My junior year in college I took the most difficult class I had ever taken: History of Political Thought with a professor I loathed. I would come to class, work hard, but each week I would check my grade and I was constantly disappointed with my effort/reward ratio. Studying until 2AM was just not reflected in my grades! I had to make a drastic change.
The semester was nearing its end. A paper was coming due that would count for 80% of our final grade. You simply had to do well if you wanted to pass the class (I HAD to pass with an acceptable grade or else I couldn’t graduate early like I had planned). The pressure was on.
2 Months to Deadline
So what did I do? While classmates were busy yammering about how far along they were in the minimum 25-page paper, I didn’t even know what they were talking about. I would nod my head and scratch out the day’s to-do list on my piece of scratch paper. I knew the paper requirements but outside of that, I had no clue of the topic. I was more focused on today’s tasks.
1 Month to Deadline
My classmates really needed to relax. It’s a month away for crying out loud! I was spending my days working on much tighter deadlines for my other classes. I’ll partake in the madness soon but not today.
1 Day to Deadline
My long-distance girlfriend came into town for the weekend. After I bid her farewell, I sat down at my computer with 21 hours until I had to turn in a 25-page paper worth 80% of my grade in the hardest class I had ever taken. Did I mention I only slept 4 hours the night before?
For those 21 hectic hours, I wrote over 1-page per hour to compile a well-researched, well-cited, edited paper ready for grading.
A week later, a somber-looking professor addressed our class. He expressed his feelings that we hadn’t taken the paper seriously enough and that was reflected in our grades.
He stared at the floor as he stepped down from the podium. He handed back our papers one at a time. He handed them out, slightly curled and completely upside down, as professors sometimes do when they feel the student should be embarrassed if fellow students take a peek at the grade. The professor I loathed even more at this point slowly returned to the front of the room. He informed us only 3 students passed. After hearing that, I assumed the worst. 3 students out of 19… I couldn’t even bring myself to turn my paper over. Maybe if I looked around I would see only 2 happy faces. Maybe the third happy face could be mine… Screw it, I slapped the paper front-side up. B+ Best in the class I later found out.
Those 21 hours were the most productive of my college career. I can thank procrastination.
Parkinson’s law states “work expands to fill the time available for its competition”. Had I began the paper as soon as my classmates, I would have let the workload consume me. I would have given it far more time than it was worth while probably achieving a much less desirable outcome. This law is why most retired people claim to be extremely busy. They probably aren’t busy, they just feel like they are. Suddenly eating breakfast and putting on their shoes takes an hour when it used to take 10 minutes. When you feel a task is taking far longer than it should, narrow down the time you have to complete it next time. You’ll be amazed how efficient/amazing you become.
DON’T mistake procrastination with laziness. When I refer to procrastination, I mean procrastinating one task while you work on a more time-sensitive one. With that said…
So many people claim procrastination is a terrible thing. But procrastination leads to results as well as a little stress (is a great kick-in-the-butt when you’re approaching a deadline). It’s that extra shot of adrenaline that keeps you focused. Everything I write on this blog is directly tied to money. So let’s put a dollar figure on my B+ sprint.
Had I spent the 2 months working on the paper as diligently as my classmates, I would have had a huge opportunity loss. During this time in my life I was making about $11/hour calling alumni to give my school more money. Let’s say I worked on the paper 2 hours per day for 2 months. That’s about the class average I would say (it was a difficult 500-level course – one girl had a breakdown during one of our class discussions). This time estimation is excluding the final weekend push we all did.
60 days * 2 hrs per day = 120 hours * $11 = $1,320.
1,320… that’s the distance of a track in feet. You know, the kind of track that encircles a football field. Imagine laying a dollar bill on each foot of that track and then watching those bills fly away in the wind. Had I not procrastinated, that’s exactly what would have happened. I would have been too busy thrashing around the library worrying about the assignment to earn my $1,320! Just by procrastinating on one paper, I was able to pay for quite a few additional classes.
There you have it. Procrastination is a handy. So if you procrastinate, embrace the awesomeness. What I find works best is to either receive from someone else a deadline or create your own. Understand the rules of the task. You don’t need to worry about small details. Work on another tasks until you approach the deadline. Give yourself 20% more time than you think it will take to accomplish (you need to eat, ya know) and then begin. “But, Will, what happens if I underestimate the time it’ll take to complete the task?” You didn’t understand the rules of the task well enough. You may stumble a little this time (like a Bambi learning to walk) but falling this time will hurt enough so you never fall again.
College before my junior year procrastination revelation was more difficult. Before I embraced procrastination, I worked on statistics for 2 hours per day for most of a semester. I did not do well. My worst class ever. Although I think my very pretty tutor was a little distracting as well. So the takeaway here is to do work as it needs done – never before. Sounds simple doesn’t it. It is simple. Good luck!
What tasks do you want to get accomplished quickly?