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Advice for students: N’allez pas trop vite

Advice for students: N’allez pas trop vite
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My friend Stefan Hagemann has observed that so many students on a college campus seem to be elsewhere. As I walk around my university’s campus, I understand what he means: phone conversations, text-messaging, and iPod management can take precedence over attention to one’s surroundings. Even without the distractions of a gadget, the sidewalks and quads of a campus sometimes turn into nothing more than empty yardage to be traversed, as quickly as possible, on the way from one class to the next.

I like Marcel Proust’s words: N’allez pas trop vite. Don’t go too fast. It might not be practical to slow down when one has ten minutes to get from one end of a campus to the other. But a college student might benefit in numerous ways from slowing down and looking at and learning about her or his surroundings. Here are five suggestions:

1. Learn about a building, your residence hall perhaps, or a classroom building. How old is it? Who designed it? What style of architecture does it represent? For whom was it named? Did it serve another purpose in the past? What if anything once stood where it was built? A neighborhood? A cornfield? These kinds of questions might spark more general ones: What’s the oldest building on your campus? What buildings retain significant original elements? Noticing old light fixtures, old doorknobs, old signage (painted by hand on doors and walls), and old staircases (their steps worn from generations of shoes) can help you recognize the history that you’re walking through every day.

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2. Give some attention to the monuments and portraits that most students (and faculty) walk past. Commemorative plaques, presidential portraits, class gifts (sometimes in the form of a fountain or gate), memorials to alumni in military service: all these can help you to recognize that as a college student, you’re a member of a community that spans generations of endeavor. I remember studying, as an undergraduate, a stained-glass library window with the university seal, and realizing that students could have been looking at the same seal in the same window fifty years before.

3. Learn some legends. Stories, natural and supernatural, abound on college campuses. Learning some local lore (perhaps through clippings or microfilm in the library) might brighten (or darken!) your experience of campus life. If you’re interested in historical research, looking into such stories might lead you to material for a paper, a thesis, or an article in a campus publication.

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4. Browse through some old yearbooks. They’re likely to be available in the library, and they make for fascinating reading. Yearbooks offer an easy and sometimes poignant way to come close to the lives of earlier generations of college life. Those students who look so young, perhaps younger than you: how old are they now? What did professors (perhaps your professors) look like twenty years ago? Where did everyone go before Starbucks and Subway? A yearbook can help you begin to think about such things.

5. Journey into the unknown. Look into an unfamiliar part of the campus, an unfamiliar building, an unfamiliar part of the library. Academic buildings, especially older ones, are filled with nooks and crannies. You might find a great, unexpected place to study by exploring an unfamiliar part of your campus.

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And by that time, it might be time to get back to work.

Michael Leddy teaches college English and blogs at Orange Crate Art. He is reading Proust’s In Search of Lost Time for the second time.

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[Note: Proust’s remark N’allez pas trop vite was recorded by British diplomat Harold Nicolson, who met Proust at a party in 1919. Proust asked Nicolson to slow down and add detail to his account of the post-war peace conference. The story of this meeting may be found in Alain de Botton’s How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997).]

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Last Updated on October 15, 2019

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why we procrastinate after all

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

So, is procrastination bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How bad procrastination can be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

Procrastination, a technical failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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