Just 5 More Minutes
June 5, 2013 5:28 PM   Subscribe

I developed a terrible habit at University my freshmen year. I would tell myself that I would only waste another 5 minutes before starting my homework, but I would keep tacking on an extra 5 minutes, and I would do this almost indefinitely, sometimes all the way up to the due date. Help me develop good habits for next year. :/

I've been a procrastinator for as long as I remember. Unless it is something that I particularly enjoy doing, I always push it off until the last second. Back in highschool and first semester of college, it wasn't a big problem. That time of night would pass, and I would suddenly click into action. Everyone procrastinates, and they just cram and get it done at the cost of sleep. Whatever, right?

This is what deeply concerns me. I have developed the ability to easily push all the things that I have to do out of my head, and run away to the internet. The most notable example of this was one of my calculus tests I took this year. I tried studying for it before the night before, but I ended up pushing it off till then anyways. I told myself that I really needed to study. But instead of cramming for the test, I constantly kept pushing studying off for, as I would tell myself, another 5 minutes. I would go watch stupid youtube videos, read some stupid blog, tell myself this was the last article or the last video, but find an excuse to watch or read another one. I would keep my mind occupied like this, because part of me simply did not want to study for that test. I chose to not think about it.

In the end, I didn't study for that test at all that night, I told myself that I would get up an hour early and study in the morning. That didn't fucking happen either. I got up early like I said I would, but when when it came up to that moment that I would start studying, I ran way from it, and I continued running all the way up to the test. I managed to pass the test, somehow. But this mindset is NOT going to get me through college. I'll flunk out.

The first thing anyone would think is "shut off your fucking internet" "limit the distractions". I've tried that. Once, I had to write a paper for english. Due the next day. I turned off my phone and ipad, threw both in my backpack, disabled my internet on my laptop, and sat there, in a cafe. My mind found staring out the window to be an interesting activity. Even if I sat in a windowless room, my mind would just day dream. I would find a way to avoid what I'm suppose to be doing. It also doesn't help that so much of my homework is done on a computer or online. All the fun websites are a few clicks away. I know of all the Chrome add ons that could prevent me from visiting time wasting websites, but shit, this whole problem can probably be described as a game of wack-a-mole. Limiting the distractions isn't enough in my case. Something else in my head has to change.

I had a friend suggest I tried using an app called pomodroido, where I would focus for 20 minutes, then take a 5 minute break, repeat. It just a basic timer. It worked really well at first, but as the weeks rolled by its effectiveness decreased.

I feel like the problem is, I'm not finding the drive to do what I'm suppose to be doing. Its easier for me to just not think about it then to force myself to do it. Its pathetic.

Has anyone dealt with this form of procrastination? Its like that freak out I usually get when I push something off long enough doesn't click in anymore. I'm terrified of going back for another year, with a harder workload, and flunking out.

My goal is to not get that "freak out" effect back. I want more then anything to be able to actively keep up in college, then constantly catching up. But without a glaring due date for a lot of college things, I find it so easy to avoid it all.

Thanks Metafilter. <3
posted by NotSoSiniSter to Education (23 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps give The Now Habit a read?
posted by backwards guitar at 5:38 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Amazon 1 click is an awesome/evil thing. :)
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 5:41 PM on June 5, 2013

This sounds like classic ADD. If at all possible, get yourself to a doctor and get a prescription for ADD meds. It may take a little while to find one that works best for you - but when you do, you'll wonder how you were ever able to function at all without them, and you'll realize that you're not just lazy. Seriously, it's brain chemistry at work, not your conscious state of mind that causes such extreme procrastination.

Of course, being a college student, and with the propensity for people of your age to abuse them, you'll need to watch out for this...and may need to see several docs before one will be willing to prescribe because of this. But keep at it, it will be worth it when you're actually focused and able to achieve so much more.
posted by trivia genius at 5:42 PM on June 5, 2013

You need the Self Control app (Mac only). It has helped me enormously with exactly this problem.
posted by aunt_winnifred at 5:44 PM on June 5, 2013

I'm not finding the drive to do what I'm suppose to be doing.

I would procrastinate if I had calculus too, but then again I would avoid any major that required Calculus. So why are you taking it? Do you like your major? Where do you see yourself after you graduate?

Life is pretty much an endless slog through a lot of things we don't want to do (laundry, dishes) but the result has to be worth it or we'll never do them. If you are not excited about school/your future career, look into changing your direction. If you are not excited about anything, I'd see someone at your school's mental health center.

