It’s 3 AM.
Red, bleary eyes blink to focus on the screen as black letters march sloppily across a white page. Every blink of the eye feels like eyelids are trying to remove the Sahara. There is no telling at this point if those letters are forming coherent words or ideas, but the deadline is approaching and the page limit has almost been reached. The teacher asked for proofreading, but who can proofread when it is 3:30 in the morning and the paper is due at 8? But the page limit has been reached and all that is left is to upload the essay or email it to the teacher or print it out. And then, sleep, and the hope that this late-night monstrosity will result in something higher than an F.
This is a familiar scene to many students throughout the education system. The reason procrastinators need to stop waiting until the last minute is really a selfish one. When students get an assignment done early, they are less stressed and better able to enjoy the side benefits of college life, like friends, family, and sleep that lasts more than three hours. I will be honest, there is no hard and fast way to stop procrastinating. The main reason most of the procrastinators like me continue to put off work until the last minute is because, so far, it has not caused them to flunk out of a class. For some students, even that is not enough to stop them from pushing an assignment off until after the deadline has technically passed. Those students generally rely on the kindness of their teachers, which is something I do not recommend pushing.
One way to help yourself out is to read the assignment sheet over multiple times before the assignment is due. They are generally pretty short and almost always have the main points to focus on when you get started on an assignment. That, really, is one of the worst things about procrastinating. If you wait until the last minute, and you have not even read the assignment sheet closely at least once, you run the risk of pulling that all-nighter and realizing somewhere around 2 a.m. that those 3-5 pages you just wrote had nothing to do with what your teacher wanted. So read that assignment sheet and write down your ideas as soon as you are sure you know what the teacher is asking for. When I read the assignment sheet, I also like to make notes about whatever immediately comes to mind on the subject I will soon be writing about. It may not be the idea I stick with by the time I turn the paper in, but it does get some ideas flowing.
Another way to help yourself is to get started on the research as soon as possible. Print that stuff out or open it up on your computer in a way that will allow you to take notes. I am old school and prefer to print my research out whenever possible so I can write on it. It is one thing to read research, but if you really want to understand it you need to either write on the research itself or about it in your notebook. This is called annotating and it can help you organize your thoughts when you sit down to write the essay. Even if you only give yourself one day to run through the research, if you take notes on what you are reading while you go there is a chance that what ends up in your essay will not only make sense, but will actually make your essay better. Plus, if you find some good quotes that match what you are trying to say and cite them correctly, that is at least a paragraph worth of words you do not have to come up with on your own.
Now, when it comes to fighting off procrastination, there is a place on campus that can help with everything I have mentioned and more. If you go to the writing center, some very nice graduate students from the English department will assist you with any and all of writing needs. If you know you are a habitual procrastinator, take that assignment sheet into the writing center as soon as the teacher lets you out of class and ask for help with brainstorming. The consultant will help you with that and then set you up an appointment so a consultant can talk to you about research, writing the first draft, and looking that first draft over before you ever have to turn it in. No, they will not do the work for you, but they will guide you through the steps so that, maybe, on the next essay you will know the process to do it on your own. And if you do not, then keep coming back to the writing center, because those consultants love to help people throughout the entire process, even if they won’t stay up until 3 a.m. with you.