So You’ve Procrastinated Until the Very Last Possible Second, Now What?

Here's how to deal with the unfortunate situation that you—and only you—are responsible for.
November 21, 2017
6 mins read

Well, it happened again. You have an exam or paper that you’ve known about for a few weeks and yet here you are, the night before, staring at a blank screen or an unopened textbook. Let me make myself perfectly clear—this article does not come from a place of judgment. Yours truly is currently staring at a barely typed Word document at 9:53 p.m. with a 6 a.m. deadline hurtling towards me.

I have spent an inordinate amount of my college career frantically running from one deadline to another. I am not qualified to be giving academic advice, but I can give a few tips for when you find yourself in a last-minute procrastination panic. I do not, from the depths of my heart, ever recommend you leave your responsibilities to the last minute, but hey, life happens.


1. Make an outline

When you have a test in fourteen hours, it can feel like you don’t have a single second to spare. However, it will be extremely beneficial if you can quickly jot down the important topics to cover or a loose writing schedule for the next few hours. This simple task can take you from a blind, all-consuming panic to at least a stage of grim acceptance.

2. Prioritize

You will realistically not be able to cover ten chapters, twelve readings and half a semester of lecture notes in a night. Hopefully your professor has shared a breakdown of the exam content that you have or can get your grubby hands on. If not, focus on the heaviest chapters or most repeated topics.

3. Make a work-friendly environment.

Make sure your workspace is well lit. Having light close to your eyes, such as a laptop screen or lamp helps to kick your body into full-awake mode. If you’re able to control the temperature, try to keep the heat around 75 degrees. Melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy, kicks in around 65 degrees.

4. Get rid of the distractions.

Turn your phone off or put in on airplane mode. When you’re in the weeds, it’s easy to retreat to a state of denial and endlessly scroll through memes. Turn. It. Off. If you don’t absolutely need the internet, use an app like “Self Control” to block sites. I personally love “Self Control” because once you start the program, you can’t visit blocked sites no matter what. Restart the computer, logoff—it doesn’t matter. Until the timer runs out, you’re stuck.

5. Take frequent breaks

Not only do all-nighters wreak havoc on your body, they’re also incredibly difficult to make it through without dizzying flashes of exhaustion. Take breaks every fifty minutes or so and move around a bit, maybe drink water or eat a healthy, protein-rich snack. This will help keep you awake more effectively than coffee ever could. Hydrate constantly, keep your blood flowing (yes you’ll look weird, but no, whoever else is sitting in the library at 3:17 a.m. likely has bigger things on their mind) and steal those weird looking protein balls from your Pinterest obsessed housemate. Avoid carbs, as they will likely make you sleepy.

Staying hydrated while studying will help with memory retention and fatigue (Image via Pinterest)

If there’s one thing you take away from this article, please, please set an alarm (preferably more than one, just in case) before your test. It should go without saying, but waking up at 11:09 a.m. and having a test that started at 10:30 a.m. is a feeling I wouldn’t wish upon anyone. All of this ridiculous, exhausting preparation will not make any difference if you don’t make it to the exam.


1. Experimenting

Now is 100 percent not the time to try some new and unfamiliar way to stay up. Maybe the closest you’ve come to coffee is a Frappuccino but now seems like a great time for a triple-shot latte. Or you’ve never thought about energy drinks, but your roommates stash of Red Bull is sitting there so invitingly.

If your body isn’t used to it, now is probably not the best time to take something new out for a spin. You’ve got a very limited timeframe to work with. Don’t waste an hour trying to get your heart rate back to normal after you poured half a dozen Five Hour Energy drinks into your Camelbak.

2. Work by your bed

If you do this, you are playing with fire. Once you get into the wee hours of the morning and the sleepiness really strikes, your exhausted brain will come up with almost any excuse to collapse onto your bed. If I try to do any work in my apartment after 11 p.m., I am somehow asleep in my bed thirty seconds later. Unless you have the world’s strongest willpower, go to a location outside of your dorm/apartment to work.

3. Completely skip out on sleep

Unless the need is dire, you should at least try to get a few hours of sleep. Even a twenty-minute nap is better than nothing. A former Navy Seal suggests you should begin any all-nighter with a nap to top off your metaphorical well before you get started. An all-nighter may be more doable if you have to turn in a paper in the morning versus staying alert all the way until an exam in the afternoon. If it’s the latter case, you absolutely need to get some sleep for a chance at being alert.


Think of the toll this takes on your poor body. The majority of us run on a combination of low quality coffee, free pizza and poor decisions. The least you can do is regularly get a decent amount of sleep. Also, keeping your stress levels from reaching seismic proportions every few weeks would be nice. So congratulations, you survived—now go to bed!

Giselle Krachenfels, USC

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Giselle Krachenfels


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