Reward yourself, take a break

Mission accomplished. The SAT is over, and I’m relieved. It is Saturday, March 13, and I have emerged from five hours of circles, triangles, graphs and vocabulary words I wish I could use relatively unscathed.

The weekend hours eclipsed by practice tests have paid off because I feel confident about my performance. After all the hard work, I deserve some relaxation time. If only relaxation time existed anymore. Upon my return home, I am warmly greeted by the realization that I have work at my synagogue tomorrow morning, a physics test Monday, a lab due Wednesday, an APUSH test Tuesday, multiple Chronicle stories to write, an English essay, an AP United States History research paper looming, and homework in precalculus and Latin and plenty of other minor tasks to complete. Wait, I thought my mission was accomplished.

I have gotten to the point of junior year where there are so many tasks to complete that finishing a test I’ve heard about since elementary school seems relatively insignificant.

I have realized that my complaining is the product of an over-obsession with preventing procrastination, a habit which only serves to increase my procrastination.

Whenever I finish an assignment, I need to reward myself in some fashion proportional to the breadth of the task. Yet, I am aware that there are a multitude of other tasks to be completed, and taking a self-satisfying break seems to be a waste of time.

I sit down at my computer, ready to work. Only the “reward myself” instinct is still lurking. So instead of opening my lab, I open my e-mail, or my Facebook page, or maybe I am still telling myself that I really need to work. Basically, even procrastination fails to satisfy. And therein lies the problem—viewing everything that is not work as procrastination.

Rewarding ourselves with a break when we earn it is not procrastination. We have to keep our rewards in perspective with our achievements, and we cannot sacrifice effort in our schoolwork and other commitments. But by forbidding ourselves from watching one television show or forbidding ourselves from one bike ride with our family, we aren’t helping ourselves achieve academic success or a higher level of efficiency.

We are not eliminating procrastination, and we are not becoming adept at self-restraint. In fact, it is the opposite. We are dooming ourselves to procrastination by not being fully prepared to dive into our next mission.

If you have this problem, take the time to cool down and transition to your next objective after you accomplish something of personal importance. Make it long enough to clear your mind, but brief enough to stay sharp. Most importantly, don’t second-guess yourself. Believe it or not, watching an episode of “Jersey Shore” may actually help you be productive.