Where Logic Meets Love

Procrastination... or Carpe Diem?

Friday, November 2, 2012

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Procrastination... or Carpe Diem? | Faith Permeating Life

One of the fun and interesting things about being back on a college campus is getting re-immersed in the entirely different culture in which (many) college students live. Those living on campus spend the vast majority of their time around people their own age -- learning, eating, working out, hanging out, walking around campus, etc. And all those people have the same limited set of priorities and concerns: classes, schoolwork, extracurriculars, roommates, friendships, dating... I remember when my biggest problems were an incompetent professor or a lazy group project member. What were once all-consuming worries of my own have passed, and are now the all-consuming worries of the students I see every day.

At the beginning of the school year, all the student athletes in our building had to interview their hall director (Mike) and, among other things, ask for a piece of advice. Mike told them: Don't procrastinate. Start projects early. Do a little at a time. And so on. The things he wished he'd done better in college.

It made me think back to my own college days and just how crazy busy I was between homework and student organizations. How after the first day of class I'd make a big calendar of all my major assignments that semester to see where they were going to overlap. How my junior year I took the two hardest courses of my college career in the same semester and seemed to spend every moment of free time in our building's study room, researching and typing.

And yet...

The other night we had a fire alarm go off at 3am and everyone evacuated out onto the quad in their pajamas. I found out the next day that a bunch of girls in our building decided to go out for pancakes at a 24-hour diner since they were already awake anyway, and the waitress felt sorry for them and gave them free pie. And I found myself thinking about all of the spur-of-the-moment fun things I did in college, too. Especially when Mike and I were first getting to know each other, like when he pulled me away from my homework on a Saturday night to go make wax hand molds in the student union. Or when some girls on my floor threw a spontaneous dance party and packed a dozen or more of us into their tiny dorm room. Or the various excursions to go sledding down the big campus hill before the school put up signs prohibiting it.

In my experience, college provides more of these "carpe diem" type moments than most other times in one's life. Just about any fun or crazy thing you can come up with, you've got a bunch of people you know in your immediate vicinity to potentially jump on the bandwagon. And thus there are more of these either-or, "good" vs. "bad" decisions: Do I work on this paper, or go sledding? Go out for pancakes, or go back to bed?

I thought about what advice I would give students about how to make those kinds of decisions. And the more I think about it, the more I think that these reflections on time and priorities in college can shed light on how to craft our time and priorities in life outside of college.

Here are some thoughts I have:

Determining your priorities helps you make decisions
There's a great video from Ramit Sethi in which he interviews one of his friends about her priorities while in college. They each figured out what exactly they wanted to get out of college (rather than assuming their top goal was "get the best grades humanly possible"), and then could decide how to spend their time based on those priorities. It's the same kind of thought process I used when making my recent decision about which job to take, figuring out that it was most important to my overall happiness to 1) spend my time doing interesting and meaningful work and 2) learn a lot, rather than simply trying to make as much money as I could. I also try to remind myself that having great experiences and making memories with the people I love is more important in the grand scheme of things than getting 8 hours of sleep every single night of my life.

Most procrastination is not "carpe diem"
I think sometimes people talk as if someone who succeeds in school or work is by default missing out on the wonderful adventures and memories of life because they must have their "nose to the grindstone." But from my own experience and observations, the student who consistently fails to spend enough time on their homework probably isn't spending all that time having late-night snowball fights or going to salsa dancing events. Most of that time is probably getting sucked away by the usual suspects: Facebook. Twitter. Cat videos. Video games. What I found for myself was that when I started committing to saying "yes" to social events, I wasn't actually sacrificing that much time for important things like sleep or work; the time I was giving up was time that otherwise would have been wasted away on the Internet.

What's fun for you may not be fun for me
This is one of Gretchen Rubin's "Secrets of Adulthood." I know some people thought I was a boring stick-in-the-mud sometimes in college because I chose staying in on a weekend night to do homework over going out to a party, but it's not necessarily because homework was always my top priority. For one thing, I don't drink alcohol and don't even really like the smell of it, so even when I was of age I didn't really want to go to parties where everyone would be drinking. And even though I helped start a student organization that hosted alcohol-free weekend parties, I didn't always want to go to those either; I'm an introvert, and being around lots of people for a long period of time utterly exhausts me. Nowadays I try to balance "saying yes" and spending time with people with being honest about what things are truly not enjoyable for me. There's often no point in being dragged away from a project to do something "fun" that's not going to be fun for me.

What would you tell a college freshman about balancing schoolwork and fun? How does that translate to life outside college?


