Overshoot your mark. Bite off more than you can chew. Start at the deep end. Let it hit the fan. You’ll get further than you’ve ever gone before.
You might be utterly vexed now, straining your follicles with the massive amount of hair tugging you’re doing right about now. I understand, just let your follicles have a break for a moment.
Why would you put yourself in supposedly unwinnable situations, or set goals that are, at the moment, too lofty? What benefit is there to overshooting your mark?
Take a look: You have a literary analysis paper due in a week, so you set aside your personal project for a week, you tell your friends that you’re way too busy to hang out and those extra credit assignments you were so adamant to get down and dirty with? Locked away in that little crevice of guilt in your mind.
Now that you’ve got all this freed up time, what happens to your main assignment? Unless you’re writing a 30-page paper that applies a Derridean, Foucauldian and Barthian lens to Joyce’s “Araby” (never again), you’re not going to spend every waking moment (never, ever, again…) writing your paper. Maybe you’ll think about it for several days, start getting those awful vomiting butterflies parading around your stomach lining, fall back into your depression (but we worked so hard on curbing it! Why does this puny paper have to take over your life?) and finally get working on it two days before deadline, panicking yourself into a cold, smelly sweat. Not cool.
Students, including myself, fall into habitual patterns that are too familiar to comfortably escape. Hey, it’s worked before, you got your work done, so what’s the problem? If it ain’t broke… wait, no. It is broken. You’re not helping your depression by adding anxiety, stress and detrimental habitual habits to the mix. But I’ve got a solution, so don’t you fret.
All those plans you put off for the week? Put them back in your schedule and then some. See your friends, work on your own personal project (more on this in the next blog), do that extra credit, and then commit to something (or several things) with a deadline, preferably before the time your assignment is due. Agree to write an article for the school newspaper, commit to checking out that new French club (voulez-vous lire Campus Clipper avec moi ce soir?) and schedule an appointment with your guidance counselor.
Stuff you schedule, basically.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should cram as much time-wasting activities as possible. All of these week-fillers should be beneficial to your development and recovery one way or another.
So why does this method work? Let’s look back at that last-minute example. You had a huge paper due that was supposed to take a week to complete and you crammed all that work into the air-tight space of maybe eight hours over two days. That leaves at least 104 waking hours where you have the paper on your mind. Maybe not consciously, not all the time, but the thought is there, and it won’t flutter off till you’ve got it handled.
104 hours. That’s almost, like, 127 hours.
The biggest enemy in this situation is your excess thoughts. Your most practical ally is overshooting your mark and cramming your week with self-beneficial and self-developmental tasks and commitments. There comes a point where the brain doesn’t see an opportunity to worry about what you’re not doing because it needs to hone in on more immediate tasks, like cleaning your room because a friend is coming over, writing that school newspaper article because the deadline is tomorrow, or whatever other task that need immediacy.
What happens now is that you stop worrying because you stop thinking about worrying (whoa). When your mind knows that there are a plethora of tasks coming in from all directions, it slaps itself awake and starts to focus, otherwise it risks embarrassment: you don’t want your friend to look disgustedly at your semi-soiled underwear hanging lasciviously on your lamp, or your school’s newspaper editor giving you the evil eye for the next month. This time, fear of embarrassment works to your advantage (and the only time it should work to your advantage).
You get busy, you get into a flow. You have no time to worry, you just do. You start looking for productive tasks to fill up your time, and it so happens you’ve got that huge paper coming up. What better time to do it than when you’re so tuned into the present moment and riding a productivity binge?
And what seemed like overshooting the mark suddenly seems more than manageable, and leaves you with more free time than if you’d have spent 104 hours worrying and 8 hours doing.
Aleksandr Smechov, Baruch College.
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