Burning the midnight oil via the Internet

We have reached the period of mixed blessings. The end of the year is in sight, and summer will be here soon. Sunlight has graced our campus once again and has banished the depressing winter for good. Newly admitted students are starting to flood the campus, and Pittsburgh finally feels warm.

Well, maybe things have not become that cheery. The return of good weather also means that classes will start wrapping up, so professors will expect to see projects, papers, and exams on their desks soon. The workloads of students will reach critical mass and we’ll begin to pull our hair out. In the next few weeks, we will receive fewer and fewer chances to go outside and enjoy the good weather. All of us will have to face the late-night crunch at one point or another, and time will not be on our side. Each of us will have to either race the clock or sacrifice sleep before the semester ends. So what do we do?

Tamara Tunie, an actress from As the World Turns and a Carnegie Mellon alum, believes that there are more hours in the day than we think there are and that our time can hold more than we think. More often than not, however, we feel like the days are far too short. Experts have developed tried and true methods for time management, like to-do lists, schedule books, and importance grids, and we have plenty of help available aid us in the struggle to quit our excessive time-wasting.

Debra Brindis, coordinator of academic counseling and supplemental instruction in the Academic Development Office, agrees that as the year comes to an end, students will begin to feel much more anxiety. She believes that time management involves controlled partition.

“Most times, if you can break [work] down into small chunks, that takes anxiety out of it,” said Brindis. She said that time management problems affect all students, from first-years to graduates. Brindis noted another key approach to avoiding procrastination that involves determination and trust in slow improvement. Habits are hard things to break, really, and as finals creep up, our bad habits can slowly get the better of us. “Procrastination and time management go hand in hand,” Brindis said. “The important thing is that you can’t change [bad habits] overnight.”

So what are these bad habits? As college students, we depend on the computers on our desks and in the clusters to accomplish much of our work. But the sirens of Flash games and instant messaging often lure us to villainous distraction. Our papers, projects, research, and communication need to revolve around computers and the Internet, and this makes our late nights very difficult. It is so easy to get distracted.

You can be in the middle of writing a paper, and all it takes to focus on something else is an urge to check your e-mail. Sure, you’ll resolve to check your e-mail for one second, then... oh look! There’s a new friend confirmation waiting for you on Facebook! So then you begin checking this new person’s profile out, and soon you could be talking to them on AOL Instant Messenger. More conversations begin to take your attention, and after a while your friend calls about one thing or another. Before you know it, your break has turned into a vacation. There’s a reason there is a Facebook group called “Facebook Makes Me Fail School.”

As Brindis said via e-mail, counselors agree that cell phones and Internet services like Facebook are among the worst time wasters for college students. Other guilty services are sites like www.killsometime.com, which, as the title suggests, caters directly to our procrastinating desires. Then there’s www.ebaumsworld.com, www.newgrounds.com, and even a www.procrastinate.net, which really doesn’t have anything on it because the creator says he’s procrastinating.

Granted, there are many forms of productive procrastination. That is an oxymoron, but think about activities like working out, personal reading, or news-hounding. While many students do not see these as distractions, some still see these as a way to escape school work. It’s not a hard argument to say that productive procrastination is much better than web surfing.

With so many available methods that whittle hours away for students, marketers have begun to realize that many college students put things off to the last minute until they must pull the inevitable all-nighter. Just look at how energy drinks like Red Bull are beginning to direct propaganda at the procrastinating masses. The ease of putting off work has made burning the midnight oil the new norm, as so many lights across campus remain lit until 2 or 3 am.

If you like the pressure of finishing work five minutes before class time, by all means keep the Web available. However, the best advice for victims of procrastination is this: Lose the Net.