Apps and drugs will not help if you don't have an intrinsic motivation.
posted by desjardins at 5:47 PM on June 5, 2013

Response by poster: I was going to add a whole bit about how I feel like I have ADD/ADHD. I've broken down calling my mom telling her how I want to see a shrink. But she's against it, and feels like I'm just looking for something to blame. Which is something I partially believe myself. No one in my family has been diagnosed with it, and its usually diagnosed in childhood. Both facts make me sway the "i don't have it" route. But maybe I'll find the motivation to see a shrink this summer. Even if they tell me I don't have it, at least I'll stop thinking it.
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 5:49 PM on June 5, 2013

Are you over 18? You don't need her permission to go see one. You can start with your regular doctor, too.
posted by desjardins at 5:52 PM on June 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am a "5 more minutes" person, and I've had pretty good luck with the Pomodoro technique. Have you read the actual Pomodoro guide (which is free)? It's way more than just setting a timer. The other secret success of the Pomodoro technique is that it counsels you to keep a to-do list at hand and physically mark off completed pomodoros (which are like video game achievements). When you feel the urge to stop working during a work period, make a mark on the paper and then return to work. It's like letting the urge wash through you and not control you.

But yes, it's also possible that you could be helped by a doctor. A close friend of mine is also a 5-more-minuter and Ritalin has really helped him focus.
posted by muddgirl at 5:56 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah I turn 20 in a few months. Its been discussed with my mom that if I go see a shrink I would be setting the appointment up all by myself.

As for if I like calculus or not, I'm a mechanical engineering major. I like my major and have no thoughts on switching out of it. I like Calculus and math when I understand it.
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 5:56 PM on June 5, 2013

Procrastination can also be anxiety-related.
posted by muddgirl at 5:58 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Seconding desjardins. If you are 18, you can make the decision yourself. Start with health services on campus. If their GP won't prescribe for ADD and they don't have a psychiatrist on staff, ask for a referral. Also remember that you can see the doctor, get diagnosed, get a prescription, and still choose not to take the meds.

But she's against it, and feels like I'm just looking for something to blame. Which is something I partially believe myself. No one in my family has been diagnosed with it, and its usually diagnosed in childhood.

Sounds like you didn't really have a chance to get diagnosed in childhood due to your mother's hangups. Plus, many smart kids go undiagnosed because they can do what you did - procrastinate and still get good grades. It's not until you face real challenges with your workload, and lots more unstructured time in college, that you hit the wall of "oh crap I can't get anything done."

You also need to realize that looking for a possible medical cause of your inability to concentrate is not the same as "looking for something to blame." That's like saying you wouldn't go to the doctor to get tested for pneumonia just because you can't breathe. You have to realize that it's potentially medical, not just emotional or lack of motivation.
posted by trivia genius at 6:00 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

I did this also (in my case, a combo of perfectionism and genuinely working well on deadline). What I've learned about the "five more minutes" technique is that I ended up on edge the whole time I was "relaxing" thinking about the work I need to do so I never got to actually take a break. Instead, I tried to be honest with myself about when I was actually going to start on something (e.g. I'm not going to do anything all day today, and I know it, but l'll start at 6 pm.) And then, when I reach that point, no more "five"minutes." I started.

It doesn't always work but it's a much less stressful form of procrastination.
posted by eponym at 6:06 PM on June 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

This sounds EXACTLY like me, and I most assuredly do not have ADD. My problem is anxiety. Took me a really long time to figure out I wasn't lazy or self-indulgent. I was actually trying to avoid what some part of my brain was convinced was the equivalent of sticking my hand in fire.

See the doc/counselor at your school. Get checked for ADD, anxiety, depression. I, too, come from a family where if the bone isn't sticking out of your leg you don't need a damn doctor. It's really hard to convince yourself that you deserve help when you've got that background. You absolutely deserve help. Do not spend twenty years banging your head against a brick wall, hoping to change the shape of the wall, like I did.
posted by tllaya at 6:37 PM on June 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

If you don't have ADD you might just have to keep switching techniques for focusing when they stop working. That's what I do. So the Pomodoro technique worked for you for a few weeks? That's great! There are a million techniques for dealing with procrastination. Move on to the next one. Try David Seah's tools. Try an unschedule. Try RLRPG or Taskhammer. Or habit judo. Whenever something stops working, move on to the next strategy for a few weeks. And then eventually back to the Pomodoro technique. I find that it's the novelty of a new approach that makes me stick to it, so I have to cycle like this too.
posted by lollusc at 7:20 PM on June 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

Something else in my head has to change.

