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15 Ways to Productively Procrastinate

Procrastination—you know how it goes. You tell yourself to spend only 15 minutes on Facebook, but 40 minutes later you’ve gone through your “Recently Updated Friends” list three times, have seen all of the new photos your 750+ BFFs have uploaded in the past few days, have Facebook stalked every guy you’ve ever hooked up with, and have refreshed your homepage at least five times in hopes of seeing something new. Meanwhile, the problem set that’s due tomorrow afternoon leers at you, half-finished, on your computer screen; and your English essay for the end of the week barely has an introduction. You might feel better about having whittled away nearly an hour of prime homework time if you had done something even slightly worthwhile—Facebook stalking, however, hardly counts as productive.

Procrastination is inevitable. Whether your distraction of choice involves “Law & Order: SVU” marathons or Spider Solitaire, it is pretty much set in stone that you’ll find a way to not do what you’re supposed to: your homework. So instead of freaking out about how much time you wasted (and making empty promises never to do it again), procrastinate in a way that’s useful. Here are 15 ways to get work done in multiple areas of your life without opening up a textbook.

  • Go to the gym.  Sometimes it seems like you never have enough time to exercise. After a long day of going to class and participating in extracurricular activities, going to the gym can feel like a luxury instead of a priority. But if you’re thinking of spending some quality time away from your textbooks, you might as well work on your fitness, right? Thirty minutes of exercise time is better than no gym time at all. A half hour of spinning, running, or lifting gives you more energy, lowers stress, and boosts levels of concentration after your workout. Plus, there are plenty of cuties at the gym—you never know when someone might need you to spot them…
  • Look up jobs, internships, and scholarships.  Instead of clicking through Flickr accounts or pressing “Random Search” on Wikipedia ad infinitum, try going on job-related search binges. If you still have a year or more ahead of you in school, see what scholarships or grants are available for undergraduate students. Find out if there are any part-time gigs on-campus if you need some extra cash, or see if there are any internship opportunities available in your city. Websites such as internqueen.com, internships.com, ed2010.com, or internabroad.com post incredible options for work experience in the States, but also overseas. You’ll be way more proud of yourself to have stumbled across a job, than to have stumbled upon an awesome video.
  • Buy tickets for future trips.  Whether you’re just going home for the holidays, or are planning a trip with friends, you’re going to need tickets for transportation. Procrastinate productively by researching the best prices for bus, train, or plane tickets, and purchasing those tickets in advance. It’ll be a relief to get your travel plans set before the costs start to skyrocket, as they always do.  And while you’re at it, why not research the best restaurants in your potential spring break locale as well?
  • Clean up.  There’s almost always laundry to be done or a mess to be cleaned up when you’re in college. If you’ve put off washing a load of clothing, or if there are still dishes in your sink from the rager quiet get-together you had over the weekend, take a breather and get those things done. Even though I can tolerate a certain degree of clutter, I become pretty frazzled when my personal space is too messy. Doing a bit of housekeeping might make it easier for you to concentrate and be productive, and you might stumble across some important papers that you shoved away in your room when company called.
  • Update your resume.  You never know when an internship or a job opportunity will catch your eye, and how soon your prospective employers might ask about any work experience you have. If you want to take a study break, use that time to update your resume. Since career center advisors usually ask to see your resume (and some graduate schools even allow you to submit one with your application), it would be a good idea to have those things already prepared. Keep track of everything you have been doing: were you active in student government this semester? Is there any new coursework that relates to the job you’re applying for? Did you of a really good idea for an independent study after talking to friends? Once you’ve figured all of that out, organize all of your notes and put them together in an awesome portfolio or resume case for all to see.  Check out this article for more tips on how to put together an awesome resume.
  • Practice performing.  Take a break from homework to run through lines for an upcoming play, practice your drum solo, or memorize the song you’ll be performing with you’re a capella group. You’ll technically still be doing schoolwork, but singing “Glee”-style or making sure that you’re black box theater-ready is likely to be more enjoyable than just reading a play for class. And if you don’t do performing arts on campus, just blast some music and have a solo dance party!  It never hurts to brush up on your moves in advance of the next formal you might attend.


