How-To: Neglect your classwork, without really neglecting your classwork

Photo by Taylor Costello It's not procrastination - not really. It's a mere dose of misguided motivation that can be turned right with just another taste of the cat-inspired Buzzfeed post that will guide you to fulfill the task at hand. Maybe.
Photo by Taylor Costello

In a high-stakes world of university schooling, there's a few other things that require your attention more than the current reading in your philosophy textbook. You need to watch the latest episode of "Workaholics." There are shows that you could be binge-watching, today! Did Buzzfeed post a photo gallery of surly cats for your viewing pleasures? Oooh, "Hannibal" is returning in February, not April! Squirrel!

Today, the opposing stimuli threaten to tear you limb from limb to attract your attention away to whatever nifty creation they're flaunting. Here's a good test: bookmark when you start reading this article and go off to pass the time by looking at some Buzzfeed articles. Back again, eh? Congratulations, it took you seven hours to circle back to finish reading a 600 word How-To piece. The following comes from years of internet surfing, and occasionally implementing some of these spotlighted scientific suggestions.

Will that be moderation or cramming for you, sir?

Everyone's experienced this moment sometime during his or her academic career where they cram a few weeks of studying or essay writing into an excruciating all-nighter, something, we'd all agree in hindsight, isn't advisable for logistic purposes.

In 1996, two professors from Indiana University, citing several studies undertaken in the decades previous, discovered a correlation between retention and the length of university lectures. In a classroom setting, they stated that a college student's optimal focus ranged from 10-18 minutes.

Likewise, the principle of how a student's peak focus is within the first twenty minutes of a lecture applies to studying material for an upcoming test or assignment.

For the same amount of time, a student sacrificing his or her free time — from say reading the Wikipedia pages of the fictional characters from "Breaking Bad" and looking up the bit parts played by Bryan Cranston — accomplishes more retaining information studying in small, carefully administered doses than they would jamming chapters of information.

The remedy for this is divvying up the workload over the course of days, even weeks. It's a good rule of thumb that more time to comprehend complex concepts lends to retaining them for game day.

Speaking of calculated doses, this leads us to...

There's work to be done, 007 You're on the lightrail into the Tempe campus from central Phoenix, a good 40 minutes of travel. What do you do?

If you're a particularly intelligent, ravenous creature, this time is spent devouring a 868 page oral history of the Treaty of Versailles. Such a non-fiction book exists, right? (We politely decline to believe you'd spend this same time playing Candy Crush.) While the former does show a thoughtful use of your time, it doesn't covers all the bases. More importantly, to such a dogged person, it's not a noble usage of time.

As with the last item, those 10-20 minutes provides ample time to brush up on one struggling concept, leaving additional time to become literate with another hazy principle. Want a treat, my Pavlovian doggie? To watch the latest "Person of Interest," or to study? For many, the option is clear: "This season has been awesome, how can I resist?" Well, you can resist and you must! Founding Father Benjamin Franklin summed this anecdote up by saying, "Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today."

Doing just the opposite is called procrastination, and while it isn't akin to any mental disorders, there is a blossoming field of study centered around it.

Psychologists determined that this principle, called "temporal discounting," in which we yield greater pleasure and rewards from unrelated short-term activities as opposed to long-term goals, is due to misguided motivations.

Only when people foresee the future reward for a middling task, not unlike studying or doing classwork, do they see the positive outcome that it may have, like earning an A- as your final grade.

As described in the video here, it helps to provide an incentive to work now as opposed to later, such as 25 minutes of non-stop work, followed by a brief break of something you do find pleasurable.

My motto's always been "When it's right, it's right." We've all experienced that moment during a late-night cram session where we express whether conscious of unconsciously, "Ugh, I should have tackled this sooner."

For better or worse, sometimes this is how some students operate when polishing off schoolwork. For others, it reeks of poor planing and procrastination. Although everyone is unique, recent scientific research suggested that the morning hours might act as a better replacement.

Working early benefits a person, and as it turns out, it's usually the time of the day when the mental processes of an individual are in the tip top shape and less likely to malfunction, which it does after midday.

Conversely, the same effect occurs to some people when they're working under a looming deadline and fatigued with panic.

So you have scientific reasons not to delay until the dwindling hours of the day to conduct your studying or essay writing — or maybe you do.

Reach the writer at or via Twitter @TaylorFromPhx

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