Set a writing deadline (other than the paper’s due date) for yourself by making an appointment at the Writing Center or telling your TA (or a former TA) that you’re going to give them a draft on such-and-such a date. If you make your Writing Center appointment for several days before the paper is due, then you may be motivated to have a draft finished, in order to make the appointment worthwhile.
2. Leave your work out.
Keeping your work (books, notes, articles, etc.) physically out, in full view, gives you a reminder that you are in the middle of the paper, or that you need to start. Also, if you write in more than one shift, it can be helpful to leave off in the middle of a paragraph and leave your ‘tools’ where they are. When you return to the paper, you’ll be able to “warm up” by finishing that paragraph. Starting a new section cold may be more difficult.
3. Work on improving your writing when you don’t have a deadline.
Investigate your writing process. First of all, you may not think you have a thing called a “writing process.” But you do—everyone does. Describe your writing process in detail. Ask yourself:
• When do I usually start on a paper?
• What tools do I need (or think I need) in order to write?
• Where do I write? • Do I like quiet or noise when I write?
• How long a block of time do I need?
• What do I do before I start?
• What do I do at the end?
• How do I feel at the end (after I have turned it in)?
• Then ask yourself: • What do I like about my writing process?
• What do I want to change?
Once you can see your writing process, then you can make a decision to change it. But take it easy with this—only work on one part at a time. Otherwise, you’ll get overwhelmed and frustrated—and we all know where that leads, straight down the procrastination road.
4. Evaluate your writing’s strengths and weaknesses.
If you aren’t ready to evaluate your writing process completely (and it’s okay if you aren’t), then you could try just listing your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. For instance, perhaps you are great at creating thesis statements, but you have trouble developing arguments. Or, your papers are very well-organized, but your thesis and argument tend to fall a little flat. Identifying these issues will help you do two things:
1) When you write, you can play to your strength; and
2) You can choose one weakness and do something about it when you DON’T have a deadline.
Now, doing anything when you don’t have a deadline may sound strange to a procrastinator, but bear with me. Let’s say you’ve decided that your writing is too wordy, and you want to work on being more concise. So, some time when you don’t have a paper—but you do have a free hour—you waltz into the Writing Center and tell your tutor, “Hey, I want learn how to write more clearly.” You confer, and you come away with some simple strategies for eliminating wordiness.
Here is why this may make a difference the next time you write a paper, regardless of whether or not you have procrastinated (again!): You print out your draft. It’s 1 a.m. You go to bed. The next morning, you read over your paper (it’s due at noon). You say to yourself, “I notice I’m being too wordy.” BUT, rather than concluding, “Oh, well, it’s too late, there isn’t anything I can do about that,” (as you may have in the past), you can choose to employ some of what you learned (previously, when you weren’t under the gun) to make your writing more concise. You edit the paper accordingly. You turn it in.
When your instructor hands the papers back the following week, there are far fewer instances of “awkward,” “unclear,” etc. in the margins. Voila! You’ve made a positive change in your writing process!
What does this have to do with procrastination? Well, making one small change in your writing process creates momentum. You begin to feel more positive about your writing. You begin to be less intimidated by writing assignments. And—eventually—you start them earlier, because they just aren’t as big a deal as they used to be.
Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses in your writing gives you a sense of control. Your writing problems are solvable problems. Working on your writing when you don’t have a deadline helps you gain insight and momentum. Soon, writing becomes something that, while you may not look forward to it, you don’t dread quite as much. Thus, you don’t procrastinate quite as much.
This strategy also accounts for the fact that if you perceive procrastination as having been successful for you in the past, you aren’t going to give it up right away
5. Hone your proofreading and editing skills.
If you procrastinate on writing because you don’t like to re-read what you have written, the good news is this: you can learn specific proofreading, revising, and editing strategies. If you finish your paper ahead of time, and you re-read it, and you don’t like it, you have options. Writing a first draft that you don’t like doesn’t mean you’re a terrible writer. Many writers—in fact, I would venture to say most—hate their first drafts. Neither Leo Tolstoy nor Toni Morrison produced brilliant prose the first time around. In fact, Morrison (a big fan of revision) said recently, “You don’t have to love it just because you wrote it!” If you practice some revision and editing strategies, you may feel more comfortable with the idea of re-reading your papers. You’ll know that if you find weaknesses in the draft (and you will), you can do something to improve those areas.
