Pillbox

Advice for Awkward People

Hey Ruth,
So finals are coming up soon, as I’m sure everyone is aware, and I want to try and prevent something that always happens to me. Namely, I slack off.

Look, I spend the whole semester with my schedule absolutely jam-packed with classes and homework and extracurriculars. I can mostly keep to a schedule when that’s the case because I have to or I’ll fall behind on everything. But as soon as finals week and we actually get something resembling a reasonable amount of time to do things, I’m totally incapable of making myself do any work! I just procrastinate on studying for finals and writing essays because I can keep telling myself that I have all week to do everything, so I end up cramming at the last minute even though the only thing I’ve done for the past few days is binge TV and chill out with my friends. How do I motivate myself?

Seriously Lacking Any Class Knowledge. Over F****** Finals.

Dear SLACK OFF,
It has to be a law of reality that whenever you have basically no time to do your work you can finish it all really quickly but when you have all the time in the world it takes absolutely forever. Or at least, I hope so, because it happens to me all the time. I guess work, or at least the kind of work we have, is like gaseous matter that way — it fills up all the space given to it.
It sounds like you work very efficiently when you have a strict schedule, so my main point of advice is going to be that you make one for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a very full, terrible schedule where you study for eight hours every day, but if you block out a certain amount of time every day, based on how many finals and how much you need to study, of course, and follow that, then you’ll be in a better position than if you crammed the night before after a week of slacking off.

Of course, the key here is that you have to actually follow the schedule. I’m not sure about you, but part of what makes a schedule work for me is the threat of consequences if I don’t stick to it. For most of the semester the consequences are no sleep and failing my classes, but there’s something about the stretch of empty finals weekdays that makes all of those consequences seem so distant. Basically, you’ve got to build your own motivation.

There are two ways of doing this, I feel. Positive or negative reinforcement. Many people recommend setting up small rewards for completing a certain segment of the studying you have to do as an enticement to get it done. If this works for you, great! I’ll admit that I have the tendency of just giving myself the reward without doing any of the work, so it’s not usually the route I choose to take. No, when the fear of failure doesn’t quite do it for me, I turn toward another method of motivation. I find a friend who I like (and ideally don’t want to disappoint) and tell them to bother me at a certain time about whether or not I’ve done the work I said I would. Usually, the knowledge that someone else is keeping tabs on the work I need to do is enough to get me set up and rolling. At least until the next day.

There’s no point in my pretending that I know the perfect way to study (as much as I wish I did), but there’s one main thing I’ve found helpful the past six finals weeks I’ve been through. Basically? Take breaks. Big breaks to hang out with your friends, little breaks to stretch and get the blood flowing, and especially medium-sized breaks to acquire food. The only thing wearing yourself out will do is make it harder to focus when you actually sit down for your finals. Trust me.

Also, not to advocate for subpar work, but if you’ve done the calculations and know you only need, for example, a 70 percent for the grade you need in the class, then there’s no shame in adjusting your effort accordingly.

Finals week is notorious for being exhausting, but it doesn’t have to be the absolute worst. The fact that you’re already planning is a good sign.

Happy finals,
Ruth