I miss the beginning of a new semester. I loved getting the new syllabus for each course and looking through at all of the topics to be studied, books to be read, and assignments that would occupy my time for the next four months.
Okay, I might be a bit of a nerd. Not all students are the same. There are many different approaches to this first week ritual.
There are some who put all of their due dates into a calendar from the very beginning of the semester. They immediately begin working on assignments far before those assignments are expected to be completed. They may even schedule into their calendar when they will work on the various assignments. These are the people of colour-coded student agendas.
Others scan through the different assignments to get an idea of which weeks of the semester will be busiest. This way they know which assignments need to be completed early, and which ones they can leave until closer to the actual due date. They look ahead each week at what is coming for the reassurance that they still have time. These people make sense to me.
Some thrill-seekers wait to receive a reminder in class that the book report is due on Friday and then they frantically get flipping through the pages, desperately hoping that they can get through it in time and that it will be good enough. These are the people of all-nighters.
There are still some others who seem to have no idea about due dates. I don’t want to understand these people.
In college I loved seeing what assignments I would have to complete over the semester. I would often put all the needed due dates into some sort of to-do list organized by course and date. I didn’t schedule when I would work on different assignments, but I had an idea in my head of when I would need to work on certain projects to avoid being overwhelmed from too much work in one week.
I wouldn’t wait till the week-of to be reminded that an assignment was due, but I needed the pressure of the approaching deadline to provide helpful motivation that would fuel the work. I would be aware of an upcoming project and would think about it for days (maybe even weeks) before I started writing down my thoughts. I’m still this way. I need the pressure of a due date.
Some feel that pressure a lot earlier. My wife will feel the pressure to get something done two or three weeks before I feel the same pressure. She’s a colour-coded-student-agenda person and I think it’s amazing. I get to watch her work at her PhD and I couldn’t be more proud of her or a bigger admirer of her strong work ethic and discipline. She’s truly amazing.
I don’t work in the same way. This was especially true before I went to college. My parents can attest that there have been times when I waited too long to start an assignment which resulted in me being overwhelmed and the quality of work being poor. There was the year in elementary school that I left having to read Treasure Island and complete a major assignment–which included a number of elements–until the weekend before it was due. With my parents help I got it all in on time, but it was not a weekend I ever wish to repeat.
In 1866 Fyodor Dostoevsky was under pressure from his publisher to release a new book. At threat of losing copyright royalties and the accompanying financial compensation, Dostoevsky wrote The Gambler in 26 days. He was also writing and publishing Crime And Punishment in monthly instalments at the same time. The single-volume publication of that novel came the following year. I am currently reading The Gambler and I am enjoying it very much. I’m especially impressed considering he wrote it in twenty-six days. I have not yet read Crime And Punishment (maybe this summer) but its probably his most well known work. It’s probably good. He spent a lot more time writing it, at least. Still, under the pressure of needing to have a book to publish by November 1, Dostoevsky wrote The Gambler and it’s great.
Sometimes the pressure of an approaching deadline can result in great work. But other times great work is the result of discipline and a healthy investment of time.
My work discipline has improved since my Treasure Island days. There are now times when I can work ahead on something. For instance, I start planning and writing out ideas for special services far in advance (sometimes months in advance). Other times I can be thinking about something for a long time, but still need the pressure of an approaching deadline to help motivate me to start actually writing those ideas down.
Is this an issue of discipline and motivation? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it depends on the task at hand. Some tasks deserve dedicated discipline while others warrant procrastination. Still others motivate themselves. There is a spectrum that requires contextual consideration per individual case and overall balance.
At the same time, I don’t want to default to, “this is just who I am” and not work to improve self-motivation on certain tasks. While I may never become a colour-coded-student-agenda person (did I say ‘may never’? I meant ‘never’), I can strive to be better disciplined and find other methods of motivation.
What has helped you develop your work ethic? What motivates you? What is one area where you’d like to improve?