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Wasting Time in College


Dear Juli,

I am a college student and I am repeatedly late with getting papers done and turning in homework. I should have plenty of time, but I really do procrastinate. I spend a lot of my time on YouTube and Facebook doing nothing in particular. I don’t know if you have any ideas about how I can deal with this. – Wasting Time in College

Dear Wasting Time,

The challenge with college is that, unlike high school, there is little “buffer time” to get assignments done, so if you don’t get on them pretty quickly you will be pulling all-nighters near the end of the quarter or semester. This leads to unnecessary stress and often illness. I work with a lot of students, mostly those in college, and I see this behavior frequently. There are many reasons you might be procrastinating. The top four that I most often encounter, and ways to combat them, are listed below. Many times, it comes down to proper time-management and not playing the “put off till tomorrow” game.

Juli Shulem

Fear: When you are not sure of the outcome of the project – whether because you don’t feel prepared, feel it will result in failure, or don’t know what to do – then putting it off until the last possible moment is a not uncommon coping mechanism. You may need to find out exactly what the expectations are from your professor. Clarity may reduce the fear. You can also start by working with a classmate or a tutor who can push you past your fears on a project. Ask yourself what is holding you back and work from that answer.

Overwhelm: When you simply don’t know how or where to start, and every option seems too much and insurmountable, it’s easy to procrastinate. This is where planning and prioritizing can help. Looking at the entire project at once can seem daunting, but if you break it down into smaller components it is more manageable and less overwhelming. To write down on your schedule “Write Research Paper” is too much! Who would start that right out of the gate? You can break that down as, “Decide Topic, Write Topic Sentence, Create Outline, Find Sources, Write First Paragraph…” It is easier to schedule a step at a time instead of tackling the whole paper in one sitting. Start slowly and take each step thoughtfully and in order.

Lack of Planning: Intentionally failing to schedule tasks can create the illusion that the task is not there at all. But in fact, procrastination has reared its ugly head. When tasks are not processed in a reasonable amount of time, that can result in the thinking – well, more like feeling – “I’ve already let it go this long, what’s the point in trying to do it now? I’ll do it later …” which ultimately turns into a stressful scenario. Planning nightly for your next day, including steps for the projects that are due, will result in their being completed.

Boring! If you have something to do that doesn’t really inspire you in any way, you may find yourself putting off the task until the last possible minute due to lack of motivation. You will find some assignments and subjects boring, yet they are required for your major or to graduate, so you must find a way to make them more exciting. What can you do to make an assignment more interesting? Here are some ideas: Find a friend who also has a boring assignment and work side-by-side to make it more tolerable. Work on it somewhere different than the library or your dorm/apartment room. Make it a high priority and get it done faster so it’s off your list and you can enjoy time doing something else. Build in a reward such as spending an allotted amount of time doing something you do enjoy after you have completed the task.

If you find you are procrastinating so much that you are falling behind, get a coach. Someone who can help you plan and schedule, and who will hold you accountable, will make a big difference. This applies to anyone who finds they are stuck with a project or has difficulty pushing past the walls that procrastination builds.

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If you have a question you wish answered, email Juli Shulem at jshulem@gmail.com with “Question for column” in the subject line and it will be answered it as soon as possible. No question is too small or insignificant, and your name will not be used.

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