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study-tips 4 min read

How to get an assignment started (when it’s just not coming to you)

By Krisi 10 Apr 2019
Young female student studying on wood floor with cat.

Have you ever experienced the pain-staking task of sitting down to write that dreaded assignment just before the due date, all because that magical epiphany you were waiting for never came your way? The penny just never dropped. You and your assignment never quite ‘clicked’. Whatever you like to call it, the fact is you were waiting to feel inspired to start your assignment and unfortunately the due date arrived before your inspiration did. While those moments of revelation certainly help to get the fingers flying across the keyboard, you can’t always count on them to happen when you need them. Let’s see if we can work out some other strategies to help you get going on that assignment, with or without your academic epiphany!

First things first. Before you even start on the tips I’ve listed below, you must fight the urge to procrastinate. And keep on fighting it! My top procrastination achievements include indulging in a gourmet lunch of homemade sushi, spontaneously cleaning the lightshade, building a play dough garage for my son’s matchbox cars and deciding my hair needed a fresh colour. In all these instances, by assignment came off second best and I can tell you now that my assignment epiphany wasn’t brought on by sushi or cleaning and I certainly didn’t find it at the hairdresser’s. Procrastination is always there to tempt you, but if you want to get this assignment done you’ll need to fight it off!

Once you’ve got procrastination sorted, it’s time to get that assignment started. Take comfort in the fact that with just a few simple tweaks to how you’ve been approaching it, you can be well on your way to pressing submit on this pesky assignment.

1. Be clear on the task.

It seems obvious but to get your assignment started you need to be clear on exactly what the assignment is. Maybe it’s not coming to you because you’re still not sure what you need to do? Read the outline and marking criteria early and give yourself time to wrap your head around the task at hand.

2. Gather important information.

If your assignment is making you feel overwhelmed, it helps to highlight, highlight and highlight some more. By pinpointing the important information for your assignment, you can refine your focus and stop feeling overwhelmed by the scope of it. Highlight that marking criteria sheet, the readings, relevant lecture slides and even learning objectives. Once you narrow down your direction you can be on your way.

3. Map it out.

Brainstorm, taking the time to make a colourful, creative and interesting mind map of your ideas, how they link together and how they relate back to the assignment. Conceptualising the task in this manner can help open up your mind and give you a framework that you can build on.

4. Chip away at it, bit by bit.

Don’t forget to work logically and if there is an example provided, follow the format. Try to organise the work you need to do into bite-sized chunks, like one section or paragraph at a time. This will make your assignment more manageable and give you small items to concentrate on, rather than trying to focus on the whole thing at once.

5. Keep things fresh.

When you’ve got a big task ahead of you it’s normal to bunker down at your desk and forego your normal study breaks. While I admire your dedication, if you’re struggling to feel inspired with an assignment then it’s even more important to keep your mind feeling fresh and alert. What about getting a change of scenery? I like to take my study outside and catch some of the sunshine rather than sitting in my ever-so un-inspiring lounge room for hours on end. Just don’t forget to use paper weights… sometimes the wind comes along to rain on your parade and oops there’s 90 pages littering your entire backyard!

Failing all of this, I am sure we are all apt, or will become so at some stage throughout our degrees, in the good old last-minute approach. Sometimes there just ain’t no motivation or inspiration like that of the looming submission cut-off. A word of warning to first timers though, this approach may result in serious psychological pain and chronic back fatigue, so I urge you to try steps 1 through 6 first, and leave this approach as a last resort.

Once you get your assignment off and running, it’s important to really get into the study zone (and stay there) until it’s squared away. Check out fellow psychology graduate Nick’s blog on the art of achieving ‘study flow’ and how you can keep it up!

Author profile image of Kristen