I have battled with procrastination for many years. I felt like I just needed to find the right way of thinking and I'd get out of the spiral.

I basically believe that procrastination is an (unsuccessful) anxiety avoidance strategy that can be overcome and I have a shelf of get things done now habit books to prove it. I don't think I finished any of them. They are all about making lists and crossing them off and timing and yadda yadda. In other words, I could never find the motivation to try and follow their techniques for more than a few weeks. My mind didn't seem to be working on my side.

I am now reading a book, which I will finish, which has helped become aware of the cognitive processes that lead to succeeding or failing or giving up on goals despite wanting to achieve so much. It deals with the way we subconsciously or automatically frame goals and how these frames affect the goals we are trying to achieve. It is particularly useful for me, as a student, becauses it actually discusses the two main motivations behind studying: 1) to get good grades 2) to aquire mastery of the subject. It is helping me work out which type of goal-framing, which type of thinking in otherwords, I need to employ to achieve particular sorts of goals.

Anyway, if your Amazon finger is pulsing, the book is here. Ignore the dime-a-dozen title and read some of the reviews.
posted by Kerasia at 7:35 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I was a terrible procrastinator for my entire educational career. I don't have ADD, for me it's anxiety and perfectionism (which is, basically, anxiety). At the end of my undergrad, before grad school, I took an "overcoming procrastination" workshop at my university's campus counselling services. I think it was four weeks or so, and I guess it was kind of like group therapy. It was super helpful! I still use some of the tools I learned, although I've never really tended to procrastinate in my work life (I do in my personal life all the time, though).

Books and therapy are good, too, but I bet if your school has any kind of counselling services, they will offer something similar. It's a very common problem and you are by no means alone.
posted by looli at 10:34 PM on June 5, 2013

What you're describing sounds verrrrryy much like my time in school a few years ago. I'm a chemical engineer, and I know exactly what you're talking about.

I did not flunk out, but I came close and was saved by some creative class substitutions and liberal use of summer school. I would not recommend letting it get that bad.

I've got no magic bullet here, but one thing I'll say is get the hell out of your apartment, dorm, comfortable living area to go study. That's the worst. Find a quiet, well-lit place at school with a table for you to spread your work out on. Make it your consistent study place. Have some backup spaces in case that one is taken.

Most of your classes have books, I bet. To go study, take your book, your homework assignment, some paper and pencils, and that's it. Don't take your iPad. Keep your phone in your backpack. Just start reading. You'll get focused on it. Books move in a linear fashion, so you'll get momentum and incremental understanding which is good for study morale. Trying to learn solely from your class notes is a losing proposition, and the internet is there to provide you snippets of dispersed information, not long explanations. Even in my job now, I think serious book reading is the key to getting focused on learning new engineering concepts.

If you have questions that aren't in the book, write them down, so you can efficiently look them up later. That will hopefully keep you more focused when you do get back in front of your computer to answer some of those questions.

If you really don't use books that much, consider printing out whatever online material you do use and going off the same way and reading it in hardcopy. Not on your iPad or phone. I still do this a ton. It is super easy to grab a stapled pack of papers, go sit down somewhere and read. If you do it on your iPad, you will not be reading much. (I, sadly, still do this way too much as well.) Don't worry about using a lot of paper; you can save the world after you get your engineering degree.

If you don't have a good class book, you can probably find one out there does help you understand the concepts better. There are usually a few different books out there on similar concepts.

If there are practice problems in the book that your prof has suggested and the answers are available, do them. Doing practice work without the pressure of having to turn it in AND with the crutch of having the next step there when you need it is a lifesaver. When your homework is for a grade, it brings out the worst anxiety in perfectionists like us and we just put it off indefinitely. When you don't have any solutions to problems available and you get hopelessly stuck, that's a great demotivator for not starting in the future. Practicing without that stress helps a lot I think if you can find the time for it.

To summarize, you need to get into a study zone and you need to feel that you're going to accomplish something when you set out to study. So give yourself some tangible things to work on. Even reading a few pages of a book or article is an accomplishment, and you can do that anytime. Let that be your foot in the door to getting out the door more often to study.

