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Deadlines and procrastination - Helen's journal and online home
In which an old dog attempts to learn new tricks.
Deadlines and procrastination
I am working on my tendencies to procrastinate and have been for years. I count it as a small triumph that I got this OU assignment in 10 minutes before the last one. By which I mean the deadline is always midday on the cut-off date with a 'Period of Grace' until midnight. Last time I submitted at 5:40 pm, this time it was 5.30 pm! So I am getting better. Honest... :)

Yesterday morning I had an outline in the form of a mindmap, 4 scenes selected for discussion from the set books (Swallows and Amazons and Northern Lights) and a number of appropriate quotes underlined in the critical essays, all ready to use to either back up my points or, in some cases, to argue against. I wrote the whole 2000 word essay in one day.

Now why couldn't I have done that 3 or 4 days ago? Why do I always leave it until the very last day?

Actually, I do know at least part of the answer. My marks had been good for the first two but dropped by 12% for the last essay. I had (as I thought) tried to provide in essay #3 what the tutor wanted in response to the feedback on essays #1 and #2 and instead did much worse. So at least part of the problem was a crisis of confidence. I felt that my essay writing skills had deserted me and I was on a downward slide. I could only screw up the determination to write the thing when I had reached the very last day and had no choice but to do what I could in the time available and submit it. This is classic procrastinator behaviour, as described in Neil Fiore's book The Now Habit. (A book I highly recommend, by the way. He's the only person I've seen who explains so clearly why procrastination does actually work to relieve feelings of stress, even though in the long term it is not a good strategy.)

However, I am cautiously optimistic about this essay. I think I did stick to the point more than in the last one. The trick, it seems, is not to get enthusiastic about the books because this leads to reading too much around the subject and then not being able to condense my thoughts into 2000 words. Instead I need to cherry pick a few scenes and choice quotes from the critics and run with those. It also worked better writing from the bottom up rather than top down.

Now, if I can replicate this method next time, but get it in with a day or so to spare, I really will be making progress!

[Cross-posted from Dreamwidth by way of a backup http://heleninwales.dreamwidth.org/30992.html. If you want to leave a comment, please use whichever site you find most convenient. Comments so far: comment count unavailable.]

Current Mood: accomplished accomplished

6 comments or Leave a comment
coth From: coth Date: February 17th, 2012 03:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
During my recent teaching course, for the first couple of (very short) essays I enjoyed fossicking around in the internet, but it took a lot of time and made very little difference to the actual essay I wrote. Later on, as time pressed harder, I just wrote the essays. I don't think I wrote worse essays in the later stages, but I do think I know less about the later topics because of the lack of reading. So while I satisfied the teacher throughout, I feel personally dissatisfied at having given up the reading around.

Not sure how to square this. Am still thinking about it.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: February 18th, 2012 10:56 am (UTC) (Link)
I know! It is frustrating.

It is most efficient, with regard to writing the essays and passing the course, to simply read the assignment question and focus the reading very tightly on that. It saves all the mental thrashing around as you try to pick the relevant stuff from all the interesting stuff that you have read. But it doesn't deepen your overall knowledge of the subject.
khiemtran From: khiemtran Date: February 17th, 2012 08:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is classic procrastinator behaviour, as described in Neil Fiore's book The Now Habit.

Hmm. Sounds interesting. Maybe I should read it. One day.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: February 18th, 2012 11:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Most books on being more organised simply explain how to set clear goals, how to break down big projects into tiny bite-sized tasks, which is all very useful, but if you're as skilled at procrastinating as I am, you will already have wonderful plans and Next Action Lists, yet still don't actually get started on projects!

Fiore really understands the psychology behind why procrastinators do what they do and why someone can be perfectly efficient and in control in many parts of their lives and a chronic procrastinator in others.
green_knight From: green_knight Date: February 17th, 2012 09:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well done for handing it in on time, which is the most important thing.

I've accepted that wibbling over new assignments is part of my process. I *always* do it, every single time, so I'm now embracing it as part of the process: I know that any new project I start, I will look at it, I will go 'oh noes, too difficult', I will go 'I would rather do [probably the last project that I had equally wibbled about]', etc. And so, whenever I get something in, I will open it and stare at it and wibble a bit and close it again. And a few days later, I will do the same, only this time I'll read through the brief and read through the project, and start work for half an hour before feeling overwhelmed and going off to do something else. Then I'll wrap up the previous thing, and start, in the knowledge that the first couple of days I'll probably only do 2-3 hours on it.

And then I'm over the hump and I'm happy to get up, sit down, and start doing it, and keep doing it all day.

I am doing my best to wean myself of "the last momen I can do x" because if I do it first, then I'll have just as much time to play with, _and_ I won't have to feel guilty over it.
heleninwales From: heleninwales Date: February 18th, 2012 11:04 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I've almost always got things in on time, even if it is the last minute. I just hate the panicky feelings of the deadline looming, yet it was my procrastination that made me leave it that late in the first place.

However, I do think that the bottom up approach worked much better for this essay and I will definitely try that again. It just shows that even when you have a method that works, some projects benefit from using an approach that you always swore wouldn't be right for you! :)
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