Monday, July 15, 2013

How to study and avoid procrastination in college

I have a confession to make: I procrastinate.

This is weird for me to say, because as my avid readers know, I'm the kind of person who does work way ahead of time; I never procrastinated in college.

However, in the past year of having my own speaking and consulting business, I'd started to notice a procrastination problemI wouldn't start organizing my speeches until the last minute. 

I love giving speeches, but I often dreaded planning them out. 

My speeches are very organic, personal, and customized; I never do the exact same speech twice, which makes for a great experience, but an intensive planning process every time. 

And up until recently the only process I knew to develop each unique speech was to sit in front of a blank Word document, think about my audience's needs, type out an outline, practice the speech, and then build the PowerPoint. 

Seems simple enough, but as you know from having essay assignments, staring at that blank screen is torture. 

I recently read the best book I've ever read on giving presentations and it sparked an entire new process of developing speeches. 

I just finished enacting my new process (I'm writing this on a Friday night, but am scheduling this post for Monday because I know most people aren't huge nerds like me who enjoy working on a Friday night) and I felt so invigorated that I had to share this experience with you. 

Finally, instead of staring at that blank screen I have a process that doesn't make me feel overwhelmed!

And most importantly - it's a process that killed my procrastination. I'm now unnaturally excited to plan all my speeches for the entire fall season and will probably have them all ready to go in the next two weeks. 

As I wrote my speech ideas onto notecards and categorized them on my living room floor I couldn't help but remember the wisdom of my 9th grade teacher who taught us how to write a research paper by breaking it up into small parts:

(i.e. writing each quote on a notecard, organizing the notecards in categories, and then ordering the notecards into a cohesive order; then all we had to do was go notecard by notecard and fill in the gaps with our writing). 

It reminded me that studying and tackling big projects in college requires purposeful process planning (omg is anyone else as excited as I am about this unplanned alliteration?).

Effective studying is not staring at a book. Writing a good essay is not staring at a blank screen. We procrastinate to avoid that awful feeling of not knowing how to start or what to do next. 

So the next time you get a homework assignment, I've already got your first step covered: develop a process.

For example:

1) Look at your assignment and create a list of small things you need to do in order to complete it. Each step shouldn't take you any longer than one hour. Keep the steps short and simple. 

2) Make sure each item begins with some kind of action verb.

3) Be creative. The best studying is down-and-dirty. Use your hands, use old-school tools like paper, scissors and markers, make notecards, spread your work all around the floor, plan discussions with friends, write on white boards, create animations, make up games. 

4) Go through your list and check off each thing as you complete it so that the next time you sit down to do your homework you only have to look at the next thing to be completed; don't overwhelm yourself by looking at it all. Just focus on one thing at a time.

Breaking down your work into smaller parts and developing a process that works for you is actually invigorating and kind of fun. Seriously. I'm not just a total nerd talking, I swear (oops...I already revealed I was doing work on a Friday night...but it really was fun. And I have lots of cool-awesome-epic (is saying "epic" still a thing?) non-work-related activities planned for Saturday ;)). 

We procrastinate because we're trying to avoid the feeling of incompetence. When you develop a process for your work you'll instantly feel more competent and confident, and you'll be armed with the skills to tackle your project ahead of time. 

For more reading on the best college study skills and processes check out my fav study skill book Cal Newport's How to Become a Straight-A Student

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