I still have many problems with procrastination, but one of the things I think that helps me now is that I can genuinely see the usefulness and interest factor in the things I study. Engineering schools are terrible about developing their students' interest in the material. Let me tel, you, though, engineering is interesting stuff and so incredibly full of possibilities. I supervise all types of engineers at my company and do a lot of mechanical design myself. It's cool stuff. There is a bright light at the end of the school tunnel, and it can be what you make of it. There's some incentive; go get to work.

(By the way, please feel free to Mefi Mail me if you'd like to talk more about anything. I'd love to help someone not have as difficult a time in engineering school as I did.)
posted by KinoAndHermes at 11:16 PM on June 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Procrastination is avoiding things. Generally when you get to this point, you're avoiding things for a reason.

If you're avoiding things due to anxiety/perfectionism, then deal with that.

If you're avoiding things because it is really frustrating to try and do something, and end up staring out the window daydreaming and you hate this, go talk to a psychiatrist about ADHD. The last two people I heard say this were diagnosed with ADHD. If you are female and/or not the hyperactive subtype it is usually NOT diagnosed in childhood, because stereotypes and inattentive is less noticeable.

If you're avoiding things because you hate your degree/major/whatever, go study something else.

Figure out why you're procrastinating and solve THAT problem.
posted by Ashlyth at 3:36 AM on June 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had this exact problem (although it developed later, in grad school) and it was because of anxiety/depression/perfectionism issues. Please consider talking to someone at health services at your school. It was a game-changer for me.
posted by pemberkins at 5:08 AM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here's what I do.

If I have something with a deadline, I do it as quickly as possible. Just knock that shit out. Then I have all the time in the world to dick around.

I was a lit major so I'd see the assigned papers in the syllabus and I'd go to the library and start right in. Often on the first day of class! It was great, all the materials I needed were there (pre-Internet) and there was NO pressure. If I needed to make changes based on lectures, simple, just go in and change (you have it ALL over me, with your fancy word processing.)

I'd turn them in as early as possible too. It totally reverses your life in such a positive way! No more cramming, no more 48 hours of writing straight and no stress. I've carried this into my work career as well. I never miss a deadline and early delivery means less scrutiny. If there is a question, it's answered well before the information is desperately needed and it reduces the fire drills.

If someone comes to me with a fire drill, I have time to clear the decks with other projects without putting other projects in jeopardy.

I also calendar. Every month I mark on a calendar what reports/projects are due, what dates I'll be compiling, what dates I'll be delivering. I also keep a clock in my bathroom to stay on track there.

I will echo the perfectionism point, to do this you have to be completely good with not having things perfect. And you may need therapy for this. Check out your student healh services to discuss with a counselor.

Don't let perfect be the enemy of Good Enough. Oddly enough, being early, having it neat and tidy and being bright eyed and bushy tailed and PREPARED is the key to success in all things. Very rarely is perfect called for.

So steel your resolve and flip your script. Once you start doing it, you'll never go back.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:54 AM on June 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

It took time to learn procrastination, and will take time to develop new habits. Have a thorough To Do list. Have a wall calendar, and give yourself a star or sticker every time you're able to start something, complete something, etc. For every 10 stars, you can have a treat, maybe a fancy latte at Starbucks, or a song from iTunes, etc. When you get to 50 stars, you get a bigger treat. It feels childish, but it works.

In technical classes, I always benefited from a study group, and knowing that I'd be telling the group whether or not I finished a project was motivating. Your school likely has a study center; visit and ask them what resources might be available.
posted by theora55 at 8:41 AM on June 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Pomodoro Technique has also been super helpful to me because it turns this HUGE IMPOSING MASS OF LEARNING into one 20-minute segment. I really started using it when I was taking a tax class with an incredibly dense textbook and it was a huge help. And if you can't face 20 minutes, do 10 or 5. It seems silly and too simple to have any effect, but it helps with the main problem here, which is getting unstuck and actually starting something. Then set a timer for your break, and it will be easier to get off the internet if you know you only have to do 10 more minutes of work to get another break.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 9:37 AM on June 6, 2013

Response by poster: These are some wonderful answer. Thank you all. Anxiety being the source of my inability to concentrate feels right, ADD still stand out as well. I've decided that I will go see a psychologist. Nothing bad will come of it. If I come out with zero diagnoses, that alone will make me be more active in fixing my study habits.

A lot of you mentioned that the pomodoro technique, I'll try it again. Maybe there is a sweet spot for the timers that I haven't discovered yet.

Thanks Mefi. You guys are great. <3
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 9:59 AM on June 7, 2013

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