Stress-Free Writing: How to Finish Your Essays and Projects Before Your Deadline

Note: Today we feature a guest post by Ali Luke.

How often do you rush your essays at the last minute? Do you ever have that slowly-growing sense of guilt as a deadline creeps closer and closer, without you taking any action?

You’re definitely not alone. Most students struggle with deadlines … as do many professionals. By coming to grips with time management now, you’ll build some great skills that will hugely boost your chances of success in your future career, and in your life.

Oh, and you’ll have more time and energy to enjoy college life, too.

Sound good? Here’s how to do it:

#1: Use a Calendar and a To-Do List

Have you ever forgotten an essay, or found that you had much less time than you realized? If you’re badly organized, you virtually guarantee that you’ll be stressed out trying to meet your deadlines.

Get yourself a good calendar or diary system (old school paper or high-tech solution, whatever works for you). Record all your deadlines for essays, projects, and term papers as soon as you know about them.

Each Monday, sit down and look at the next few weeks. What deadlines are coming up? What have you got going on over the next few days? Pace yourself on major projects, working towards intermediate milestones rather than just a final deadline, and create a to-do list for what you need to get done over the next five days.

#2: Set a Personal Deadline

Each project you undertake should have two deadlines: the official one, and your personal deadline (which should be at least a day, and preferably a week, earlier than the real one). Your goal is to meet your deadline. Why? Because that way, if something goes horribly wrong at the last minute, you won’t be at risk of losing marks by turning your work in late.

There’s also a great mood bonus in setting your own deadlines: you’ll feel as though you’re on top of things, working on projects because you want to work on them, not just because the hand-in date is racing towards you.

#3: Break Your Project into Steps

Whatever your essay topic, you can break the writing process into several steps. This means you’ll make much more efficient progress than if you tried to jump straight in with the writing.

First, choose a topic (if you get a choice) and make a rough plan.

Second, do the research: find examples, quotes, data, etc to support your key points. (You might find that you need to refine your plan at this stage.)

Third, write the first draft. You might want to start with the first point, and then add an introduction once you’ve finished writing the rest.

Fourth, edit your draft. Try printing out the whole thing so that you can annotate it easily. See whether any paragraphs need to shift around, and look out for unclear or ungrammatical sentences.

When you follow a process like this, it’s much easier to get on with your essay. Instead of thinking I need to write my whole essay this week, you can tell yourself I just need to make a rough plan today, and then do the research tomorrow... and so on.

#4: Write at Your Best Time of Day

Some students work well at night; others are at their best at 8am. If you’re a morning person, don’t pull all-nighters working on essays – it’s going to end up being counter-productive.

Plan each day so that, as much as possible, you can spend your highest-energy hours on your academic work. Use your lower-energy hours for chores, social activities, and so on. This might not seem like a big deal – but it can make a huge difference to how effectively you use your writing time.

#5: Don’t Let Procrastination Win

Let’s be honest: one big reason why essays and projects get handed in late is because students tend to procrastinate. And this isn’t just a problem that plagues students: lots of professionals in high-powered careers haven’t managed to fully beat procrastination, either.

If you let procrastination become a habit, it’ll get harder and harder for you to maintain focus when you want to. Thankfully, the reverse is true too: by getting into the habit of concentrating, you’ll hugely reduce your urge to procrastinate.

Next time you’re working on an essay or paper, try setting a timer for 30 minutes. Tell yourself that you’ll write until that timer goes off – you won’t go on Facebook or make a coffee or chat to friends.  You might be surprised by how often distractions pop up in your mind. Acknowledge them, then deliberately re-focus, telling yourself that you can take a break once the 30 minutes is up.

Even if you think you’re just someone who doesn’t focus well, or if you’ve never been able to meet deadlines, you can change. You’ll have a happier college experience … and you’ll set yourself up for success in the rest of your life too.

Do you have any tips to share about meeting deadlines? Let us know in the comments…

[TerryJohnston photo]

Ali Luke is currently on a virtual book tour for her novel Lycopolis, a fast-paced supernatural thriller centered on a group of online role-players who summon a demon into their game… and into the world. Described by readers as “a fast and furious, addictive piece of escapism” and “absolutely gripping,” Lycopolis is available in print and e-book form. Find out more at www.lycopolis.co.uk.