Help developing dicipline and responsibility
December 17, 2003 9:11 AM   Subscribe

My life is riddled with undependability and irresponsability. I've improved a great deal, but I still feel I have a long way to go. I'd like to find some way to get my college homework done sometime before the 10 minutes preceding class, as well as being more consistent with getting things done by deadlines. Is there anyone out there who used to be a complete lazyass that found different methods for turning themselves around? Pure willpower isn't cutting it.

Nowadays I have a great deal of potential to advance through various projects at college, but I tend to not take on more responsibilities than I have to because of my fear of not completing them. What I'm looking for are the best ways to overcome what has become a really bad habit of distracting myself daily with things that should not be my primary concerns and should remain my hobbies, second to schoolwork and my job's work. Personal experience are favored, if possible.
posted by angry modem to Education (26 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I used to be the same way, then I got an office. It's incredible.

As for college, get yourself a stripped down laptop with only the software you need, and go to a quiet bookstore or coffee shop where your friends don't go, so you can work and also get in your '5 minutes looking at girls' relief in every once in awhile.
posted by Stan Chin at 9:19 AM on December 17, 2003

Response by poster: I'm definitely ambitious, which is something new, and is pushing me to get over this. Like I said, I've made tremendous progress with this, but I see people getting a lot more done and don't understand how they do it, how to make myself just sit down and do things.
posted by angry modem at 9:25 AM on December 17, 2003

Drink less caffeine and get on a regular schedule. It worked wonders for me.
posted by bshort at 9:25 AM on December 17, 2003

but I tend to not take on more responsibilities than I have to because of my fear of not completing them

I would suggest this is a good start. If you don't enjoy the extra responsibilities there's no point flogging yourself just to meet someone else's idea of what they think you should be doing. If however, there is something you want to do with yourself in the future, try to figure out what it is now and take on responsibilities necessary to put you in the position to do that. Personally I would suggest figuring out what you want to do with your life is very hard indeed though and for many can be a very slow process. So you may have to consider taking on things that will keep more of your options open into the future.
posted by biffa at 9:30 AM on December 17, 2003

I find the best way to take care of homework is to graduate.

I kid.

Personally, I've found that the only way I really get work done is if I actually give a rats ass about it. Find stuff you really like to do and you'll find it's not hard to do it. If you don't care or don't like the work you're doing, it shows pretty easily, and it might be time to look for something else.
posted by Hackworth at 9:30 AM on December 17, 2003

I'll second that about getting on a regular schedule. Even now, working for myself and doing stuff I really love, I have to have some kind of "office hours" or I don't get much done--at least not much of any importance or lasting value.

Maybe I'll try drinking less coffee. :^)
posted by Tholian at 9:32 AM on December 17, 2003

speaking on behalf of the lazy people,
i used to do 2 hours college work every day whether there was a deadline or not , you can obviously increase the hours if you're not as clever as me : )
just do the 2 hours. every day.then you can do whatever you want after that.
that works btw.
posted by sgt.serenity at 9:33 AM on December 17, 2003

oh and stop calling yourself undependable and irresponsible.
posted by sgt.serenity at 9:36 AM on December 17, 2003

2 hours of work a day, regardless of deadlines, sounds good to me. Accompanying that with a to-do list so that you have a constant reminder of what needs to be done can help also.

However, that becomes one more thing to do. I find it's useful, though, to fill up weird gaps in the day, like waiting for the bus or waiting for class to start.
posted by claxton6 at 9:37 AM on December 17, 2003

Don't know if it'll help, but here's my story.

When I was in college the first time, I skated through on raw ability. I wrote papers the morning they were due and only studied the night before a test. Since I had raw ability and an easy major, this allowed me to graduate with a 3.5 average. Never mind that I promptly forgot all the information I had brain-dumped as soon as a class was over. I had the grades & thought I was doing okay.

After college I spent quite a lot of my time devoted to areas in which I had absolutely no talent or ability, i.e. music and the martial arts. No grades, no papers, just the question "am I any good at this?" I wasn't, and I really wanted to be, so the only way to actually improve was consistent day-in, day-out work. There were no deadlines, so I couldn't wait until the last minute before the deadline. I just had to keep pushing myself to get a functional level of skill.

I came back to school some years later. First I was studying computer programming, to get started in a new career. I did that and now I'm back again working on getting a degree in computer engineering. My grades are much higher, but it's not because I'm trying for the grades. It's because my goal is to achieve a professional level of functional skill in the areas I'm studying. That means I have to do the work every day. Getting straight A's is fairly easy compared to having the knowledge to be a good professional. I'm helped in this attitude by the fact that I have limited time available. I work full time, I'm in a band & I have family responsibilties. The time I have left over is precious to me. If I'm going to spend that time on a class, then I'm damn well not going to waste it by sliding through and not having some substantial learning to show by the end of the semester.

