Productive Procrastination (Or An IB Student’s Guide To Not Flailing Your Arms About Wildly When Stressed)

The International Baccalaureate is notoriously one of the most difficult high school diplomas you can take, and with good reason: counting seven compulsory subjects (if you include TOK), required extracurriculars in the CAS program and the killed 4000 word Extended Essay, by the halfway point most students have cut out as many “unnecessary” extras as possible, including socialising with friends and family, exercising, eating properly, and hobbies. However ask any student what they wasted the most time on in the IB, and (with the exception of TOK) you’ll most likely be greeted with the simple one word answer of procrastination.

Look at those happy IB students with their ToK textbooks. They definitely don't look like they want to cry. Nope. No sadness there. ... (cries softly into slanket while sipping cold tea) Picture: Naomi Jellicoe, gleaned from http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/sharp-rise-in-those-studying-ib-diploma/story-fn3o6nna-1226193072827
Look at those happy IB students with their ToK textbooks. They definitely don’t look like they want to cry. Nope. No sadness there…(proceeds to cry softly into slanket while sipping cold tea) Picture: Naomi Jellicoe

It’s a dreaded illness that sadly we all suffer from at some point in our high school careers. The IB is long and arduous, and rarely offers immediate gratification for your work. By comparison, procrastination is simple and easily sucks you in. Most people love procrastinating, albeit every session rings in a healthy dose of guilt for the studies one neglects when partaking in such activities. It’s easy to get lost in the world of no-stress, and often times you’ll spend longer procrastinating than you intended, leading you to fall behind on your studies – hence teachers aren’t overly keen on us spending too long avoiding our insurmountable piles of coursework by scrolling through silly cat videos on YouTube.

Every IB student has a different tactic to get past procrastination. Some get web blockers that stop them from going on Facebook, Tumblr, and other distracting sites outside of certain hours. Others use sheer willpower to force themselves back to work whenever they find themselves wavering. Most commonly people use timed sessions of work, such as 25 minutes of work, 5 minutes of break and then a long 30 minute break every 1h30. If any of these work for you, that’s peachy. You probably don’t even need to keep reading. However as I progress through my studies I’ve come to realise that each of these have their own minor flaws and simply don’t match up with my method of studying. Thus I developed my own personal procrastination method: Productive Procrastination.

By the way, if you're one of those super humans who thrives off keeping yourself to strict schedules, the Pomodoro Technique is a beautiful anti-procrastination technique that uses specific timeframes to help you make the most out of your time. Sadly it doesn't work for everyone, but it's worth throwing a glance at if you've never heard of it. Click on the picture to be redirected.
By the way, if you’re one of those super humans who thrives off keeping yourself to strict schedules, the Pomodoro Technique is a beautiful anti-procrastination technique that uses specific timeframes to help you make the most out of your time. Sadly it doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s worth throwing a glance at if you’ve never heard of it. Click on the picture to be redirected.

The two main problems with procrastinating, in my humble opinion, are these:

  1. You spend way too much time doing it and often don’t feel the hours slip away.
  2. There’s so much guilt attached to it because you’re not actually achieving anything when you’re procrastinating.

So logically, a procrastination method that limits your procrastination should target these two issues. This of course assumes that procrastination is a given, which in my case it is – I view procrastination as a necessary way to unwind and allow myself to refresh my mind, which is especially useful when reviewing work.

Productive Procrastination essentially works around the idea that you should teach yourself something that you find fun to learn about – nothing academic or linked to your IB – but it should be forced into strict time limits that even you yourself cannot change. The latter point is important as I’ve found it immensely challenging to tell myself to stop after scrolling through 20 minutes of memes.

For example, during my end of year exams last year, I taught myself to play some simple ukulele. This was ideal, because, as a non-musician, my fingers physically could not cope with playing for more than 10 minutes at a time, otherwise I’d develop blisters (these were okay for exams since I’m right handed – would not recommend learning a string instrument during exams if you’re left handed). After exams I kept up the ukulele because I enjoyed the sound of the instrument and also it appealed to a deeply shallow side of me: people are always happy to sing along to silly pop songs and if you know how to play these people will tolerate you more.

I pledge allegiance to the Uke Teacher and all that he stands for. Especially for his adequately timed video tutorials. *Contented sigh*
I pledge allegiance to the Uke Teacher and all that he stands for. Especially for his adequately timed video tutorials. *Contented sigh*

However this year my fingers have developed a hard shell and I can play for much longer, meaning I need a new skill; hence I chose to learn Norwegian. Using Duolingo I can do a couple of exercises which at once distracts my brain from the stress of IB; calms me down from any panic attacks I’m suffering from; makes me laugh (Norwegian is a really funny sounding language, and I genuinely can’t stop laughing at the way the Duolingo lady pronounces smørbrød – meaning sandwich); and most importantly limits me in the amount of time I can spend procrastinating. Every day I start a different unit, such as food or infinitive verbs; during short breaks I’ll do one exercise, during long ones I’ll complete the unit again. I’ll also go back and do other units to refresh my memory, but essentially doing a small exercise takes about 2 minutes, and doing a unit takes about 15. This means I can limit myself by setting myself a goal number of exercises to do during that procrastination bout.

I'm not an expert on children or on Norwegian culture, but I would not be that calm when inquiring about the status of my tiny human's relationship with various arachnids.
Now, I’m no expert on children or on Norwegian culture, but I would not be that calm when inquiring about the status of my tiny human’s relationship with various arachnids.

Another way of productively procrastinating that one of my good friends has adopted is watching a Ted video. Ted videos are always around 10-15 minutes long, and cover a full topic of interest during that expanse of time. So by watching one, you distract yourself by learning some interesting new information that is completely irrelevant to your area of study, and you’ve got your strict time limit built in to the length of the video. It’s also useful because watching that many Ted videos makes you a better-rounded individual, and helps support complex conversations in real life.

Haha remember that time I did a Tedx video? That was funny and not at all embarrassing... (continues to unashamedly self promote)
Haha remember that time I did a Tedx video? That was funny and not at all embarrassing… (continues to unashamedly self promote) Also funnily enough planning and practicing Tedx videos works as a procrastination method too.

You could even branch away from the creative and go towards exercise: try doing 25 sit ups every time you get bored. I guarantee you’ll prefer staying at you desk after a while and won’t give in to those procrastination urges!

The point is there are thousands of different ways of productively procrastinating (writing blog posts about productive procrastination does count; well noticed), and I’m sure that through reading this you’ve thought of many more. Each chosen method has to reflect the interests of the individual, otherwise it just feels like yet more work – for example many people would loathe the idea of learning Norwegian just for fun in the middle of the IB. And it’s not a foolproof method either: many people simply can’t unwind when learning something new, and that’s entirely valid. But hopefully this post will make you consider the different methods of procrastination – at the very least, by reading this you’ve productively procrastinated!

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