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5 Ways to Procrastinate More Efficiently During Finals

Credit as always to Bill Watterson.

Credit as always to Bill Watterson.

How is doing research for a paper like procrastinating? Both existed before the internet, but now you can do them both so much faster.

Imagine you’re a college student trying to put off working on your finals in 1992. All your on-hand entertainment is restricted to physical media. Your CD of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Your VHS copy of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Your Super Nintendo with Super Mario World. Fast forward 21 years and you can stream thousands of songs instantly through Spotify, watch hundreds of movies instantly on Netflix, and buy hundreds of games instantly through iOS or Steam. It’s a procrastinator’s dream come true and greatest nightmare.

If you can watch a movie instantly instead of putting on your coat, driving to Blockbuster, finding a movie, and coming home, that means you should be able to spend less time on your movie break, right? Even if you know that’s technically true, it’s hard to force your brain to accept that logic.

Our brains will always seek out the path of least resistance, which leaves students with two options: (1) drag your brain kicking and screaming into forced productivity or (2) trick your brain into thinking it’s not working on that thing you don’t want to do. Here are a few ways to pull off option #2.

Approach your work from a new direction

Let’s say you’re working on a paper. You’ve been sitting in front of your monitor for the past two hours and all you’ve managed to do is type, delete, and retype the first sentence about 100 times. Stop what you’re doing. If you know you’re not getting anywhere, there’s no point in doing the same thing over and over again.

Instead, ask yourself new questions: How will the first paragraph after the intro begin? How do I want my paper to end? What citations am I going to use? How do you format an online article in APA style again? Don’t worry about whether or not what you write is final, just search for that point of entry. It’s always easier to work on a paper after you’ve started.

Change your surroundings

The ideas you have in your dorm room are not the same as the ideas you have in the library. When you start feeling stagnant, consider a change of scenery. This can be an effective way to slide from procrastination into increased productivity. Bring your laptop on your coffee break and set up a new work space in the cafe. Just make sure to commit at least an hour or two to the new setting, otherwise you’ll just get restless.

Unlock achievements

The video game industry has figured out that people crave feedback from the things they accomplish, however meaningless. Use the same trick on your own brain. Come up with a list of achievements for your paper. Write 500 words. Complete 5 pages. Finish the bibliography. You can do the same for studying. Memorize 50 Spanish verbs. List all the regions of the brain. Keep a checklist next to your work space and make a mark each time you “unlock” an achievement. It sounds silly, but you might be surprised at how quickly your brain is tricked into registering each achievement as a reward.

Give yourself more (yes, more) things to do

Taking finals is the academic equivalent of a marathon. You have to maintain a steady momentum if you want to make it til the end. That’s all the more reason not to burn yourself out focusing on a single, seemingly insurmountable task. Instead, make a list of around 6-10 things to do. You don’t want too few, because then it’ll be too easy to put them off. You don’t want too many, because then you’ll feel overwhelmed.

Your goal is to maintain the feeling of constantly moving forward. That’s essential to keeping your brain from rebelling. Even if one of those things is something as minor as cleaning your dorm or apartment or selling the textbooks you don’t need anymore, you’re still squeezing a little bit of productivity out of your procrastination.

Put one last thing on your list you’ll never get around to doing

I’ll admit it, this is kind of a weird one, but it’s always worked for me. Maybe there’s just some part of my lizard brain that is always happy with getting my things-to-do-list down to “good enough.”

Whenever I’m planning out the day, I always put more on then I’ll be able to do. That way, I always feel like I’m slightly behind, which, strangely enough, always helps me stay on track. It’s a way of preserving momentum from one day into the next. I’m never completely finished, but I’m always completing tasks as a way of putting off other upcoming ones.

Why the Government Confiscated High School Sports Footage

Source: Talking Points Memo IdeaLab

Where do you save your files? I mean the really important ones. Ones that you couldn’t afford to lose if your computer went kaput. Do you have an external hard drive? Do you stash them in a cloud service like Dropbox? Or do you just keep them in “My Documents” and hope that nothing bad ever happens to your CPU?

Kyle Goodwin tried to do the responsible thing and back up the videos for his business OhioSportsNet, a company that creates highlight reels and documentaries on local high school athletes for prospective colleges. But he made the mistake of entrusting them to the recently FBI-raided file-sharing site Megaupload. When the government locked down Megaupload, they also locked down Goodwin’s access to all his files.

To make matters worse, Goodwin’s hard drive crashed shortly before the raid. Everything was either lost or turned into evidence for a copyright infringement case against Megaupload. Remember, this is all footage that customers were paying him to film and edit. No copyright infringement here, just a man getting punished for using the wrong company.

You could say that Goodwin should’ve known better than to trust a seedy website with important business files. I’m going to assume that Goodwin had never heard about Megaupload founder and CEO Kim Dotcom. (Yes, he did legally change his name to “Dotcom.” I can see it on an XFL jersey now.) Because even if he didn’t know that Dotcom had initially earned his millions off insider trading and embezzlement, a picture of the human-doughboy hybrid should be more than enough info to know just how classy of an operation he was running. But even if Goodwin’s decision was shortsighted, it wasn’t wrong. He certainly doesn’t deserve to lose his business over this one bad call.

I’ve got no sympathy for Dotcom, but plenty for people like Goodwin. And unfortunately, there will probably be a lot more people like him caught in the crossfire as the government tries to regulate the Internet to shut down piracy.

On our old blog, I wrote a lot about SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and the many, many problems with the way its broad definition could incriminate a lot of innocent people. Fortunately, the strongly vocal opposition to the bill forced it to fizzle out. But there’s a new, similar bill in Congress now called CISPA. It allows for information sharing between the government and companies in the name of security. It hasn’t yet generated the sort of outrage SOPA did, but its opponents are complaining about the same thing: The language is too broad to work as a policy.

I’m definitely not one of those Guy Fawkes-masked Anonymous types. There needs to be some level of regulation on the Internet to protect owners of intellectual property. But even when lawmakers mean well, they always seem to get the details wrong. I really believe that SOPA and CISPA aren’t intended to actively trample your rights, they’re just written by people with a terrible understanding of how the Internet works.

A lot more time needs to be spent figuring out how to punish the Kim Dotcoms of the world without hurting the Kyle Goodwins in the process.


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