I am a procrastinator. It’s unhealthy, stressful, and something I extremely dislike about myself—but I keep doing it. Late-night essays, cramming sessions, and an unholy amount of coffee just aren’t good for a person—but that’s not the type of procrastination I’m talking about. I’m talking about slight procrastination. You see, after watching a TED Talk (where all great ideas seem to come from) called “The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers” by Adam Grant, I was surprised to see procrastinating as one of them. However, the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Giving some time to mull over a project isn't bad—it gives you time to think and come up with great ideas. Here are all the steps for healthy procrastination.
Look at the assignment—just look
When an assignment is handed out, don’t just stuff it in your backpack. Read it and make sure you understand it. If you don’t or would like some clarification, ask the teacher. Sometimes teachers are unavailable, or sometimes you end up with the one teacher who doesn’t like you for some reason—in that case, ask a tutor or classmate. If you’re in college, chances are there is a great tutoring building somewhere on your campus, and they’d be happy to help you. It’s important to make sure you know what the assignment is about to ensure that you’re doing productive thinking. After all, you don’t want to write an essay on youth in Asia only to be told it was supposed to be about euthanasia.
It may seem crazy, but shove that assignment to the back of your mind. Work on something else, message your friends a bit, complain about this assignment you just got…do anything but work on the actual assignment. Now, if this assignment requires research or you just can’t stand not doing anything, start finding articles. Look for videos about your topic, or if you don’t have one, start finding some possible ideas. Just. Don’t. Cram. Give yourself some time to sort out new information. Watching 10 TED Talks in a row just makes them blur in your head (trust me on this one).
Know your deadline
This is closely related to point two because this is where the fine line between healthy procrastination and the I-have-to-stay-up-till-midnight kind is. Don’t be stupid. If your assignment is due in three days, make sure you will be done in time. Don’t go to your teacher saying, “Well, I read this article and it said I should procrastinate and...” The teacher will stop you right there. This applies to scholarships too. If the scholarship application is due on May 31, it’s due on May 31—no exceptions. You don’t want a big fat 0 or to miss out on a chance at free college money just because you played too much Fortnite.
Start your assignment
You have reached the all-important part! At this point, you should have a solid idea on what you’re doing. Perhaps you did some research and took a particular liking to a specific idea. Maybe you came up with some unique perspective on your assignment. If you didn't, that’s fine. Sometimes nothing creative comes at all, and this is just going to be one of those it-was-like-gnawing-off-my-leg assignments. Sadly, you just have to power through those ones.
Step away when you're done
Once you’re done with the assignment, step away for a bit. Hopefully you’re not finishing it at 11:30 pm hoping to turn it in before midnight. Do some slight procrastinating. Go for a walk, reward yourself with a donut—just don’t read over your assignment yet. Let it fall from your mind for a few hours. Work on a completely different assignment if you have one.
Review and revise
Go back and check your work or get a friend to check it. Stepping back after a few hours lets you look at the assignment with a fresh mind and be more willing to allow changes. You may have grown attached to a particular phrase that makes no sense, but some time away has allowed your friend to suggest changing it without fear of possible mauling. Also, punctuation and grammar errors will be more visible. After staring at an essay for hours, brains begin to fill in blanks and fix errors for you. Too many times have I been told that I missed a word somewhere when I was 100% sure it was there.
You’re done. Congratulations! You’ve just turned in what is hopefully a very thought-provoking assignment, or at least one you enjoyed doing. I prefer to use this method because it makes my assignments more enjoyable. I come up with really good ideas when given enough time. Of course, I do struggle with the fine line between good and bad procrastinating, but I’m working on it. After all, a late-night, soul-sucking assignment is good enough motivation to make sure it never happens again.
If you need more advice on doing your best work and managing your time, check out these tips on How to Fight Procrastination and Find Your Motivation.