6. Learn how to tell time.
One of the best ways to combat procrastination is to develop a more realistic understanding of time. Procrastinators’ views of time tend to be fairly unrealistic. “This paper is only going to take me about five hours to write,” you think. “Therefore, I don’t need to start on it until the night before.” What you may be forgetting, however, is that our time is often filled with more activities than we realize. On the night in question, for instance, let’s say you go to the gym at 4:45 p.m. You work out (1 hour), take a shower and dress (30 minutes), eat dinner (45 minutes), and go to a sorority mee
ting (1 hour). By the time you get back to your dorm room to begin work on the paper, it is already 8:00 p.m. But now you need to check your email and return a couple of phone calls. It’s 8:30 p.m. before you finally sit down to write the paper. If the paper does indeed take five hours to write, you will be up until 1:30 in the morning—and that doesn’t include the time that you will inevitably spend watching TV. And, as it turns out, it takes about five hours to write a first draft of the essay. You have forgotten to allow time for revision, editing, and proofreading. You get the paper done and turn it in the next morning. But you know it isn’t your best work, and you are pretty tired from the late night, and so you make yourself a promise: “Next time, I’ll start early!”
7. Make an unschedule.
The next time you have a writing deadline, try using an un-schedule to outline a realistic plan for when you will write. An un-schedule is a weekly calendar of all the ways in which your time is already accounted for. When you make an un-schedule, you consider not only your timed commitments such as classes and meetings, but also your un-timed activities such as meals, exercise, errands, laundry, time with friends and family, and the like. It is not a list of what you should do in a given week; rather it is an outline of the time that you will necessarily spend doing other things besides writing.
Once you have made your un-schedule, take a look at the blank spaces. These represent the maximum number of hours that you could potentially spend writing. By starting with these blank spaces as a guide, you will be able to more accurately predict how much time you will be able to write on any given day. You may be able to see, for instance, that you really don’t have five hours to spend writing on the night before the paper is due. By planning accordingly, you will not only get a better night’s sleep, you may also end up with a better paper!
The un-schedule might also be a good way to get started on a larger writing project, such as a term paper or an honors thesis. You may think that you have “all semester” to get the writing done, but if you really sit down and map out how much time you have available to write on a daily and weekly basis, you will see that you need to get started sooner, rather than later. In addition, the unschedule may reveal especially busy weeks or months, which will help you budget time for long-term projects.
Perhaps most importantly, the un-schedule can help you examine how you spend your time. You may be surprised at how much (or how little) time you spend watching television, and decide to make a change. It’s especially important that you build time for fun activities into your un-schedule. Otherwise, you will procrastinate in order to steal time for relaxation.
You can also use the un-schedule to record your progress towards your goal. Each time you work on your paper, for example, mark it on the un-schedule. One of the most important things you can do to kick the procrastination habit is to reward yourself when you write something, even if (especially if) that writing is only a little piece of the whole. Seeing your success on paper will help reinforce the productive behavior, and you will feel more motivated to write later in the day or week.
8. Set a time limit.
Okay, so maybe one of the reasons you procrastinate on writing projects is that you just plain hate writing! You would rather be at the dentist than sitting in front of your computer with a blank Microsoft Word document staring you in the face. In that case, it may be helpful to set limits on how much time you will spend writing before you do something else. While the notation “Must work on Hemingway essay all weekend” may not inspire you to sit down and write, “Worked on Hemingway essay for ½ hour” just might. Or, if you tell yourself that you will write “all weekend,” for instance, the sheer agony of the thought may keep you from doing any writing at all. If, however, you say that you will write for two hours on Saturday afternoon, you may actually accomplish something. The important thing here is to keep your commitment to yourself. Even if, at the end of the two hours, you think you could keep going, s. Go outside and enjoy the weather. Your procrastinating self needs to be able to trust your new non-procrastinating self the next time you say you will only write for a certain amount of time. If you go overboard this time, then the next time you say, “I’ll write for two hours and then s,” the procrastinator within will respond, “Yeah, right! I’m going rollerblading!”
On the other hand, it may work better for you to trick yourself into working on your paper by telling yourself you’re only going to write for two hours, but then continuing to work if you’re feeling inspired. Experiment with both approaches and see which one seems to work best for you.
9. Be realistic about how long it takes you to write.
Procrastinators tend to be heroic about time; they estimate that it will take them two hours to complete a task that would take most people four. Once you have determined that procrastination is hurting your writing, begin taking notice of how long it actually takes you to write. Many students have a “page an hour” rule. Perhaps you can write a page in an hour if you are totally rested, fed, and focused, your roommate isn’t home, and the wind is blowing just right. But what if the phone rings, what if you are tired, and what if you have to go to the bathroom? When you estimate how long it will take you to write something, expect that there will be interruptions along the way.
10. Parting thoughts
As you explore why you procrastinate and experiment with strategies for working differently, don’t expect overnight transformation. You developed the procrastination habit over a long period of time; you aren’t going to s magically. But you can change the behavior, bit by bit. If you s punishing yourself when you procrastinate and start rewarding yourself for your small successes, you will eventually develop new writing habits. And you will get a lot more sleep.
It is expected that if you seriously think about your practice of putting off your plans frequently, you would definitely put off your habit of procrastination and you may be better off in terms of your achievements.
Be Happy – Don’t put off Your Plans Frequently.