Is There Always Tomorrow?

It’s 11:40 on a Friday night and I am feverishly editing and finishing the bibliography for a paper due at 11:59. Yes, I read the syllabus ages ago. Yes, I had three weeks over which I could have evenly distributed this workload — and yes, I’m kicking myself for not starting sooner.

This is not uncommon for me, nor do I believe it is unusual for many other students. Why do we put ourselves through this kind of pressure and panic? Why do I keep doing this when I told myself after the last essay I wouldn’t do this to myself again? Like Little Orphan Annie, I kept on telling myself, “tomorrow.”

I finally took the time to explore the “why.” Through self-examination, I started to build a personal understanding of why I procrastinate and why I sometimes lack the motivation to start projects: I was looking at the whole instead of the smaller steps to get there. But that is only part of my procrastination. I realized I wasn’t avoiding the work: I was avoiding unpleasant feelings. Perfectionism and anxiety surrounding my performance were emotional factors that compelled me to avoid starting a project: I would reorganize my spice drawer or even clean the oven instead of starting an assignment.

Books on a stack at a library

Although skeptical, I tried the five-minute method. Set a timer, sit down, and work for five minutes. That’s the commitment. Just five minutes. And after those five minutes, I would flow into a very productive work session. I was free to walk away and do something else if I wasn’t feeling it. And it’s been working.

I was never trying to avoid learning. I wasn’t a bad student — I just made a mountain out of a molehill. Being kind to myself and giving myself time for introspection has enabled me to understand why I procrastinate and, through practice, I have been able to adjust my habits.

And just like that, I didn’t need tomorrow (sorry, Annie).

Kai is a peer mentor with Academic Success at U of T. He is a political science student who enjoys fencing, Sanderson novels, and still dreads getting out of bed at 6:30 in the morning to go to the gym (but so worth it). You can talk to him and other members of the Academic Success peer team at the Night Against Procrastination on November 23rd.

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