There’s an old joke to the effect: “Thank God for the last minute, or I’d never get anything done!”
This bon mot could be a motto for many students. And yes, the last minute is a valuable resource. But like all valuable resources, it must be used wisely. Here is some advice regarding how to use the last minute well.
Of course, the last minute should be the last resort, when your best laid plans have gone awry. There are just too many things you can’t do at the last minute, or, at least can’t do well. So if you are finding everything is being left to the last minute, you’ll need to become better organized.
Still, everyone slips up once in a while and needs to scramble. If you have to get something done at the last minute, how do you proceed?
First, figure out exactly where you stand. Does your course have an extension policy? What is it? Can you drop off your paper in a box after hours? If you email the paper to your prof by midnight, does it still count as on time? You need to know these things to know exactly how much time you’re working with.
Second, you must realize that the last minute is just an expression. The last minute at the university level is the weekend before something is due, not the morning it’s due. If you’ve left it until it’s a matter of hours, then face reality and admit you’re not getting it done. If this is where you are, it’s now time to check your prof’s late policies.
Third, accept that the last minute is going to take longer than a minute. A lot longer. Whatever else you have going on, cancel it. Because here’s the thing: even if you do things at the last minute, you can’t have them look like they were done at the last minute. Profs hate that.
Fourth, use technology but don’t abuse it. The internet will provide you with plenty of short cuts but just Googling your topic or simply reading the Wikipedia entry isn’t going to cut it. Get to your university library’s web page and look for the databases and electronic journals they have in your area. In many cases, you’ll be able to download plenty of quality journal articles right from home. Don’t rely on one or two articles either—that looks slapdash. Use a number of articles and references from a variety of sources.
Fifth, do your list of citations and references first. It’s detail work and you will neither want to do it nor be able to do it well at four in the morning after writing the rest of the paper.
Finally, don’t cheat. The urge will be strong, but you have to resist. There’s no point in getting the work done if it’s not your work. You came here to learn something.
Today you learned how to get things done at the last minute.
Todd Pettigrew is an associate professor of English at Cape Breton University.