How to Be A Reformed Procrastinator 101

‘Grats, comrades of the scholarly pursuit, for making it to 3rd week. Michaelmas has come and gone, and here hails Hilary; although to anyone well-versed in the seasonal implications of Oxford terms, the word “hails” is likely to be so jarringly out of context as to sound like an ironic clang, or the first note of a threnody to blizzard-less bliss, harbingering the gloom and doom that will soon materialise into a snowball of essays or problem sheets. For the university student, January blues embodies not so much a sentiment as a wintry way of life; an opportunity for one to defiantly subvert the aphoristic wisdom of “you snooze you lose” by hitting the dreaded button and the cosy hay all at once, and to do so without any qualms in a way that would make even the poster enfant terrible Holden Caulfield proud.

Unless you are a sorry sadomasochist whose relationship with work is characterised by Stockholm Syndrome, then the response to HT2014 should really just be “work, shmerk”, with an added dose of self-righteous spice on the side. Adam and Eve may wake up early and work in Milton’s Paradise, yet we postlapsarian sinners can’t help but appreciate the odd (ahem) slothful sleep-in, especially when the week’s essay topic literally screams boredom and we’d much rather take a wonky-eyed insta-selfie of #CBA-ness than contend with Quantum or Quintilian. But alas, rants will always be subordinate to reality, and despite the visceral vindication that bitching offers, it is markedly less helpful in terms of dealing with our primary source of pain – the material mass of reading that taunts our wilful disingenuousness on a weekly basis. Naturally, being the wronged but wily souls like the Oxford students that we are, we adopt the tried and tested approach of flight instead of fight by carrying out a policy of procrastination a la Chamberlain until the deadline comes beckoning, only to find out that history is known to teach lessons for a good reason. So alas, we inveigh and ignore to scant avail, and therefore must eventually succumb to travail. While I hope my cringeworthy attempt at poetic concordance did manage to induce a slight twitch in that frozen frown which (I suspect) has been present on your face since the New Year, I must nonetheless stress a foregone conclusion: students will always be ‘losers’ in the struggle against work, and harbouring any delusions to the contrary hardly helps with making progress. Apparently, students have developed such a bad rap on getting things done that we can now actually lay claim to an exclusive ‘syndrome’, creatively termed “Student Syndrome” which is really just clinical code for lazy bums who think that essays will somehow magically write themselves.

But at the end of the day, didactic chat cannot prove the remedy for the academic epidemic that is procrastination, because incentive to change must come from within the self, and before you dismiss what follows as the sort of motivational codswallop that your secondary school teachers used to force down your throat in after-school talks, here’s some paradoxical but constructive food for thought: spend two more minutes procrastinating (which you obviously have been by reading my article) to discover how the twin methods of self-privation and self-quarantine can help you curb and combat – yes, you guessed it, the grand problem of procrastination.

Method 1: Self-Privation 

If ever there were a 21st century devilish antidote to the Holy Trinity, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube would be it. As long as you have a laptop and eduroam/college wifi isn’t being a temperamental sod that day, I am willing to wager almost anything (save perhaps my laptop and wifi) that these are the first websites you click onto upon logging in, bar none. What usually follows is a period of mindless surfing-scrolling-stalking, as one becomes helplessly subsumed by the gravitational lure of information infinite, even when ploughing through photos of your non-university friends’ latest club night shenanigans amounts to little else than a comparative exercise at self-pity. Otherwise, you engage in random chat with that tempting online presence of who the Facebook algorithm thinks is your ‘top friend’, only to realise that by the time you get to “xxx” the two-hour conversation was simply a cyber-manifestation of each other’s daily rants or a cryptic, albeit intimate, exchange of links derived from Imgur or Youtube (high five for more sources of distraction). As if ‘News’ feed (read: treasure trove for nosy people) isn’t bad enough with its python-like ability to ever-expand, tweets are arguably even worse, as they increase at a rate of about one per millisecond and don’t stop proliferating until you actually click away from the page. Finally, the escapist haven that is YouTube takes home the trophy for being the king of all procrastination culprits, as its highly effective but lethal “Recommended for You” bait most likely implies a day’s wasting on vlogs and Vevo.

While I doubt that we can sue Mark Zuckerberg and the Silicon Valley crew on charges of exploitation of weak human will, I do know that there’s always ‘Cold Turkey’ to the rescue. As you’d expect, Cold Turkey is a free productivity program which allows you to block the aforementioned websites, and what makes it more useful than simply installing a site-blocking extension on say, Chrome or Firefox, is that it blocks them for all the browsers in your system and won’t reactivate access unless you uninstall the program from your computer. Sure, it’s not a perfect solution, but by subjecting yourself to the faff of having to wade through the multiple ‘barriers’ before actually getting to that step of uninstalling, at least the program ensures that there’ll be a higher chance of you reconsidering your priorities at hand before once again falling into the abyss of cyber-dithering.


Method 2: Self-Quarantine

Ok, so you’ve installed Cold Turkey and the only websites that are now even remotely ‘procrastination-worthy’ are Nexus and Wikipedia, both of which cannot be blocked – the former because your tutor might pull a volte-face on that day’s tute times and the latter because we all need an authoritative encyclopaedic source of knowledge for essay-writing. Just when you think there’s literally ‘work come at me’ branded on your forehead, however, temptation strikes in a tangible form, which most often manifests powerfully as either food or phone. Crap, and the fact you’ve exhausted that remaining dearth of self-discipline by blocking yourself from Facebook doesn’t help with the situation at all. Allow your eyes to conduct a sweeping survey of the rewards gained from that latest Tesco trip, and before long you will have become Bridget Jones 2.0 aka BFF of Ben and Jerry’s. Give that phone a swift sweep, and the next thing you know either Candy Crush or Snapchat has taken your concentration hostage. In the face of such a distracting plenitude, all you can do is to remove yourself from it all, hence the act of ‘self-quarantining’.

And where else more suits the cause than the good ole’ library? As Oxford students, we even have the added luxury of taking our pick, but my personal recommendation for maximum work productivity is none other than the architectural marvel that is the Rad Cam, where postgraduates and professors alike toil away in serious intellectual labour, all the while looking immaculate in scholarly garb and suave in professional assurance. Dare you sully that epitome of academic brilliance with a Snapchat ‘selfie’ (ugh)?! Just wait till the dons call sacrilege on you. Usually, I operate by a policy of bringing an extra jumper to the Lower ‘igloo’ or bringing an extra cushion to the Upper ‘cave’, but if you want maximised results for concentration, then ignore this piece of advice completely and let the cold/hard chairs intimidate you into some hard-core focusing. Leaving aside concerns of a cardiac arrest resulting from library-performance anxiety, at least you will finally be able to get a move on that bloody essay. So with that modern entourage of distractions sufficiently out of the way, your extra two minutes of procrastination is up, and it is now time to do some work. Without Facebook. Or Digestives. Or the comfort of your own abode.