In college, I lived with a chronic procrastinator: Rod Lopez. In fact, I knew each of his term paper deadlines by the all-nighters that proceeded them. Not so secretly, I took pride in not having the stress and unhealthy sleeping patterns that plagued the middle (midterms) and end (finals) of his semesters.
But there was one thing that bothered me about Rod’s procrastination, his papers always came out amazing. With a single eight-hour all-nighter, his papers earned the same grades as mine.
Though it is easy to respond with, Well my eight hours were spread over four weeks, that would be completely wrong. I spent at least thirty hours on each paper and in the end we both came out with A’s.
It wasn’t fair. That is not how the world is supposed to work.
The Lie My High School English Teachers Told Me
My high school English teachers told me that procrastinators ALWAYS did worse than students who spread assignments throughout the term. Well Rod and many other life experiences have shown me how wrong they were. Unfortunately I didn’t connect the dots until I applied to graduate school.
Last year, I applied to five PhD programs and spent an entire year working on my personal statements. In March I received rejection letters from every program. The time I spent working on my essays meant nothing.
Fortunately, in October I also applied for a Fulbright Fellowship. In contrast to my graduate applications, I only spent one week on my two Fulbright essays. Thanks to significantly better time management the two essays I produced in that one week were significantly better than the personal statement I prepared for my PhD apps.
Looking back, it is clear that I had confused time as the number one indicator of a great product. I thought that more time equaled a better paper. But the truth of the matter is that better writing equals a better paper.
A Better Way
For this year’s applications I have decided to merge the strengths of my college strategy with the strengths of Rod’s. I have started my applications reasonably ahead of time as to not stress me out, but close enough to pressure me not to waste time on tangents (two weeks before the deadline).
Moreover, to prevent myself from turning a four-hour project into thirty hours, I am only allowing myself to work on applications four hours per week, which I broke down into two two hour sittings. (Setting a timer every thirty minutes and breaking down the final product into smaller tasks has also been really helpful. For more on how timers can help you be more efficient, check out this great LifeHacker article)
Now whether or not I will be accepted is still to be determined, but I can say that I have been significantly more productive and created a much better product in less time.
This system definitely took some adjusting to. If you are the super OCD type like me, your first few products will kinda feel like bullshitted outcomes, but once you force yourself to learn from those outcomes, you will soon see that you can create significantly better results without all the wasted time. Remember time and stress do not equal a better product, better work habits do.
If you have stumbled upon any other great productivity tricks, please share them in a comment below!