The All-Nighter. How to get your paper in when you have NO TIME LEFT!!

Okay, so I’ve been a little slack this side of New Year, keeping up to date with posts. My bad. But it is time to get back into it and talk about a topic that is close to my heart. The all-nighter!

I am sure that you have been there. You’re in class and the lecturer is running through your next assignment. You feel a little nervous, but also excited. After all, this is your chance to demonstrate what you have learned. I always felt really on top of things, right there in that moment. Thinking back, I guess it is because right there in that moment, I had all the time in the world to get my assignment done. I always thought, right, I am going to start early, I am going to plan it out carefully and I am going to make sure that this is the best damn paper that I have ever written!

And then it happens….


Time passes and before I know it the assignment is due tomorrow and I am staring down the barrel of an all-nighter.

I have often wondered about why this happened. I mean, I was never the best undergrad student, but I got pretty good grades in the end and yet most of my assignments were done on the last day, in the last possible piece of time that I had available. Then, a decade later when I was doing my MBA, I found the same thing happened all over again! I have developed a theory.

My theory, is that whenever we have a task to perform, we automatically and subconsciously calculate the exact amount of time that we are going to need to get it done. Because of this, whether we have 3 weeks or 3 days to do the assignment, we will leave the work for the last available time-slot that we have, to perform the task. People say this is procrastination, but I don’t think so. Rather, I simply think that this is human nature.

So what do you do now. It’s 7pm and you have to research and write your entire assignment before the midnight cut off. At least that was the cutoff for a lot of my MBA assignments. The most important thing at this point is DON’T PANIC! Your brain is a wonderful machine and it has already calculated the exact amount of time that you need to complete the paper. So you can breathe out and relax. You will make the deadline.

Now if you have read some of my previous posts, you will see the strategy that I suggest for approaching any paper that you have to write. And that still stands for the last minute assignment. The all-nighter, although it will be somewhat abbreviated. But, here’s the catch. You cannot waste even a second from this point on. Your mind has automatically left you just the right amount of time to complete the task, but it has not factored in procrastinating at this point. So get your butt in that chair and get to work.

Here’s the slightly abbreviated version of the process that I always used when I was trying to get an assignment done in record time.

  1. PLAN – You don’t have the luxury of taking your time here. So quickly map out exactly what it is that you want to say. As always, your plan will cover the specific sections that you want to talk about in your paper. Make sure to assign word counts to your plan. Banging out ten 200 word sections, is far easier than tackling a 2000 word assignment.
  2. Now that you have the sections laid out that you want to tackle, pull out your reference material. I know, I know, it’s late at night and you haven’t done any research, so you don’t have any reference material. But I bet that you actually do. For starters, more than likely you have a text book. You must reference the text book at least once. Here’s my tip, scan the index at the front and/or the glossary at the back, for terms relating to at least one of the sections that you want to talk about. Take post it notes, write the section headings on it and mark the spots in the book. Next, you probably have access to online journals. Get in there and search – FAST – for terms relating to each topic heading. Now I know that this is not great, but in terms of speed, here is what you do. Simply look for the first sentence that you find in that article that you can use. Bookmark that spot and go to the next section. Repeat this process until you have at least one reference for each section.
  3. Get writing. Put 200 words down for each section. Make your point, add some context, put your reference in and round out the section. You will be amazed how quickly this goes. Repeat this for each section and before you know it, you will have hit your word count. The best part, is that you will have actually put together a nicely flowing, well referenced paper, because you took the 15 minutes required to plan it out first.
  4. Write your conclusion. Remember, never introduce any new material into your conclusion. All you are doing here is pulling together your paper and describing the story that your paper tells.
  5. Now write your introduction. As always, you leave the introduction to last, in order to ensure that your introduction accurately describes what is to come in the following paper. Remember that your introduction should give your reader a really clear understanding of what your paper aims to deliver and what they can expect to know by the end of it.
  6. Proof read everything. DO NOT MISS THIS STEP!!!!! It will be late, you will be tired and you WILL have made a bunch of basic grammatical errors that spellcheck will not have picked up. So do it now and do it right.
  7. Now add in your references in the required format and you are done! Remember that if you add your references into your document as you go, at this point, all you have to do is hit create reference list, or whatever the appropriate command is on the programme that you are using and it will do it for you.

So as you can see, last minute assignment are not the end of the world, are not impossible and will not break you. You can do this, just get to work and get it done.

Next time, I will talk about my favourite method of avoiding falling into the last minute trap, which I finally discovered towards the end of my MBA.

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