University success quite often comes from simply making sure you complete all your assignments and get them handed in on time. On the surface this seems like a simple task, and yet time and again students drop out of university or courses having failed to live up to these basic expectations. There are numerous reasons why this can happen and overcoming them is going to be critical if you want to thrive in the study environment. Here are five tips for getting your work done on time, completing your projects and ultimately passing your courses.
One of the reasons people may find themselves unable to complete projects is their fear of being evaluated. This can either present as a fear of failure, of not being good enough, or as a fear of not being perfect.
According to Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University and author of the book, “Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done” people don’t like being judged. Essays and projects at university are all about someone critiquing your work and therefore discovering how much, or how little, you know and without the mandatory deadlines of school, people who are scared of judgement may opt to simply never finish their work.
The flip side is when people are used to being successes and become concerned that their work may not be good enough to meet their own now high standards. Either way, the answer is the same – realise what you are doing and come to terms with the fact that work left incomplete is far worse than any work which is handed in.
“Focus on the work and stop worrying about the outcome”, Ferrari suggests.
“When we examined procrastination patterns what we found was quite often people were ruminating on failure,” he said. “Procrastinators are very good at giving themselves excuses for why they have not completed a task. Regardless of whether you identify as a perfectionist or not, research shows there is no marked difference in the way others perceive your delay. You’re not going to get sympathy.”
Sometimes people delay starting a project because of its perceived size. Essays at university are far longer than anything required at school and this leap can be intimidating for those who are not used to it. Studies suggest that people work best when they give themselves tasks that appear simple to them, so the trick is to break larger projects down into smaller, more manageable ones.
Rather than thinking, “I must write my 3000 word essay this weekend”, rather think “On Friday I must go to the library and get research books”, “On Saturday morning I must do research and find 10 good quotes”, “On Saturday afternoon I must write 1500 words” and “On Sunday I must write the other 1500 words”. By breaking the task down each of the steps seems simpler and you are more likely to be motivated to complete it.
When faced with an assignment its highly likely you can tackle it in numerous different ways. There are literally hundreds of research materials for each essay and the internet has thousands of sites you could look at for inspiration and material. The problem is that all this choice can lead to a phenomenon called choice overload. In a 2000 paper, researchers from Columbia and Stanford describe a series of experiments on whether more choice is better.
Their findings suggest that a greater number of choices can actually make it harder to decide on something. And, furthermore, they found that selecting from a larger number of choices tends to make people less satisfied with their final decision. The trick then is to overcome this choice overload by actively reducing your own options as quickly as you can. Go to the library, choose five books and use those, and those alone to research your topic.
This can work for things even bigger than a simple essay as well. By limiting your own options and narrowing the scope of a project you give yourself much more chance of actually finishing it. Instead of wanting to write your epic fantasy trilogy, start by writing one short story for example.
Many procrastinators claim that they work best under pressure. While it is always good to work to a deadline, this doesn’t mean you should leave everything for the last minute.
“Claiming you work best under pressure is simply not true” says Ferrari. When put under time restraints to complete a task, he found that subjects claiming to work better under pressure actually produced worse results.
The trick then is to make note of the deadlines for essays and try to complete them one week in advance. Set yourself a mini deadline to meet and stick to it. By giving yourself a deadline, you will find you are completing things on time, and by setting this deadline sooner than is actually necessary you will find you do better work.
Many students fail their first year of university simply because the strict rules of school are now no longer in place. Your lecturer does not appear to care whether or not you hand in your assignments, and this can lure people into thinking they really don’t have to do them. If you find you are missing deadlines and no one seems to care it’s time to get yourself a friend, or group, who will hold you accountable.
Joining with a study group or creating a team of people who care about one another and assist each other is shown to be a strong motivator for completing projects. This group needs to know what you are working on and take an active interest in how it is going.
Research at NYU, led by Peter Gollwitzer, shows, however, that it is not enough, to simply tell the group that you are working on something for these benefits to accrue. Simply telling someone you are trying to lose weight for instance, already gives you that sense of satisfaction of completing the task, and actually reduces motivation. There needs to be regular update sessions and meetings at which members of your accountability group are made to update others on their progress toward the deadlines they have set.
Living away from home can be a lonely experience and research shows that isolation helps reinforce all the feelings that lead to procrastination. Choosing to stay somewhere personal, vibrant and communal like The Fields is a good way to not only ensure you do not feel isolated, but can also help you to find those like-minded people who can form parts of your accountability group or simply give you the pick me up you need to keep going through a difficult time or critique your essay when you are afraid it may not be good enough.
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