From Guest Contributor: Kerianne Chen (SWE President, 2019)
When I transitioned back into classes after co-op this year, I found it especially difficult. Between co-op, summer classes (which were very relaxed), and studying abroad last year, I had not been in real classes in 18 months. I had little to no motivation to actually get my work done, pushing every little assignment off until the last second, resulting in poorer quality work, and ultimately left me a very stressed out and anxious person. While this term has not been my hardest academically, I have definitely struggled the most with finding my motivation.
After a week or two, I finally felt more comfortable with my schedule, and began actually making time to do homework each day rather than pushing it off. I found that instead of keeping a long running list of all the tasks I needed to get done for school, for SWE, for life (a very long and daunting list!), I found that sectioning each of the tasks off works much better for me. I now have a digital sticky note with what tasks I need to work on each day of the week. If I have a homework assignment, I try to split it between two days, one to start and get an understanding how long it will take me, and a second to complete it (usually the night before it’s due). I still have moments when I look at the list and my brain says “no” but it is easier for me to pick something small to work on so that I feel accomplished. If I plan well enough, I usually have one day a week that I don’t do any class work outside of actually attending my classes. That time is important for me to unwind – watch TV or play video games for too many hours, read a book in a sunny spot, or take a nap with my cat.
The bane of my existence this term has been a 3,000-5,000 word research paper. It is for a 2 credit class that is required for graduation, but has caused me more stress than any of my 3-4 credit core Civil Engineering classes. Through some basic research, the proposal and abstract were not too difficult to write – it was basically just writing the intro of a paper and then giving up (which is what I wanted to do). Then came the draft. I told my advisor I would get him a draft by Sunday or Monday, and avoided it all weekend, until Sunday evening. After complaining to my boyfriend that I was quitting school, a tearful call with my mom fleshing out paragraph ideas, and a short night’s sleep, I did it. A first draft! It was only approximately 2,000 words, but it existed, and I had started with nothing. Taking my draft to the writing center helped to validate my writing, as the peer tutor said that it was a solid paper, and helped give me some areas to work on expanding my thoughts. While I still have to work out the second draft and final paper, I feel a little more confident that I can do it.
So now what? Well it’s true – procrastination is best conquered by just starting. Start small, pick a chunk of the assignment that you can handle doing. And if you feel like I did, that there is no reasonable section you can do – talk to someone who can help you work through. Take it one step at a time, and take short breaks when you finish a section. Each time I finished writing a section of my draft, I set a timer for 10 minutes, and walked around, looked at social media, or had a snack. I hope that this may help someone else who is feeling overwhelmed with an assignment. It will probably be difficult, but you can do it. Even if isn’t your best work, you should be proud that you completed something that you had trouble with, and remember it next time you are struggling to get started on something.