The first few weeks at the beginning of the semester are a magical time. New classes, new schedules and the deadlines for all your major assignments are still months away. In September, you may be asked: Have you gathered any sources for that fifteen-page research paper? And the answer is: Of course not! That project won’t be due until December, practically eons away. You may as well ask how I plan to spend my retirement, or what I’d like inscribed on my tombstone.
The last few weeks of the semester, however, are a different animal entirely. Your alarm clock goes off like an air raid siren and you crawl out of bed wondering what fresh barrage of stress and anxiety the day is planning to drop on you. You begin to realize that you should’ve started working on those papers weeks ago. Looking at the calendar, you find yourself staring at a string of all-nighters. Your life becomes a rollercoaster of caffeine highs and lows. The once definite line between awake and asleep begins to blur.
But fear not. As a member of the senior class, I’ve procrastinated my way through seven semesters here at the Mount. I know all the ins and outs of last-minute panic and, over the course of the next few paragraphs, I’m going to teach you how to minimize stress while finishing all your major assignments.
First, you need to set goals. Figure out how long you have until the project is due, then estimate how much you have to work every day to hit that mark. And, once you’ve established those goals, hold yourself to them. That means no TV, video games or sleep until you’ve hit the day’s quota..
Second, it’s vital that you remain calm. Before sitting down to work, make yourself a mug of tea or hot chocolate. Don’t even begin typing until you’ve cleared your mind of all distressing thoughts. (Disappointing your parents. Being surpassed by your peers. Failing out of school. Never finding a job. Living in the sewers, eating rats, drinking gutter water and inspiring urban legends…these are all topics you should avoid dwelling on.)
Third, listen to something that will keep you happy and relaxed, but not distracted. Personally, I recommend playing Bob Ross videos while grinding through any major assignment. All 31 seasons of The Joy of Painting can be watched free on YouTube. Let Bob’s velvet tones carry you off to a land of sap green trees, alizarin crimson sunsets and happy little clouds. A world free of stress and MLA citations.
Fourth, keep your fingers on the keyboard. The paper’s not going to get written if you’re playing with the pens, coins, unbent paperclips or any of your desk’s other miscellaneous inhabitants. Even if you aren’t quite sure what to write, don’t let your fingers stray from those homerow keys. Believe me, one minute you’re absently clicking a pen, trying to formulate the next stage of your argument, the next you’re halfway through folding a stack of old index cards into an armada of paper boats.
Fifth, keep writing. Even if your argument is unstructured and a number of the words you’re using don’t properly exist, just keep pushing through. Remember, it’s a first draft. Everything can be polished, restated and revised. What’s important is that you get your ideas down. They don’t have to be eloquent, they just have to be on the page.
Sixth and finally, stay focused. Try to keep from getting existential. Don’t pause to consider how a paper on the use of biblical imagery throughout early modernist novels factors into the grander scheme of the universe. Don’t stop to ponder the fact that, a few months down the line, neither you nor your professor will even be able to remember what this particular paper was about. Don’t convince yourself that the world is ending and soon human civilization will be reduced to a radioactive scavenger society where words like “thesis,” “exegesis,” and “double-spaced, Times New Roman” have no relevancy.
If you follow all these steps, you’ll be able to finish all those pesky, procrastinated papers without suffering a breakdown. I can’t promise that these methods will earn you a good grade. That requires skill, dedication and perhaps a trip to the Writing Center. What I can promise is that you’ll be more relaxed, you’ll have a better sense of clarity, and you’ll be less prone to nervous breakdowns/fits of existential dread. And this time of year, when deadlines and finals have you feeling increasingly like King Louis XVI waiting for the guillotine to drop, there’s something to be said for keeping your cool.