Paper Procrastination

We’ve all experienced it: On the first day of class, we notice a paper assignment  on the syllabus.  It isn’t due for a month, so we ignore the assignment for a few weeks.  Then the professor starts talking about the paper in class, reminding us to do it.  We promise ourselves we’ll sit down and work on it over the weekend, but then friends invite us out to lunch, or to play Frisbee in the park, and we push it back further.

Finally, it is a week away from the due date, and we have to sit down and start writing.  But then anxiety about starting the paper shows up. The strong among us push through it, choose a topic, outline the paper, and just start writing.  But others of us push the paper off even more, waiting until the night before the paper is due to sit down and get it done.  By then, it’s too  late to do a great job, or to learn much from writing the paper.  An assignment that could have taught us something ends up being a stressful, nerve-wracking experience.

Why do people procrastinate on papers?

1. They don’t know where to begin a complex project like writing a paper, so they don’t begin at all.

2. Paper writing is often seen as an unpleasant task, so many students choose to do other things until they absolutely have to start writing their papers.

3. Many people lack motivation – they don’t see the inherent reason for writing the paper, other than being told to do so, so they avoid writing it.

4. Paper writing requires discipline, and it can be difficult to stay on task when distractions creep up.

Everyone procrastinates, but doing so causes students to perform poorly on papers, lose sleep, and stress out. What are some strategies for pushing through the procrastination to increase our success?

1. As soon as you get an assignment, read it thoroughly.  Figure out how long it will take you to finish the paper from start to finish, and schedule some times on your calendar for planning, writing and editing.  Make sure to write down the time of day you will sit down and work on your paper.  Studies have shown that people who write down a specific time to accomplish tasks are much more likely to do them.

2. Find a place to write where you will enjoy it and not be distracted.  Personally, I love going to coffee shops to work on papers.  Drinking a frothy latte and sinking into a comfy chair helps me enjoy the process, and there aren’t as many distractions as there are at home.  I actually like the noise.  However, you may need to go to a quiet place, like the library.  Figure out what works for you.

3. Use this website and others like it to become more familiar with the steps of writing a great paper.  When you are more familiar with the process, you won’t be as intimidated to begin writing your paper.  Then, break down the process into manageable tasks.  Decide to choose your topic and do some initial research one day, prepare an outline another day, and so on.  Don’t try to tackle your entire paper at once.

4. To increase your motivation, choose a topic that is meaningful for you.  What do you want to learn more about?  Don’t think about the paper as something you need to get done for your professor, rather, see it as a learning opportunity for yourself.  Writing papers is one of the great opportunities in college to learn about something you’re curious about.  View it as a great excuse to spend time investigating an interesting topic.

5. Ask a friend from your class to write with you.  Or hire a tutor to sit down with you and guide you through the writing p

rocess. Just as I am much more likely to go jogging with a partner, you are more likely to sit down and work if you have someone to write with you.

Are you a procrastinator?  Why do you think you do it?  Do you have any additional tips on how to stop procrastinating? Share them in the comments section.