How I Procrastinated My Way to a 4.0 GPA in University
Work Smarter, Not Harder - 5 Strategies for Success
Full disclosure: my university uses a 12-point GPA scale and conversion isn't as simple as dividing by three. Instead, I had to convert each grade to a 4 point scale and find the average of that figure. In the end, my 11.96 CGPA translated to a 4-point GPA of 3.996. For this article, I'm going to round that out to 4 because it's easier than repeating 3.996 all the time or putting it in the title.
When people hear my GPA (because I'm in the type of program where there's always one person that asks), they assume I spend most of my days with my head buried in a textbook, frantically writing notes, researching, planning MONTHS ahead for my assignments and generally having no life besides the academic one I've created for myself. If you know me, you'd know that this couldn't be further from the truth. I've found that studying excessively just doesn't work for me at all! For one thing, it's boring as hell. Mostly, it just hurts my brain, my heart, my back and my neck and has a downward push on my mental health.
Instead, I carve out as much free time for myself as possible and spend my time doing things that I love like writing on Vocal. School for me is the sidepiece and not the main dish and therefore, I procrastinate...a lot. Procrastination, I think, gets a bad rap. I like to think of procrastination not as doing nothing until the last minute but as doing everything at precisely the right time. I'm a firm believer that people who dunk on procrastinators just don't know how to do it right.
Being at the tail end of my third and penultimate year of my undergrad, I've honed some strategies that have allowed me to maintain my GPA without extending too much of myself. The key: work smarter, not harder. Here are my top 5 strategies for procrastination success.
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Don't Take Notes, Write Highlights
Have you ever been to a lecture hall and heard people viciously typing away, pounding the laptop keys, trying to copy-paste all the notes from the professor's slide, their entire speech AND pay attention?
It's impossible. It's also wildly inefficient. Rather than absorb the content of the lecture, understand and learn to apply it, your brain is focused on catching information for reduplication that it will instantly forget the minute the lecture is over. Don't do that, don't be that person.
I'm not a note-taker, I'm a highlight writer. I tend to listen intently to the prof, write only the things they say that don't appear on the slides and then add them as annotations on the slides themselves. In my experience, it's more difficult to procrastinate and panic study before an exam when you have a jumble of notes that are part-slide info, part-lecture, part-ramblings. Instead, make a concerted effort to listen and endeavour to only jot down those parts of lectures that are genuinely meaningful and novel (i.e. not on the slides). Your future, procrastinating self will thank you.
Quizlet is Your Best Friend
Quizlet is an app that allows you to create flashcards and study from them. Did you know that you could study from other people's flashcards though? This is not a primary function of Quizlet but it's the only reason I've been using it these past few years. I love studying from flashcards but I absolutely HATE creating them.
Chances are, there are other people in your classes that use Quizlet as well and have created study sets in preparation for midterms and exams. If they set these study sets to "public", you and anyone else anywhere else in the world can have access to them. This has been my primary method for studying for midterms for a while and honestly, a lifesaver. Simply type the code for your course into the search bar and voila, a list of flashcards already created by people currently taking the course or those who have taken it in years past.
I did this for a midterm I had yesterday. None of the flashcard sets above were created by me. It's amazing when there are multiple study sets to choose from and you're able to compare and contrast information from different people. Same results, less than half of the work!
Develop a Procrastination Plan
This bit of advice will seem counterintuitive as "procrastinate" and "plan" appear at first glance quite contradictory. I would argue that these two words are interdependent and symbiotic. You see, the problem is people tend to view those that procrastinate as lazy, uninterested and irresponsible. The truth is effective procrastination takes a lot of work and planning to do right. There's a lot of legwork involved. It's not as simple as doing nothing. It involves creating an efficient system and well-oiled procrastination machine such that your life and mental health are not adversely affected by doing everything at the last minute.
For me, this means having an awareness of all my deadlines. What assignments, midterms, quizzes I have coming up. The most stress-inducing thing is not looking at your syllabus and being stuck rushing through TWO major deadlines at the same time on the same day. Procrastination and multitasking are enemies. One assignment at a time. Space your procrastination sessions out over the month.
Likewise, if you're like me and despite your best intentions, you tend to study for midterms on the day that you have them, make sure that you have all your ducks in a row at least the day before. By this I mean, have all of your study materials (slides, readings, Quizlet) identified and organized so that you can cut back on some of the time spent searching for resources on the day you decide to study. Particularly for open-book exams, know where everything is or at least, have a vague idea of which chapter or lecture a particular topic was discussed. Hint: word search is the greatest weapon in your procrastination arsenal!
Read and Research More Efficiently
This is a tip I wish I'd learned in my first year of university, it would have saved me a lot of time. You don't need to do every reading. I repeat: please don't do every reading assigned. For my program, I'm frequently assigned up to 250 pages of academic readings every week. Most of the time, these readings are extra "for fun" readings that I'm not evaluated on and serve to supplement class content so I don't do them. On the rare occasion that reading is absolutely necessary and will determine the fate of your grade in a class, here's what you do: only read the introduction and conclusion.
Often, the intro gives you enough information about the author's thesis, their main arguments and the context of the problem to be satisfactory. The conclusion also typically sums up the author's findings and provides justification for the significance of the subject and how it adds to the existing body of literature. When doing research, the introduction and conclusion are often all you need to read to determine if a particular reading serves your purposes. This allows you to weed your way through mountains of research in a relatively short period and is how I'm able to start and complete research papers on a wide range of topics with hours to spare.
The first-year mistake in university is reading 20 pages into a 40-page article, only to realize that article is useless to you. There's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, no light at the end of the tunnel. If a paper doesn't have the information you need in the introduction or conclusion, the body is likely to be just as meaningless to you. Toss it and try something else. Save yourself some hours.
Know Yourself and Know Your Task
Know yourself. Procrastination does not work for everyone. Some people enjoy completing tasks weeks in advance and having loads of downtime. Others prefer to have that downtime first and then do the task at the midnight hour.
By the same token, some activities require more of your attention and you absolutely shouldn't put them off. For example, maybe don't write your graduate thesis the day before you have to submit it. One of the keys to effective procrastination is prioritization and knowing what should and should not be procrastinated. If you're someone who's perpetually stressed out by school and gets anxious at the thought of doing things the day before they're due, that's completely fine.
In my first year of university, I'll admit, I was super anal about being organized, doing all the work precisely on time and getting perfect grades. If I'm honest, it caused me a lot of undue anxiety. At the end of the day, constantly being at the top of your game doesn't matter nearly as much as you think it does. It took me a while (and a lot of tears) to learn this lesson and the tips I presented above are just the ones that have particularly helped me in carving out more free time for myself to do the things I love while still maintaining my academic standing at university. Procrastination is not the enemy...if you know how to do it right.
“One of the greatest labour-saving inventions of today is tomorrow.”
— Vincent T. Foss