Anyway, I don't know if that helps, except to say don't think of class as meeting some required assignments by the deadline. Think of it as aiming for really learning something at a level which will stay with you for a long while.

Good luck!
posted by tdismukes at 9:40 AM on December 17, 2003 [1 favorite]

Angry modem, procrastination is something I really struggle with, and I have a close friend who is married to the ultimate bob and floater, so the two of us have hashed the subject out quite thoroughly. I've also read a book on procrastination. I have come to the conclusion that procrastination basically has three legs:

- unrealistic expectations (i.e., expecting perfection of oneself, lack of reasonable expections on how much time and effort it actually takes to do something, etc.)
- lack of consistent effort
- inability to break things down into small manageable chunks

These characteristics can make a project seem like an overwhelming task, and then one ends up totally freezing into inertia.

One way to break this freeze is to sit down for a short planning session. Take a careful look at the guidelines for the project. Figure out what needs to be done. Brainstorm for ideas on how to do those things. Break things down into smaller tasks. Slot those smaller tasks into a schedule. It will all stop seeming so overwhelming as you get a grasp of exactly what needs to be done and figure out how to do it. You may even find yourself becoming interested in the project and look forward to doing it.

I recommend that you read a book on procrastination. The one I read taught me some valuable techniques that would take too long to explain here, especially when [cough] I have a project to get to.
posted by orange swan at 10:01 AM on December 17, 2003

My guess is that you're neither irresponsible nor undependable. If you're anything like me, your problem is that you're unorganized. Being creative and chaotic has its plusses, but it's murder when you're trying to actually get shit done.

My advice: get a Franklin organizer from a Franklin-Covey store or online, and follow the instructions. Do it for a month and watch your irresponsibility and undependability vanish. Once all the roiling turmoil of your life is broken out into discrete tasks, suddenly everything becomes manageable. Or at least, it worked for me. I'm not one of those raving Franklinoholics who would step over their dead mother to get at their planner, but it has really helped me a lot.
posted by vraxoin at 10:04 AM on December 17, 2003

What worked for me was surrounding myself with really smart, ambitious, hard-working people that I admired and looked up to and respected, and the fear of failing in their eyes was greater than the enjoyment attained during the hours of slacking.

In grad school particularly, I befriended this fellow who was just really bright, with a work ethic to boot. He also happened to be the nicest, least selfish, friendliest guy ever. Everybody sought his opinion and counsel and he gave his wisdom and time generously. I found that when we did projects together, which was frequently, I really wanted to carry my load because he was counting on me to do that. Quarters later when we split up and took electives, I had a bit of a reputation as a guy who this other guy liked to work with because I did my shit. Now other people started looking up to me and wanting to partner with me because they knew I'd come through. While it's not for everybody, I respond well to that pressure.

There's nothing inherently wrong with being good at completing stuff under the gun. That makes for good programmers and good journalists, to name a few professions.

In short, surround yourself with people whose traits you admire and they will rub off on you.
posted by vito90 at 10:05 AM on December 17, 2003

I had this exact problem in college. I wasn't uncommon for me to pull all-nighters, writing from scratch 40-page papers that were due the next morning.

It took me a long time to realize the following:
- Not getting enough sleep sucks.
- Having a reputation for completing projects late sucks.
- Having your friends and family assume that you're not going to follow through on something sucks.
- Realizing that you have no chance of becoming a millionaire sucks.
- Realizing that your life will continue to be one of last-minute scrambling and people thinking ill of you sucks.

Overall, being lazy was creating a lot of work and misery for me. Once I realized that, I actually had a clear, tangible, and meaningful motivation to start getting things done.

It was a very gradual change, but my wife and I now laugh when we think about just how bad I used to be just a few years ago.
posted by oissubke at 10:43 AM on December 17, 2003 [1 favorite]

Great question! Here are a few things that have worked for me:

1 - Set a timer. When I have a task I'm not looking forward to, I commit to doing 20 minutes of it at a time - you can do *anything* for only 20 minutes!

2 - Set alarms. I have my alarm set for 8pm, when I need to start work on my 20 minutes.

3 - Get enough sleep. Commit to going to bed at a reasonable hour (set the alarm for your bedtime if you have too!), and you will find that the rest of your day is spent thinking "what can I accomplish before xxPM?"

4 - Cut back on your responsibilities and commitments. It's no use saying "yes" to things if you cannot in all reasonable have time to finish them. Sounds like this is something you have under control.

5 - Reward yourself! E.g., when you've written 2 pages you can surf the net for 10 minutes.

I also want to echo the idea about surrounding yourself with people who are already good at what you're trying to accomplish. Great idea.

Good luck!
posted by qrs136 at 11:15 AM on December 17, 2003

I recently read/skimmed this book on procrastination and among other things was struck by this obvious fact: the dread of having to do something which you are putting off is often worse than doing the actual thing. I've gotten a lot done in the last few days. :)

I'll second the idea of setting aside a certain amount of time to do something. ("I'm going to spend the next hour on this" rather than "I'll do some of this now.") It's also useful for "I'm not going to surf the net or watch t.v. for the rest of the evening." It's amazing what you can accomplish when you run out of distractions.

