by Jason Martinez, Writing Consultant
Now that we’re about the midpoint of the semester, take a moment and reflect on how often the urge to stop what you are doing has overtaken you. And think of how much progress you lost because of various factors, some within your control and some outside of your control. It is perfectly natural to take breaks and stop working, and it is inevitable for most of us. Let us examine that problem a little closer to see what can be done to remedy procrastination and surrounding anxieties.
All too often, without intention to set myself back, I will stop what I am working on and lose nearly all momentum on the project. Being away from this blog for so long is an example of me feeling overwhelmed at writing, which is ironic considering my role as a Writing Consultant. But when I tell students that they are not alone in their procrastination and associated anxieties and concerns, this should serve as both confession and proof that most of us struggle to keep on top of workloads.
So, moving forward, let us take a look at some ways to regroup and get back on track when we are surrounded by that overwhelming need to stop what we are doing, letting the project get away from us.
First, it is important to remember that we are only human; we are going to get distracted and that is okay, and sometimes necessary to maintain a sense of balance. This is a natural inclination that most of us have. However, what is not okay, and is more harmful than good is using the distraction as an excuse for not doing the work. Trust me when I say that starting and stopping is not uncommon. But if possible, do not make indulging in distractions a consistent practice.
For many of us, laziness of some variety may play a role in procrastination (spoilers: I am guilty of this), but there are also other factors like anxiety playing a role in what we often label as laziness. Anxiety that is often linked to behavior considered laziness shows that more often we are truly lazy in the sense that we do not make that first move to get started, or more importantly, to get back to work in a timely manner.
Another reason for not working effectively is perfectionism. Perfectionism is a good excuse to be unproductive and can give a false sense of entitlement to rationalize bad habits. So, without realizing it, these bad habits have created this delay and procrastination, further adding to a sense of fear related directly to starting or continuing work on a project.
The need to “be perfect” can allow us to nitpick every element, further setting us back and ultimately overwhelming us to the point of keeping us away from the project for too long. What should be a stopping point to reflect over the progress becomes an extended hiatus, which only re-convenes when time has run down to the point of making life harder for us. We now have to go into high gear, a gear that is usually not nearly as productive at the eleventh hour. This is when mistakes are made, details not ironed out or double-checked, and the work is substandard.
With this being stated, we now have a starting point of understanding some of the root issues with procrastination. And more importantly, there is some context as to why these behaviors can occur. What can be done to improve the situation? Here are a few ways to consider making your life and workflow process easier to handle:
- Break the process down into smaller, digestible chunks that are not overwhelming, but will still yield positive and constructive results. This means that you might need to agree to only working at smaller increments, promising yourself to work for 10-30 minutes at a time without break. Something manageable and as free of distractions as possible.
- After your first work sequence is complete, get up and away from your work area. Pack up your things and take a walk around campus, grab a bite to eat, call your parents or friends, go workout, or just rest. But get away from the work for at least a few minutes.
- If you are working in such small increments of 10-30 minutes, a simple stretch and a snack will usually do the trick. If you are doing an hour or more at one time, definitely move around and get some exercise to be sure not to risk being too sedentary and the resulting health issues.
- Come back to the work. Always come back to the work as soon as possible so that all your hard work is not lost to sluggish progress and procrastination. Staying away too long will set you back and hurt you in the end.
Being effective as a student writer means being honest about yourself and your daily habits. Be free and vulnerable to say that you are lazy at times, or are a perfectionist. But do not judge yourself. Everyone works in different ways. Embrace the imperfections that make you special. Then use those imperfections to your advantage and move forward; find positives out of perceived negatives. Being an effective student, let alone a student writer, means that you are willing to make a plan, assess that plan and its outcomes, and then execute that plan based on all that you know. Commitment to completing the project is also a requirement. The goal is to be reasonable about your outcomes and to realize that tackling a writing project is a process, not an outcome.