains, teardrops, possible blood stains (paper cuts?), and pizza sauce.
Your planner will be your Bible. You will live and die by this book. At first, it’ll seem a little superfluous; you’re totally capable of remembering everything you have to do! How could you forget when that big test is? Maybe when you have five more of those big tests in one week? Or when you join seven different student organizations and take up an intramural and decide to volunteer at the local monkey sanctuary twice a week? Your schedule gets packed RIDICULOUSLY fast. If you don’t at least have the dates and times of your commitments written down, then there’s no way you’ll be able to remember them all. Contrary to what middle schoolers would have you believe, planners are not nerdy or embarrassing. They are essential.
Spruce it up. Make it your own. You need to like looking at it, because it’ll be in your face no less than one hundred times a day. Maybe even invest in a fancy pen—I prefer the glitter variety—that motivates you to write on your beloved planner’s pages. By the end of the year, it may be in shambles, but that’s how you know it did its job—to help you do yours!
Sync Your iCloud
Of course, in this day and age, how can one expect to rely on a paper product when technology can serve the same purpose?
Unless you’re a female celebrity or share a computer with your parents, syncing your iCloud with the rest of your Apple devices is always a good idea. For the Android set, Dropbox and Google Drive remain reliable stalwarts of file synchronization and serve the same purpose. By virtually connecting your phone to your laptop, you share a network of information identical to both. Whenever you add an event to your calendar on your phone, it’ll appear on your computer calendar, and you’ll be sent a reminder when that event (or in most cases, assignment) nears. All of your information is accessible from any of your devices, which, admittedly, is a little more convenient than a physical planner. Odds are, you have either your phone or laptop (or both) on your person at any given time, so might as well plan ahead!. This makes procrastination almost impossible if you’re constantly bombarded by notifications on every digital apparatus.
Get in Your ZONE
Whether or not we’ve found it yet, we all have a ZONE: a physical place or state or mind in which we are completely in tune with our minds, a focus so sharp you could cut a wheel of aged parmesan with it. For some, this is in the library, or outside in an ENO (although personally, I would either fall asleep or fall out of said hammock). For others, it’s wherever they can plug in their headphones and disconnect from whatever surrounds them. And yet others still are able to find their zone in crowded Starbucks or the bustle of a common room, swarmed by action and noise—but they’re able to remove themselves from it and delve into their work. Wherever or whatever your zone is, return to it often. You’ll thrive in it, and you’ll be able to complete your work to the best of your abilities when you sync up with your own brain.
Remove obstacles that prevent you from reaching your zone (and inner zen). For many, the main culprit is the cell phone. It’s impossible to ever fully rid yourself of the digital bug, but maybe by muting it and keeping it in your backpack rather than keeping it by your side will ease the urge to resist temptation.
Working outside of the zone, or wherever you’re distracted and uncomfortable, makes it harder to accomplish anything substantial, and with the deluge of obligations you have to balance, you’ll have to sacrifice quality. Honor your abilities and find your happy place.
Set Memory Triggers
Know you’re the type to read something a million times and still forget about it? Pre-empt your own forgetfulness and set memory triggers to avoid that “too late” feeling. Whether it’s a strategically-placed Sticky Note with one word on it that somehow reminds you of a homework assignment due tomorrow, or a song you hear on the radio every time you’re supposed to be driving to your volunteer site, find what works for you. It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else, as long as you understand your own obscure references.
Get your friends in on the act. Ask them to send you a specific trigger at a specific time. For example, I once asked my friend to scream “GARLIC” at me two hours before the start of our musical performance, because, for some reason, “GARLIC” reminded me to set a prop in a specific location that I would need during the performance. Without “GARLIC,” I would’ve had to nervously improvise a scene in which my character needed a string of garlic, which sounds incredibly amusing but also terrible. Life is better when you remember things.
Take a Break.
You deserve it. If you leave everything for the end and try to do everything at once, you’ll lose focus and all your tasks will start running together until they converge and form a gigantic cloud of responsibility, looming over your head, expanding until it bursts into raindrops of failure. Too dark a metaphor? Perhaps, but if you don’t allow yourself time to breathe, then your mind takes you to some pessimistic places.
Reward yourself for fulfilling a certain work quota. Perhaps after diligently sitting through three straight hours of math lectures, you could go on a run to get your blood pumping again. And then maybe reward yourself for running and have a cupcake (just kidding, the sugar rollercoaster will mess up your study vibe). And then you can return to your work.
You are not alone. You are not the first to confront a workload this intense, and you certainly won’t be the last. So think of those who’ve come before you and succeeded. It could be an older classmate who somehow balanced twelve different student organizations with her burgeoning juggling career and still made it into Harvard, or maybe a celebrity like Oprah Winfrey, who overcame impossible odds to become Oprah Winfrey. If it’s a public figure, maybe hang a photo of them somewhere that won’t freak out your roommate, but will remind you of the inner strength you possess.
What’s more inspirational than getting to enjoy the fruits of your labor? Envisioning the end result: you, sitting on top of the world, stress-free, able to look back on the hours of labor you put in just to experience the euphoria you feel now. The more difficult the drudgery, the more rewarding its completion will be.
You will procrastinate eventually (if you haven’t already). You will scramble to complete your assignments, and sometimes, you might not be able to make it work. You will regret it. But you’ll learn from it, and maybe you’ll even remember this little article and put words into action. I’m not perfect, surprisingly, but alleviating the stress by proactivity and forward thinking has made my life immeasurably more manageable. Remember, in the words of the great Aubrey Drake Graham, “You da best.” You got this. Now go kick some procrastinatory butt!