  1. I'm probably a bad influence on college students - because I LOVED doing those random things. Granted, I probably should have studied more. I got decent grades, but if I had worked harder I probably would have done MUCH better. But honestly, I don't think I would change anything if I could go back. There might be a few instances where I would go back to my room and get work done, but there aren't many. Granted, my friends and I weren't partiers. When we all turned 21 we would go to the bar and have a few drinks, but we never got into the "lets get wasted" parties. So there's that. But the random 3am IHOP trips, all nighters in the computer lab, stupid crap we would do on campus. Nope - I wouldn't change it. That's how my friends and I got to be so close, and a lot of them I still consider to be some of the greatest friends and memories I'll ever have. I would never want to tell someone to miss out on that. Yes, get your work done, pass, get your degree. But have fun too! This is the time to try new things and meet new people.

    1. That's the thing -- I don't think there's anything wrong with loving those moments and not wanting to change them. It goes back to priorities and what you want your life to be. You were able to have those great experiences and also end up in a job you love. What would have been the benefit of forgoing all of those memories for somewhat better grades? Would it really have been worth it in the big scheme of things?

  2. Haha, yeah, college is great because of all the crazy things you can go do at a moment's notice, and it's so easy to make friends. ^_^ I'm about to finish grad school and go to the real world, and I wonder how people make friends in the real world...

    1. I actually wrote about this before. It's a challenge, for sure. It's been much easier to make friends now that we're back on a college campus and most of the other hall directors are around our age. But even so, if you make the effort, it's definitely possible to meet people. I gave some suggestions in this guest post I did not too long ago.

  3. " to go make wax hand molds in the student union"

    ...uh, I have a feeling that's an interesting story. :)

    Yeah, I agree. I was WAY more spontaneous in college.

    1. Haha, it was an event put on my our campus activities board. You dipped your hand in multiple buckets, to coat it with wax or something like that, then to separate it from your hand, and finally to harden the wax. I remember the guy who was running it stopped paying attention for a moment and I almost put my hand in the wrong bucket, which would have glued the thing to my hand.

      I was going to bring it home to give to my best guy friend over Christmas break but I decided to keep it for myself instead. Then when I got back from break it had melted on my shelf. So I guess that's what I get for being selfish :)

  4. I think what you said about most procrastination not being "carpe diem" is so true, and not just for college. Or as I think it was put in *Screwtape Letters*: "I have spent most of my life doing neither what I want, nor what I ought." It helps me sometimes to stop and think: Is this really what I want to do? If it's not, then usually it's because there's something I ought to do that I'm putting off--sometimes just noticing gives me the focus I need to do it and move on to what I want to do, or sometimes I realize I'm just not in a state to do it and would be better off doing something else anyway. Either way, I'm not just stalling my life away.

    1. I meant to mention this in the post, but using RescueTime, which I talked about a few posts back, was key for helping me understand that. Actually seeing where my time goes, in black and white with numbers attached, helped me realize how much extra time I do have if I can just set up boundaries (e.g., StayFocusd) to keep myself away from the time-wasters.

  5. I was just thinking about this kind of thing this morning, as my second-grader has for some reason latched onto the idea of hearing stories about my college days while we're walking to school, and I was telling him how I eventually realized I could be more successful as an architecture student by spending more time in the studio--not just by spending more time WORKING on my projects but by spending more time goofing off with my classmates--but it was difficult to get myself to do that because most of the architecture students (and professors) were people I didn't want to be around, and they treated me worse because I'd failed to join their social circle at the very beginning. I did force myself to put in a lot of time working in studio on tasks I could have done in my dorm room, but it's no coincidence that my best project was the one on which I got an extension because I was extremely ill for two weeks before it was due--so I then did my final drawings and models in the week after the deadline when I had the studio to myself! (I don't actually like being alone, so my boyfriend was there most of the time, doing his linear algebra problem sets.)

    Overall, I think I did a great job of managing my time in college, balancing a huge workload with a very exciting environment. The main tip I would give to students is to experiment with systems for structuring your time until you find the one that works for you. I developed a one-page, three-week to-do list format using two colors of pen which was fabulous for me and allowed a lot of spontaneity.

    One of my favorite things about college was the spontaneous fun stuff! But you're right that some such activities are just procrastination. I had a serious Tetris problem for a while there....

    1. What you described about being an architecture student is something I struggled with at my last job -- as I mentioned in this post, I missed out on a lot of information because I didn't spend a lot of time socializing, and then when I realized how important it was to build those relationships, I found it hard to break into the social circles. I think it will be better at my new job where I'm part of a very small team -- everyone is close-knit, but also very welcoming, and I'm making an effort from the beginning to come out of my office whenever I hear everyone standing around talking and contribute to the conversation.

      I completely agree with your advice to experiment with time-management systems. That's something that was mentioned over and over again at the 20SB conference I attended last year -- all these successful people said that everyone wants to know their system, but their advice was to find what works best for you.


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