My dad has a saying: Being somewhere fifteen minutes early is on time, and arriving on time is being late. This is the kind of ideology I wish to impart to you concerning your college assignments and projects. Now, we can probably all acknowledge that we know it is best to start assignments as soon as possible to give us the most time to develop the ideas. We also know that not everyone can make themselves work on a paper that’s due in a month. So I am hardly saying that every single person needs to begin work on their assignments immediately. I would be the largest hypocrite if I said that (however, there are studies that show churning out multiple drafts or projects increases the quality of the finished product, so it’s really not a bad idea). But if you are a one-and-done kind of person, or even if you do start on assignments early, here are some things to keep in mind when turning your assignments in on time.
The Earlier You Start, The More Time You Have to Ask Questions
While your everyday homework might not require this, long-term assignments and projects really give you the opportunity to utilize feedback. Some professors take this into account and have you turn in parts of a paper or project as you go through the semester. This ensures that you do your research and have a draft or initial idea. In addition, you can have your peers look it over and give you advice on what might need to be clarified, cut, or changed.
Not every professor is going to force you to meet with them. However, you can always make an appointment to talk to them, and this is more possible the farther you are from the deadline. Most professors are happy to help you flesh out your ideas, and they might suggest some excellent sources to look into for inspiration. Some professors will even look over a draft or your project concept if you talk to them early enough. All this feedback will help you achieve a better grade.
Plus, the earlier you start, the earlier you can turn the assignment in. Then you can secretly laugh at all your classmates who have waited until the last minute.
The Three Stresses
While we generally have a negative association with the word “stress”, we have to remember that there are two kinds of stress: eustress and distress. Eustress is beneficial to us and helps us to perform better. Distress is the other side of the coin that causes you to feel overwhelmed. We also have a third option, which would be a lack of stress. We shift in between these three states constantly depending on our personalities, circumstances, and expectations.
When it comes to college assignments (or exams, or any other sort of performance-based interaction), productivity and performance levels follow a graphed bell curve—called an inverted U—as stress levels increase. This means that if stress levels are too low or too high, how well you do on an assignment will actually decrease. If you are able to hang out on the top of the curve, where eustress is, you will be able to obtain peak performance. For some people that prime point might be two weeks before the semester project is due. For others, it might be two days before. But for those who believe working on it right up until the deadline results in peak performance, please consider this study, which shows that most of the worst work is done by those who wait to start until the last twenty-four hours (or less). Doing last-minute touch-ups in the last few hours is one thing; only giving yourself eight hours to write a fifteen-page paper is another.
Waiting Until the Last Minute for Inspiration Won’t Get You Anywhere
So you can’t think of the perfect concept for your project. Big deal. The thing is, professors won’t care if you are feeling uninspired when you are waiting until the last minute. They’ll be wondering why you didn’t talk to them about this earlier when they might have been able to help you.
We rarely start with the perfect idea for an assignment. Ideas develop the more you work with your project. Therefore, you should do whatever it is you need to do to get started. Whether that’s making an outline, throwing your scattered thoughts on the subject into a Word document, or sketching out possible models, make something. You are more likely to find an idea once you’re working than if you just wait for inspiration to strike. And last-minute inspirations rarely result in good grades.
Deus Ex Technology
The term deus ex machina is often thought of as benevolent, as it refers to something appearing and saving a seemingly hopeless situation. When it comes to technology and turning in assignments, though, it is often anything but. Computers crash, files end up not being saved (or saved where you can’t find them), drop boxes go on the fritz, the internet cuts out, you name it. Turning in assignments often becomes an experiment in Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The odds only increase the closer you come to the deadline. So if you were banking on using the twenty-minute window you have between classes to turn in your semester project, I can almost guarantee that something will prevent you. And while some professors will understand that your printer broke or whatever, many will wonder why you waited so long. Your grade will likely suffer as a result.
It’s not worth the risk. Just work on it and turn it early.
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