One last thought is that sometimes it's better to de-stress by doing nothing -- literally -- than by doing junk stuff like t.v.
posted by callmejay at 12:00 PM on December 17, 2003

This sounds like me in college (and unfortunately I did not start doing anything about procrastination until my last semester, a bit late).

Things that work for me: As others have said, breaking things up into small tasks is important. I discovered with things like papers that starting was the hardest part, so my first task was always to start: get a first sentence written, no matter whether it was a good sentence. Also, constructing a system of rewards can work -- take something you like, such as playing Snood or reading MeFi or whatever and allow yourself to do so only when you have met goal X. Set aside one day a week where you don't do much but work (and the following rewards) and keep that day consistent unless something really important is happening. Always remember to take breaks so you don't get fed up with what you're doing and burn yourself out on it for a while.

And don't expect to change overnight; that's not being fair with yourself. Quick advances are usually followed by quick reverses. Try to get a little bit better. When you've managed to get one of the dozen things you've got going on done on time, be proud of yourself. Then try to get another done.
posted by fidelity at 1:22 PM on December 17, 2003

I was planning on posting a question exactly like this here, but just didn't get around to it.

The sad thing: I'm not joking.
posted by majcher at 2:23 PM on December 17, 2003

Well, I can't say this post was made entirely in earnest, but for whatever it's worth...
posted by staggernation at 3:01 PM on December 17, 2003

For me, it's really important to have a good SPACE for working in. Mine is a dusty corner of the school's math library, where there is little or no chance of anyone wandering by, and none of the scattered distracting crap (e.g.) that most places are mired in.

But the most important part is having a place where the habit is work; where, once I sit down here, it's time to focus.
posted by kaibutsu at 5:45 PM on December 17, 2003

It sounds sort of counter-productive, but I've sometimes found that if I'm being unproductive, at a time when I should be, removing myself to re-focus can help. If I find myself staring at the screen and thinking of things (anything) but the work, I'll get up and go for a walk, do the laundry, make a call... whatever. Then sit down again and find proceeding much easier. The weird thing is, as soon as I start doing something else, I'll often have the idea or thought that overcomes the blockage in the work.
posted by normy at 8:30 PM on December 17, 2003

I've struggled with this exact problem for years. I suggest:

1.) Get in contact with your school's counseling center. They specialize in helping college students deal with college troubles, and they know more about it than you do. Try to get set up with someone who can serve as a "coach" of sorts. It sounds namby pamby, but being accountable to someone nonjudgmental, (and confidential) can make a huge difference. Plus the reassurance that tons of people have the same problem (many much, much worse), can help take the edge of some of that perfectionist anxiety.

2.) Research (or get screened for) depression, chronic anxiety disorder, and adult attention deficit disorder. I'm not saying these are involved, but something might click with you, and if it does, you can work specifically to overcome that.

3.) Engage with your professors and your peers. Form study groups. Meet with a professor a week before a paper is due, and ask them if they would be willing to read a first draft. Set a due-date with them, you'll be forced to write something earlier. Setting up a study group with the smartest kids you can find will also force you to start problem sets, consider exams, etc. somewhat before the last possible second.

4.) Lastly, get involved in something outside of school that you can really excel in: a job, a club, a hobby... Realizing that you're not incompetent, that you CAN complete tasks on time and well, is a huge confidence-booster. Struggling at school does not mean you will struggle with everything else in your life.
posted by bonheur at 9:09 PM on December 17, 2003

Good question and some great answers. This has been a problem, and a costly one, for me in the past. I'd echo one of the points already made, and also outline my own strategy for overcoming this problem.

It might be too late for this, but take a good amount of time to investigate course options at college with "enojyment" taking primacy. Some people can knuckle through things they don't enjoy by having their sights set firmly on the ends. I'm not one of those people, and I'm guessing you're not either.

Otherwise, and this was the crunch for me: fundamentally change your outlook on work. Easy, eh? What I have done is to view work (and, to an extent) my life as a series of discrete projects. It's almost a case of divide and conquer. Split up your courses into weekly and daily projects. Manage these so as to make sure you're covering everything you need to, but also, don't be afraid to be inventive with how you handle things. Adopt a point of view that *forces* each of these projects to be interesting or enjoyable to you.
posted by nthdegx at 10:19 PM on December 17, 2003

(bracket) error^
posted by nthdegx at 10:19 PM on December 17, 2003

1) Fill a backpack, or similar, with just enough to carry comfortably.

2) Travel to places where you can't speak the language.

3) Stay away for at least 3-12 months.
posted by larry_darrell at 10:43 PM on December 17, 2003

In my case, the experience of poverty helped. A lot. Or, what larry_darrell said, except change 3-12 months to 3-12 years.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:15 AM on December 18, 2003

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