'I can't stop procrastinating' and other phrases I'm sick of
It's that time of year again when the libraries are bursting at the seams, when Tesco's runs out of hummus / Spinach & Ricotta tortellini and everyone's tagging each other in study-related memes. To be honest I think I need to start a renewed social media detox because during the month of April and May Facebook is unbearably stressful with people bragging about either how much studying they're doing or not enough. Am I the only one that starts panicking right before bed at the thought of should I be doing all-nighters too?
Personally, the whole atmosphere of relentlessly talking about uni work is exhausting for me. Thankfully my house last year agreed and we put a ban on a couple key words - one of which was 'procrastinating'. Alongside politics, which could only be discussed in front of the bulletin board with pamphlets for the up-coming council election, my housemates agreed we needed a safe haven from the whipped up craze that encircles revision time. I know Durham is not alone with everyone walking around like headless chickens and a palpable sense of anxiety. On my year abroad in Belgium I've managed to get my heart rate up just by walking past the ULB library during exam period.
Now, I've got a theory - everyone is kind of addicted to the stress that suffocates this time of year. But, there are two major camps people fall into. For the purposes of keeping this as short as possible, I've made some sweeping generalisations about one of the two camps I shall call them the anxious over-achievers. Just to make clear these are revision period over-achievers not necessarily academic over-achievers, the distinction is efficiency wise. These people love the adrenaline and lingering nervousness of thinking constantly about revising. The second camp varies dramatically, but they basically operate in two states thinking about studying and frantically cramming.
Here's a day in the life of an average anxious over-achiever:
6:30-7:00: They wake up super early to make sure they get their seat at the library on-time
7:30-8:30: They sit at their desk - maybe they're studying, maybe they're on Facebook - who cares? They're in the library so you can expect a few Snapchats normally with the frustrated or crying emoji.
10:00: They take a break sometime mid-morning, normally after postponing it with a just 10 more minutes until eventually succumbing to whatever meal prepped snack they've been looking forward to since the night before.
12:15-12:30: The time between snack and lunch is most likely relatively unproductive. But, they will insist upon eating at 12:15 or 12:30 so as not to seem to eager.
12:30-13:00: Lunch will be spent with like-minded friends and will be pretty short. Ideally, with a comment about how much work they have to do or not getting enough done this morning or a throw away comment about pulling an all-nighter (you get the jist).
13:00-17:00: Post-lunch period will start off lazily before sending a couple more Snapchats or posting in a group chat about revision with the gun and skull emojis.
17:00-18:00: Around 5pm they will look around and see how many people are left in the library, especially the person sitting opposite them who they might embark on a study contest with. During this contest the other person (or opponent) rarely knows they are taking part, but it becomes a fight to the death to see who cracks under the pressure and leaves the library first. As soon as one of their other friends subsides or the library becomes increasingly empty they will feel justified in heading home.
6:30-7:00: On the walk home they will consider going to the gym, but will most likely opt out with some excuse about how tired and/or busy they are. After eating two/three portions of whatever pre-cooked meal they have prepared. They will sit down with their housemates and make small talk about studying/revision/library/weather. This is when the word 'procrastinating' will be thrown around for the third or fourth time probably in relation to watching another episode of Friends or Love Island.
8:00-11:00: Then the hardcore anxious over-achievers will arrange to go back to the library or study in their room for another couple hours.
Midnight-ish: Before bed they will spend 30 minutes to an hour on their phone trying to switch off before eventually deciding sleeping pills is the way forward. Then they'll drift off into slumber land for less than 6 hours before waking up and doing it all over again.
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Now if, like me, the description of the anxious over-achiever made your heart race a little and feelings of inadequacy started to bubble up to the surface. Take some deep breaths please. Firstly, I promise you that science has shown you do not need to do long slogs at the library to be successful academically. Secondly, and probably most importantly, do you really want to be that miserable?
Breaking down the first point, Parkison's Law is our best friend. Put simply (by the Oxford Dictionary):
In practice this means that how much revision you have to do will be as time efficient as the amount of time you give it. Obviously there's a sweet spot to this where cramming is impossible. But, are you tired of watching friends of yours spend half the time on the same project but still do equally as well? It's not purely about academic ability. Our brain is lazy in a good way. It will only exert as much energy as it needs to, so for example if you give it 4 hours to write 1000 words it will use it, likewise if you add urgency and try to get the same amount down in 2 - Parkinson's Law says that is achievable. For you this is great news because if you switch up your schedule to be task rather than time focused you can leave time in your day for other activities.
The 9-5 concept is pretty flawed for a number of reasons. Above all, humans are not machines and so our productivity does not directly correlate to time taken. In fact, most brains are only active for 15 minutes out of the hour. Also, things such as too much repetition (in my study techniques guide) or always studying in the same place can affect how well your brain processes information.
