In college, wellness is often characterized as balancing academics with friends, jobs, and extracurriculars. Academics and the pressure to earn good grades is a prominent source of stress for college students. But does balancing schoolwork, managing time, and alleviating stress always mean getting work done ahead of time or taking the full allotted time to complete an assignment?

Spending only as much time as needed to on school work can open up room in your schedule to take on leadership roles in clubs, internship opportunities, and on-campus jobs. When you don’t devote all of your time to your academics, you can develop an identity and a sense of worth that’s not completely based on grades, which can do wonders for your mental health. Having a well-rounded schedule in which schoolwork is a priority and not the priority can feel like a more fulfilling college experience. The time crunch may also foster eustress – beneficial, motivational stress – that can allow for creativity, productivity, and a flow of ideas.

College students say they work better under pressure.

Julia, a sophomore at the University of Montevallo, shares similar reasoning. She says that, “To be honest, procrastinating actually works way better for me. When I start doing things in advance, it feels like the work doesn’t stop plowing in. I get burnt out easily. I work better under pressure.”

Additionally, the Harvard Extension School of Professional Development also cites a study in which procrastinators’ ideas were found to be 28% more creative than the ideas of those who did not procrastinate. So procrastination might not work for a more fact-based assignment like a big research project or studying for an exam, but it might be effective for writing an analytical essay.

Another pro to procrastination? Working on assignments in the order in which they are due often means focusing on a couple of things at a time. Quickly moving from assignment to assignment offers variety in your workload and, while not scientifically proven, this may prevent burnout. But naturally, procrastination is not going to work for everyone and there are instances in which it can be taken too far.

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Procrastination can lead to anxiety

While procrastination might, ironically enough, alleviate some students’ anxiety around schoolwork, procrastination might also lead to, or be caused by, increased levels of anxiety. Of course, finishing an assignment in a hurry may also negatively impact your grades – from not catching small mistakes, or from not putting in the time to really develop your ideas. Staying up late to finish an assignment also leads to fatigue and sleep deprivation.

Fairley, a senior at University North Carolina Wilmington, prefers not to procrastinate. She also takes measures to avoid stressing out over her schoolwork being absolutely impeccable. “I am the type of person that likes to get stuff done early,” Fairley explains. “I have the mindset of getting things out of the way so I don’t have to think about it again. If I don’t do that, I stress over it being perfect and that leads me to getting no work done at all. Planning in advance helps me not worry about what I’m doing.”

There’s a difference between casual procrastination, in which you pick and choose what you procrastinate on, and chronic procrastination. Chronic procrastination, distress about academics, or lack of motivation might be symptomatic of something greater, such as anxiety, depression, OCD, or low self-esteem.  If you struggle with managing schoolwork to the point where it impedes upon your grades and interpersonal relationships, you might want to visit your school counselor or the academic resource center.

Figuring out how to tackle your academic endeavors is a balancing act, and people on both extremes of the time management spectrum – those who get their work done a week in advance, and those who might write an entire essay the night before it is due – have a lot to learn from each other and their respective strategies. Here are some tips for getting your schoolwork done in an efficient and timely fashion, without it becoming the core focus of your life.

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1. Schedule putting something off

Now, this might sound counterintuitive, but this strategy can work greatly and help shift your focus to a single assignment without forgetting about everything else. On your to-do list, you can write out what your upcoming assignments are as well as when you plan on completing them. You can try to stagger my workload, which may help you focus on each individual assignment. This may mean putting off lower-stakes, less weighted assignments in favor of focusing on bigger essays or projects, but you can make a note of this and set a reminder on your phone so you don’t forget to do the smaller assignments entirely. This is also an effective way of triaging your schoolwork if you get easily overwhelmed by a large workload.

2. Find other ways to be productive if you can’t focus on schoolwork

Everyone has a different time of day during which they are the most productive. Some, for example, tend to focus on schoolwork best in the evening. If you have classes that don’t start until later in the day or have a gap between obligations in the mid-morning or afternoon, you can procrastinate, but productively. Maybe you can use that down time during the day to schedule meetings, shifts at your job, or other extracurricular obligations, so you can still hustle, even if not on schoolwork.

3. Just start!

Sometimes, you may procrastinate because you psych yourself out. You may overthink the assignment and become so overwhelmed by it that you become paralyzed. Getting started is often more difficult than actually doing it.

Remind yourself that the only way to write a good essay is to write a bad essay first. That is, bang out a rough draft or outline first, and then come back to it in a day to build upon, refine, and edit my ideas (or more realistically, revisit it in an hour, because you might not have another day). Your best work might not happen on the first attempt, but you’ll never get there if you don’t start.

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On a similar note, if you’re not feeling particularly enthralled with any of your assignments, sit down in a quiet space with the intention of just answering some emails or taking care of other business. It most likely will turn into you starting that reading you may have been avoiding or jotting down some initial ideas for that big essay. College assignments are tough, so it’s important to ease yourself into it.

Everyone has different styles of working and managing their time, and sometimes figuring this out takes a while. The one thing to remember, though, is to prioritize self-care no matter if you start your assignment the week before it’s due, or the day before. 


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