Ms. Informed: Last column of spring 2024

Dear Ms. Informed,

I have had a really stressful semester. I have a lot of things I need to do before finals and keep procrastinating on final projects even though my deadlines are coming up quickly. When I come home all I want to do is lay around and have some time to myself. How do I create a distraction-free environment?

-Deadline Avoidant


Dear Deadline Avoidant,

Procrastination is the worst enemy of college students. With every project you think, “That’s a future me problem.” And shove it to the side until an hour before it’s due. The problem is that it works, so the cycle continues.

Procrastination is a beast that looks different for everyone. I would say the first thing to do is figure out the root of yours.

Healthline says there are six different types of procrastinators: the perfectionist, the dreamer, the worrier, the crisis-maker, the defier and the overdoer. If you’re anything like me, you just thought to yourself, “How is it possible that I’m all of these?” Fair, but there’s a root reason for your behavior. If you’re asking me how to fix it, it’s not just laziness.

First things first: figure out the scope of the assignment. How much of an impact is it on your grade, and how much is that grade an impact on your GPA? Put it in perspective.

Make yourself a list of steps. Usually, I can make myself do this rather early because it’s not quite the task itself, just task-adjacent. For papers, that might be an outline. For presentations, just make the slides and title them. Make it so you don’t need to start from scratch when you start your work.

When it comes time to work, the biggest distraction is going to be your phone. I don’t care who you are or what your major is, it’s your phone. See what it takes to keep you accountable. Can you give it to someone else? Can you leave it in another room or turn on Do-Not-Disturb? I typically do okay if my phone isn’t right next to me.

Now, set up your space. If you need music or an organized space or specific materials get them now, so you don’t need them later. Make yourself comfortable but more than anything, just get started. Don’t forget that you have a procrastination problem and need to keep yourself focused.

Also: find spots that you associate with doing work. I have a coffee shop downtown that I always go to when I have a massive paper to write, because it’s where I wrote my first massive college paper and it always encourages me.

A lot of this depends on what your brain needs to approach deep work. Take away any shame you might have — it’s bad for you and it isn’t helping. Everybody struggles with this, you’re not just lazy. Figure out why your stress is overpowering your work and be gentle with yourself.


Ms. Informed

Dear Ms. Informed,

I am about to graduate and am worried about what I’m going to do after college. I apply for jobs and hear nothing back. How can I feel less scared of the future and enjoy my last days of university?

– Getting nervous


Dear Getting Nervous,

“What do I do with my life?” is the question we all come to college to answer, which makes it extra frustrating when we don’t have that answer right away.

The first thing I want to say is congratulations! You are almost there, and that is a massive achievement that shouldn’t be undermined. You have put time and effort into getting yourself to this point and no matter what comes next, you’ve earned your degree.

It also sounds like you’re doing exactly what you need to — applying for jobs and putting yourself out there. It takes time, and there is a route for everyone, even if it doesn’t always look like what you expect. One good thing to keep in mind is that no two career paths look the same, and sometimes the skills you get from your degree lead you in a completely different direction than you might expect.

I’ve found all my past jobs through existing connections. Ask your teachers and advisors if there are jobs that they can recommend, or people they can set you up with. You’ve already built trust in those connections, and that will serve you well.

That said, what can you do for yourself to enjoy this triumphant moment? How can you keep yourself grounded in the present? I find that’s always the best way to stop myself from worrying about the future.

See if you can spend some time with friends doing something low-key. Have a movie night or go on a hike. Be present with the people around you and lean on each other to make it to the end.

If the stress is constantly sitting on you, go back to the good old coping techniques. Breathing exercises and spending some time walking around barefoot outside are two of mine. Get some exercise, take your meds. Continue the basics of self-care. It seems obvious, but it’s not always easy, especially at the end of the year.

The future is going to be nebulous until you’re in it, and then the future after that will be nebulous too. There will always be unknowns. Yes, it’s scary now, but someday you’ll have what you need and it’s just going to be uncomfortable until then. Keep applying for jobs and making connections, and in the meantime, mitigate your stress with techniques that work for you. Eventually, the work will pay off.


Ms. Informed

Graphic by Lexi Petri.