Another important factor, which I'm sure you've heard talked about, is feeding your brain. Now I don't just mean what food you are eating, but that is an important factor. Also, exercise, taking regular breaks and reducing your cortisol levels (stress hormone). If you're making excuses for not eating healthily, working out or relaxing activities like hot baths or meditations based on study time - you're wrong to do so. All of these factors are well worth your time in moderation and are necessary to making sure your brain functions properly whilst revising. Going further, your brain is more able to recall information on the day of your exam if you exercise regularly (want to know more check out my latest TED talk recommendation). To summarise, your happiness and variety in your revision schedule really impact how successful your revision and exam period will be.
Let's get to the heart of the matter, my bone to pick with 'procrastination'. It's a bs term invented to make people feel crap about themselves for not being productive enough. But, the way it's used today perpetuates a cycle of self-loathing that has to stop. It is not 'procrastinating' if you need to take a nap because you're mentally exhausted. It is not 'procrastinating' if you sign up for a yoga class because you've been sitting in a chair all day. It is not 'procrastinating' if you physically cannot bear to spend another minute in the library.
This comes back to my over-arching theme of getting back on the same team as yourself. Every time you claim to be procrastinating from work it insinuates you're in a fight to get your mind to work at a given time. In reality, taking breaks is normal and if you really do not feel like doing something for whatever reason give yourself time. Otherwise you enter into a cycle of frustration that doesn't benefit anyone least of all your mental health. Instead, concentrate on quality recuperation time. Rather than constantly berating yourself for watching tv and eating chocolate when you feel like you should be working. Allocate time slots for you time like after a certain hour in the evening or for a couple hours in the afternoon without the pressure of working. If you don't - then your mind is going to really struggle to shut down and you'll find the 'procrastinating' time will be inefficient recuperation anyway.
If you're feeling fancy, carve out this time to try something positive whilst still promising to not beat yourself up for studying. Maybe you decide to consistently go to Boxing on a Tuesday night or for me Thursday evening is always self care with face masks and hot baths. Anything that prioritises your mental health over your revision because you are so much more than a study machine you are a living breathing human.
Particularly for women go with your monthly cycles and tracking your menstrual cycle is one way to trust your intuition. It's natural to feel more creative and well rested right after your period so build with that momentum. If you do need to pull some late nights or really get into a topic schedule it for this time of the month. By contrast, around your period your body needs more sleep and is dehydrated. So, go easy on yourself and this is the perfect time for lie-ins and self care. We sometimes forget we are natural humans who's mood and needs can change hour-to-hour and day-to-day. Please stop trying to fight yourself because in my experience that's when your body starts to react like losing your period or getting sick. You don't have to let it get that bad!
You might worry that if you take the foot off the pedal you'll give in entirely, but in my experience that is not the case. When I do decide to study now it's because I'm on the same team as my mind and so I'm a lot more motivated to get things done. Rather than slogging myself to stay for eight hours in the library in between crying sessions in the bathroom. I used to obsess over this lack of trust of my determination to get a task done, by forcing myself to revise when my body and mind were saying no I was treating myself like a child who doesn't know what they want. Trust yourself. As someone who's come out the otherside of a self-bullying mentality, I'm now much happier and my work is more creative and better if anything. This goes along with if a certain study technique just isn't working for you. For years I tried to force myself to do the condense notes technique against my better judgment. It's never too late to try a new approach!
Personally, if I compare my A Levels to my second year of university I achieved relatively the same results. But, 17-year-old Sam was constantly stressed, praying her period would stop (which it did for two months) and then dove into a deep depression soon after. By contrast, last year I was irritatingly calm for most of my friends. I refused to enter into conversations about 'procrastination', 'stress' or not having enough time. Instead, I went to the gym most days, I spent whole afternoons cooking for myself and I even had some drinks every once in a while. It's all about balance and being under the strain that exam is a test to see if you can still maintain it.
Now, if what you're doing currently is working for you - great. However, if you find yourself feeling de-motivated, sleeping poorly or generally not being productive try this method out for a couple of days. In the grand scheme of things the only thing you have to lose is an inevitable mental health crisis. Look I get it if you're in your final year and the finishing line is just around the corner and yes I haven't been there yet. But, I truly believe that I am more important than my exam results - have you asked yourself that question recently? Especially, when most people are fighting for a slightly higher grade within the same classification. Go easy on yourself my loves.
As ever, I love to hear from you guys, let me know if you completely disagree or if you've found a routine that works for you. If you've got a specific problem I'm always happy to help with the tools I've used over the years. Just slide into my dms or drop me a comment down below!
All my love, Sam