Bill Gates says he chooses a lazy person to do a hard job, because the lazy person will find an easy way to do it. Procrastination is the easy way to do college, but only if you do it right.
In college, we study a lot of stuff, not all of which will be essential to our careers, or about which we are particularly passionate. There is busy work, unnecessarily long reading, and homework sets for concepts we’ve already mastered. It’s inevitable we are assigned work that we really don’t want or need to do.
But if you procrastinate effectively you can spend less time on busy work and more time having fun and doing work that matters.
I think procrastinators get a bad name, for good reason a lot of times, because some procrastinators really do suck, so here are seven keys to being an expert procrastinator, and not sucking:
1. Leave it until the last minute, then it will only take a minute.
When you wait until just before the deadline, you’ll work quickly and more efficiently than you would have earlier.
We’ve all had those nights when we wait entirely too long to start the paper due at 11:59pm, or postpone group meetings until the night before a semester-long project is due the next day at noon.
And we freak out and stress because it’s “so last minute,” but if you think back you’ll probably realize you worked ten-times more efficiently in those final hours before the submission deadline than you would have weeks before. The key is just to bypass the freak-out stage, buckle down, and grind.
2. Find your balance.
There’s a difference between the procrastinator that goes beast mode in the final half-hour and submits the assignment a couple seconds before the deadline, and then the procrastinator that does not become any more efficient in the last half-hour and actually needed more time to do a good job on the assignment.
An expert procrastinator knows the balance between delaying the start but allowing enough time to work quickly and efficiently, finishing right on time.
3. Remember, things change.
Especially if it’s a creative project, your thoughts will change; other times, your professor will postpone the due date, change the prompt/guidelines or, once in a blue moon, scrap the assignment entirely, and all the procrastinators will rejoice while the try-hards that finished early kick up a fuss.
4. Ask the try-hards for help.
In economics, there’s this thing called the 80/20 Principle, where 80% of work is done by 20% of participants. The rule of 80/20 says that 20% of students (the try-hards) will do 80% of homework.
I’m not saying that 20 kids in a 100-kid class will do 80 problems of each 100-problem set and let the rest of the class copy their answers. But for the impossible problems that require an all-nighter to solve, shortcuts are discovered that allow for faster solutions. Try-hards tell their friends about the shortcuts, and then it spreads through the class network.
The key here is having a lot of friends.
These solutions will find their way back to you through a friend of yours from a friend of the try-hard; other times, the try-hard will be your roommate, or your best friend.
Now, you probably won’t learn as much with this strategy. The 20% doing most of the work will probably end up smarter than you in the particular subject, and they’ll probably get a slightly better grade, but the beauty of this strategy is the massive amount of free time it makes available for you to do other work that actually matters to you.
5. Enjoy your extra free time to have fun or work on something important.
This is where most suckish procrastinators mess up. They stress and complain about the uncompleted assignment and their anxiety paralyzes them from doing anything else, so they Netflix-binge or browse BuzzFeed, wasting their share of perhaps the most coveted resource on college campuses, free time.
Expert procrastinators take advantage of the time they buy for themselves by working on something they actually enjoy — hitting the gym, reading a book from the leaning tower of “you should read this” on their desk, getting coffee with a friend, etc.
6. Try hard when it’s your turn, only when it matters to you.
Sometimes you have to step up and be part of the hard-working 20%. The key here is to know when to step up. If you work hard all the time you’ll be stressed out, but if you’re an obvious, consistent member of the non-working 80%, the hard-working 20% won’t help you.
Wait to try hard until the work actually matters to you. I like to step up when the work requires writing or creativity.
Be the 20% doing 80% of the work only in the classes and on the assignments about which you are particularly passionate, when the skills learned will directly make you more awesome in your work and future career.
7. Share when you’re the try-hard.
When you’re the 20% doing the work, be sure to help out the 80%. Because karma’s a you-know-what, and you should support the system from which you benefit.
And those with whom you share will be more likely to return the favor when it’s your turn to procrastinate again.