What do I do when I "hit the wall"?
October 25, 2011 6:00 PM   Subscribe

I reach half-way through the semester, and everything goes down the hole. How can I stop this train wreck?

This happens every semester. I start off strong - complete everything on time (sometimes even days ahead), get a 90%+ on all of my assignments. 6 or so weeks in, I'll run into an assignment or project I really don't want to do. I will ignore it until the due date comes by and goes. Then it's almost like a domino effect - I'm so paralyzed from not completing one assignment, that I can't muster up ANY motivation to complete the others. I plummet from a 90% to a 50% or worse. Not sure what is wrong with me. Yes, it's a very odd case of procrastination, but how I can slap myself into reality? I really detest being stuck in this situation over and over again.
posted by raintree to Education (11 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

I have no idea what kind of classes these are, but it seems like more effective time management and assignment organization is the way to go here. If it's a paper that's holding you up, divide it into small sections, make a good outline before starting, set goals for each subsection, and have an absolute deadline in place. Even if it's not your best work, getting an 80% on one project is better than getting a 50% on all subsequent projects. One of the "guru" books cited above could be helpful, but before you do that just try chunking up your work and setting mini-deadlines - that might just do the trick.

Also, professors design courses to get harder after mid-term, and along with the prospect of upcoming exams this can get really stressful. Anticipate that this will happen, and start getting ahead early in the term while you're breezing by. Good luck!
posted by iamscott at 6:13 PM on October 25, 2011

@liketitanic Haha you have a point. I refer to it as an "odd case" because I'm so enthusiastic about everything in the beginning. I'll focus entirely on school work and nothing else can distract me. Initially, I won't procrastinate at all. But all of a sudden, after a certain point, everything comes crashing down.
posted by raintree at 6:19 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Could you be confusing the procrastinating to stress link. Is it possible that focusing so hard on school is causing the stress that leads to you giving up? Maybe you need some balance so that you don't burn out mid-term.
posted by boobjob at 6:35 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

Since it happens every semester, I'm going to assume you aren't fragile about this topic, so my highly-scientific answer is that this is a matter of discipline and will-power. Man/Lady up. Forget about the past assignments, those are sunk-costs. Eyes on the prize, always moving forward. Quit farting around or it'll take you twice as long to complete your program. Talk to your teachers in the classes you're blowing off.
posted by rhizome at 6:41 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hm, well, interestingly enough, I work harder towards the end of term (though for me, this is a misnomer, since I rarely work hard as such except in tiny bursts). The reason I work harder is that 1) I get into the swing of things for that specific course; 2) I realize if I don't, everything will crash, a feeling I just don't have in week 1. Needless to say, both these approaches are pretty counterproductive.

So, I'd say-- pace yourself. Don't expect to be omg-great in week one and you won't get tired by week 5. One thing is more important than anything (if only I could do it): consistent small bits of effort. Read your textbook every week, not just before an exam (say); do your homework every time (whether or not it's 'great'), set aside time to do it (just show up), and get used to doing these things whether or not it's easy or hard, whether you're looking forward to it or not. Do not spend more time at any task if it's hard or easy-- simply spend more chunks if you need more time to finish.

Like with essays: there is no such thing as a boring essay. I know, because I've had assignments I thought were boring and super-easy and ugh, 6th-grade-work, and then the professor said I wasn't clear enough for him so it's not up to his standard. I mean, even fi it's boring, you can find some aspect of it to use to work on your writing, analysis, etc.

Anyway, I know all about the 'too late, it's not perfect anymore' paralysis. The enemy is 'perfect'. Forget perfect. You're never as good as you think you are, period, even when you feel good. Distrust any accolades you give yourself and you'll distrust your paranoia also. Believe that no one (including you) is as good as they think they are and you
can relax knowing that no one is as bad off as they think they are, either. Once you forget to be great, you can just get shit done. Then move on to getting the next shit done, on a reasonably paced, consistent schedule based on some stupid work you did for some set amount of time. You don't need to impress anyone, including yourself, and since you don't, you can forget about disappointing them as well. No matter whether things are oiled like butter or going to hell, just put in those hours and call it good when it's as done as it's going to get.

Once you've acquired the ability to just put in those consistent 2 hours a day or whatever, then you can think about being awesome or whatever. Though like I said, objects close up always seem awesomer (and/or more hopeless) than they do at a distance, so just learn to distrust your self-evaluation and forge ahead.
posted by reenka at 6:42 PM on October 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

A good starting point is to communicate with your professors about the problem, and ask them for their help!
posted by bq at 6:51 PM on October 25, 2011

Does your campus have a student success or academic assistance program? Go find it. Sign up for anything they offer. And when that big assignment looms and you don't know where to start, ask them for help. Keep asking for help until you figure this out.

I understand procrastinating, I'm guilty of doing it myself at times. But you get to a point where your professors (a later on employers, spouse, children) will not be understanding and will not be willing to work around it.
posted by hms71 at 7:29 PM on October 25, 2011

I used to do this all the time. I'd start every single semester thinking, this semester is going to be great or I'm gonna be on top of everything or yeah, I'm on the ball or things along similar lines, and then partway through I'd get lax with myself or get an assignment I didn't really like, and ... well, the results would be similar to yours.

What worked for me was realising I was setting myself up to fail from the beginning. I was subconsciously viewing the task of Staying On Top Of Things This Semester as a binary succeed/fail sort of thing: that if I fell behind on one assignment, it meant I had completely failed at keeping up with the course, and so doing subsequent assignments was an exercise in futility because I had already "failed".

Which is, when you think about it, not the case at all.

Sure there are some assignments that are hurdles (fail that and you fail the course) but the majority aren't. It's usually OK to blow off one assignment out of ten, or hand it in late, or do a half-assed job of it or whatever. (I got the impression tutors/lecturers kind of expect this, even from otherwise-stellar students).

So ... don't be so hard on yourself. Give yourself permission to screw up the odd assignment sometimes. Obviously if you blow off too many you end up in trouble, but staying on top of your work is sort of a continuum, and there's a big difference between "eh, I didn't quite manage those two" and "omg I didn't do any assignments this semester."
posted by Xany at 7:30 PM on October 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

I was the same way, though I didn't really understand the problem ... until I switched schools to a quarter system. It made all the difference in the world for me and my grades. Semesters and me just didn't fit. I have no idea if this is feasible for you - but it's worth considering. I loved school once I transferred and my grades reflected it. I just work better in a fast-paced environment.

I apologize if this isn't terribly helpful - but there's probably not much else that would have changed my college years so dramatically for the better.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 9:02 PM on October 25, 2011

Are you able to identify the problem assignment as such before it's too late? Or are you one of those people who are completely convinced that you'll do it next week - every week?

If you can tell in advance which one is causing problems, here's something to try: Write it badly. Stop caring. Don't write something brilliant for 90%; bang out something that's "workmanlike" at best for 50%. Write it as if the only requirement is to reach the word count quickly and have it over with.

If you're someone like me that refuses to take the obvious angle on the assignment, instead trying to think of some obscure thing that nobody else in the class will have thought of, stop it and write the most obvious and boring version you can think of.

Once you've done this, you may find yourself motivated enough to revise the assignment to the 90% version, but if not, at least you have something to turn in that might help you keep up the momentum for the rest of the semester.
posted by emilyw at 11:45 PM on October 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

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