  • Have a DIY spa break.  You may not have had enough time in the midst of all that studying to get a much-needed manicure, pedicure, or skin rejuvenation treatment. But if you’re only looking for some minor self-care maintenance that can be done at home, have a quick do-it-yourself spa break. Biore pore strips and mud masks take no time at all, and there are loads of kits available to help take care of your hands and feet. You won’t feel as awful about finals week if you look fabulous and take care of yourself.
  • Check out classes for upcoming semesters.  The inner nerd in every college student loves course registration. Sure, there are certain classes you have to take—especially if you’re a freshman—but there are also plenty of fun and interesting courses available for everyone. While you don’t necessarily have to plan out the rest of your undergraduate career, you can start thinking of which courses you might like to pursue in the future. Check out classes for upcoming semesters and get an idea of what you want to study in the future if you’re a freshman or a sophomore. Not only will your course advisor love you when it’s time to schedule meetings, but you’ll also look good in front relatives who want to know all about your Life Plan during the holidays.
  • Have a clothing swap.  Although my roommate and I both have full closets, we both say that we never have anything to wear when we go out. If you’ve been coveting one of your roomie’s cutest shirts and are wondering if she’d like to make a trade, look through your own drawers to see if you have something to swap. Not only is having a clothing swap fun, but you’ll have a good idea of what’s really in your wardrobe the next time you plan an evening out, without spending hours in line at the local mall.
  • Prepare a home-cooked meal.  Although my mom would probably cringe to know this, frozen dinners have become one of my main food groups. I try to spruce them up with black pepper and serve them on really nice plates, but Amy’s Macaroni and Cheese and Stouffer’s Lasagna never really taste like home-cooked meals. If you’re trying to temporarily avoid doing your homework, you might as well spend some time cooking dinner for real. A basic pasta or vegetable dish is easy to prepare, and even chicken can be grilled quickly. A real meal is way more nutritious (and tastier) than eating something out of a box, and you can even extend your break time by inviting friends over for dinner. To compare study notes, of course…
  • Keep in touch.  It’s unbelievably easy to get wrapped up in schoolwork and neglect your family and friends from back home. Instead of using Facebook to invisibly follow people or to write quick messages on their walls, start a message chain with your friends so that you stay updated on what’s going on in their lives. Make a Skype date with friends who are abroad, or just call someone from home. Miraculously enough, your parents won’t mind if you spend hours on the phone if you’re talking to them.
  • Take a nap.  This is a tricky one. If you take a nap, you might wake up and feel like Sleeping Beauty—but, you also run the risk of oversleeping and taking a much longer “break” from work than you intended to. If a nap is exactly what you need to keep you alert in the long-run, try to sleep in intervals: 45-or-90-minute naps allow you to go through an entire sleep cycle  so that you don’t wake up in the middle of a REM cycle and feel groggy. As backup for your power nap, set your alarm or ask a roommate or a friend to give you a call or knock on your door if you’re afraid of an alarm clock malfunction.
  • Get organized.  I have a techy pack-rat habit of bookmarking any slightly interesting websites, starring any tweets that I might follow up on in the future, and adding almost every email I receive to my saved messages list. If you’re similarly neurotic, take some time from not-studying to weed through the saved emails on your BlackBerry or iPhone. Get rid of any old bookmarks in your Internet browser so that you can get to what you’re looking for more quickly. It might even be a good idea to organize your Word documents.
  • Watch a movie…  …but not just any movie—check out the film adaptation of a book you’re reading for class. In one of my literature classes this semester, my professor screened a few scenes from “Dangerous Liaisons,” a movie-version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos Laclos. Although we didn’t watch the entire movie in class, I became hooked on Keanu Reeves’s mix of surfer boy and French suitor, and on seeing what Uma Thurman was like before she killed Bill. I wouldn’t suggest that you watch a filmic adaptation of a book instead of reading the original work at all (cough, cough), but doing both made me appreciate the book a lot more.

Here’s what other members of the Her Campus™ team do to procrastinate productively:

Daylina Miller, Campus Correspondent, University of South Florida:
“I usually procrastinate on my laptop and leave several browser windows open to Facebook, Twitter, Her Campus, my school e-mail, my personal e-mail and usually a couple different web comics and/or blogs. I refresh each page every couple minutes to check for new updates and then jump over to my (mostly blank) Word page and add a few more sentences to whatever story or paper I’m working on. I occasionally switch things up by taking a hot bath with a trashy romance novel, watching an 80s movie, dancing at the really good music parts, or wrestling with my kitten on the floor.”

Bernice Chuang, Campus Correspondent, UT Austin:
“I give and receive massages! My roommate and I put on some Enya and give back massages to sneak short breaks from homework.”

Chrissy Callahan, Beauty Blog Editor:
“When you’re in the midst of doing something intellectually hardcore like studying or writing papers, it becomes really difficult to fully concentrate for long periods of time. Even though I do well in school, I’m more of a creative person versus an academic, so I need to take lots of breaks when I’m studying for exams to keep me sane! To productively procrastinate, I tend to do something like catch up on emails I’ve neglected or read up on the news. That way, I’m doing something that I know I should be doing, but it’s not academically-focused, and I still feel like I’m accomplishing something!”

Alexandra Patterson, Administrative/HR Intern, Kenyon College: 
“I make gift tags for all the Christmas gifts I’m giving! All it takes is some construction paper and colored pens.”

Happy studying!

WebMD: “Top 10 Fitness Facts,” “The Pros and Cons of Napping”
Daylina Miller, Campus Correspondent, University of South Florida
Bernice Chuang, Campus Correspondent, UT Austin
Chrissy Callahan, Her Campus Beauty Blog Editor

Alexandra Patterson, Her Campus Administrative/HR Intern

Judith is a senior at Washington University in St. Louis with a double major in English and Spanish and a minor in Creative Writing. She is Co-Editor-in-Chief of Spires, a literary magazine on the WashU campus, and a former features intern for Seventeen and Marie Claire. A proud nerd whose greatest joys include LexisNexis and thesaurus.com, Judith can usually be found looking for new music or espousing the wonders of Twitter, Harry Potter, and late 16th century English Literature to anyone willing to listen. Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, Judith plans to explore as much of St. Louis as she can in her final year of college--even without a car (or a learner's permit...).