Surviving Finals Week: Keeping Focused, and Letting Loose

The writing process is a strange thing. What do you think of when you hear “the writing process?”

Maybe something like Prewriting -> Writing -> Revision?  How about First draft -> Revision -> Final draft? Or maybe you think about it in terms of steps. Like, you do research, then outlining, then writing, then adding citations?

These are all fine. The important thing is knowing what kind of process works for you. But equally important, and rarely considered, are the parts of the writing process that actually have nothing to do with you writing something. Have you ever been stumped on a project or idea of some kind, and then BAM! An idea comes to you at the most random time? Like, just before you go to bed, or while you’re out with friends, or upon your first mouthful of mac and cheese?

OmNomN… I just thought of something AMAZING!

That’s because your brain never really shuts off from the things you need it to do. The temptation, especially as finals week approaches, is to force yourself to sit down and make work come out of you. But sometimes, just plain and simply, you just cannot focus. For whatever reason, it’s the wrong time to be doing this. Forcing yourself to work late into the night might seem like you’re being diligent, but it might not actually help you get things done.

Sometimes, you have to know when to take some time. If you’re sitting there, staring at a blank screen, and nothing is coming out of your head, staring at it longer probably won’t help. What might help is giving yourself a break. Play a game. Call a friend. Get some food. Chill on Facebook. Watch an episode or two of Breaking Bad. Whatever you want.

Tell yourself that you’re going to allow yourself a break, with the condition that you have to really focus when you get done. That applies to papers, final projects, studying, and anything else you might be worried about as a college student in late April.

This, of course, requires that you start your assignment more than about 12 hours before its due date. If you don’t even have enough time to do your work, you obviously don’t have time for breaks. So time management is of equal importance.

For me, it helps to at least try to get some work done on an assignment (or studying, but let’s assume it’s an assignment) every day from the time it’s assigned.

That seems like a total drag, but it’s actually quite liberating. If I happen to be feeling really motivated and focused, and I catch myself at the right time, I get a bunch of stuff done way ahead of time. If I’m not feeling like it, I tell myself “nope,” and I don’t have to do it that day.

I can do that because I give myself time to do it. I call it “controlled procrastination.” By doing my work when I feel most focused and productive, and giving myself time off at other times, I maximize the stuff I get done, and I keep myself from going completely crazy.

“But wait,” you say, “that may work for you, but I have so much to do, I really can’t afford to take any time off!”

That may be true. Finals week is crazy, I get it. But maybe the reason it seems like that is because you’re actually not getting that much done when you force yourself to sit in front of an idle computer screen, and you’d be better off enjoying yourself for a bit and working when you’re actually going to get something done. Try giving yourself extra time to get things done, and then time within that to unwind if necessary.

Of course, if that’s not your problem, then here, please enjoy a way to stay focused by keeping yourself off Facebook. Alternatively, you happen to be on a webpage that can connect you with writing help, and we’re here during Finals Week.

Either way, good luck, friends. We’re almost there.

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