by Julie Schmidt (she/her)
How to beat procrastination through creative study
Exam time is a stressful time of year. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably already cleaned out that cupboard, learned a new recipe, or binge-watched a couple hundred episodes on Netflix.
When I was at uni, sometimes the more I needed to study, the less it would happen. I used to think that my procrastination was driven by laziness. I would feel so much self-loathing at the end of a day when I didn’t do the study I set out to do.
But I’ve learned that laziness wasn’t my main issue. Instead, I believe my problem was driven by a phenomenon known as ‘hyper-intention’ – when you’re so focused on achieving something that you’re terrified of taking steps towards completing it. It’s counter-intuitive and very annoying - the more you want something, the harder it can be to face.
I have several techniques to overcome this. There’s the classic method of doing ten minutes of work at a time, but my favourite technique is creative study, where you engage with your topic in a way that’s fun and relaxing. It could be watching YouTube, drawing a snail in a ginger beer bottle (shoutout Donoghue v Stevenson), or colour-coding your notes. You don’t need to read cases or textbooks – just engage with your topic in an easy and enjoyable way.
Creative study destroys hyper-intention – and any fear of studying will melt away. You may think that you have to constantly be productive, but that’s not true! Creative study is a good use of time. It’s important to think about what you’re trying to learn however you can. The more you engage with a topic, the better your brain will become at connecting those neural pathways. The chaos and confusion becomes order and understanding – eventually, you'll read the concept and it will just click. Trust me!
How to use ChatGPT at Uni
If you haven’t heard of ChatGPT by now, the best way I can describe it is: Google, but it can talk to you and answer your questions directly. It’s an artificial intelligence software that scans the internet and generates answers to whatever question you might have. It can learn and adapt based on what you tell it.
For example, if you wrote: “Write me an article about how to use ChatGPT ethically for assignments” it will spit you out an article. You could then tell it to “be more formal,” or “use fewer words.” It will adapt accordingly. (Yes, I tried to get Chat GPT to write this article for me. No, I didn’t like what it wrote, so I’m writing this the old-fashioned way.)
Although ChatGPT is powerful, it’s not perfect. Firstly, its information is not up-to-date. It knows nothing post-September 2021. It’s not accurate either: if you ask it a question, it may answer that question extremely confidently, but the answer may not be correct. It’s a language-generating tool, so it knows how to write answers, but it has no way of assessing their factual validity of its answers. For example, I asked it a legal question in my area of expertise, and it got the answer completely wrong. It sounded super confident though, so you’ve got to be careful.
Universities and schools across New Zealand have recognised that ChatGPT cannot be banned. It’s the way of the future, and it’s far too difficult. Instead, universities are teaching students to use it sparingly and with caution. The main message is to allow it to help you, but not to replace you.
I think the best way to utilise ChatGPT is to use it to overcome the blank page. When I was lecturing, I would always tell my students to write a crappy first draft of their assignment. This overcomes the “blank page is the enemy” issue and gives you a piece of clay to start moulding. However, you can put your answers and information into ChatGPT and ask it to write your assignment for you. But you shouldn’t use this, obviously. If you copy what it gives you and use that in your assignment directly, that’s plagiarism.
Instead, treat what it gives you as the pre-first-draft to your assignment. Adapt this draft completely and make it your own. Also, remember to never rely on any factual information it gives you. You must do your own research.
You could also ask it some initial probing questions to help you understand a topic. I know we’ve all been taught to never cite Wikipedia, which is correct. However, I still used it to help me get the gist of a topic before getting into the academic research. You can use ChatGPT in the same way.
Ultimately, I would use ChatGPT in assignments to help you write the precursor to your first draft. However, I wouldn’t recommend copying what it writes for you directly (ever), or relying on it to give you factual information.
Happy studying, you got this! If you’re a law student and want some more help, you can find my super-concise notes at www.julieschmidtlaw.com.