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Elijah T. '11

Dec 10, 2010

Challenge Accepted

Posted in: Best of the Blogs, Life & Culture

I recently saw a comic where a professor says "This is not the type of assignment you can do the night before," to which a student proclaims "Challenge accepted..."

Oh, how true.

When giving tours on campus (yes, I might give you a campus tour!), I sometimes get asked about the amount of work MIT students have. I usually respond that, while students certainly receive a hefty sum of homework, the main problem is time management. That is, no matter how much time is given for an assignment, it will inevitably be done in the twenty-four hours before it's due. Procrastination, I must say, is endemic on campus.

This semester, for the first time in my MIT career, I dropped a course. There were a variety of reasons for doing this, but, regardless, it left me with what should have been a schedule that other students would kill for. I took 48 credits, which, while considered a full course load (supposedly equivalent to 48 hours of work per week) is fewer courses than a good number of upperclassmen take (not because they need to, of course). I didn't have a single class before 1pm any day of the week. This left me more time to work on graduate applications, my UROP, being a news editor for The Tech, and, well, living. The old adage goes good grades, social life, sleep -- pick two, but I wanted all three.

Long story short, as is always the case at MIT, your academic obligations seem to expand to fit the time allotted; I had a surprising number of late nights and amount of last-minute tooling this term. On the bright side, though, those obligations can also contract to fit the time left over after the inevitable procrastination.

Case in point last week. I still had a four- to six-page research paper for 4.614 (Religious Architecture and Islamic Cultures), and I knew from the previous three essays this term that it was highly susceptible to procrastination. (Professor Rabbat, I enjoyed the class, but four essays plus a final is too much.) However, I ended up squandering all my work time during the four-day Thanksgiving weekend doing a problem set for 1.00 (Intro to Computers and Engineering Problem Solving -- essentially Intro to Java) -- and it wasn't even that long. Then on Monday and Tuesday, I will pretend I was busy doing work for 21F.701 (Spanish I), even though that really amounted to maybe two hours of work. And while I had all of Wednesday past 4:30pm, by midnight that night, I still had a dismal two paragraphs of half-coherent content and an intro paragraph beginning with Lorem ipsum to make me think I had written more than I really did.

Such is the typical progression of procrastination. I could claim I had seven hours of writer's block, but in reality, the culprits were Wikipedia, Reddit (the lion's share), that pesky thing called dinner, and probably Facebook. Surely, our forefathers and foremothers must have been more productive without the Internet to distract them at every turn.

But, I knew how this would end, of course, because I'd been down this road many times before. Drifting into a state of half-sleep around 1am, I set every alarm in my room to an arbitrary time between 2:30am and 3am. While not always effective, when I need to do something, I will wake up. So, at around 3am, after six snoozes on three different alarms, I reluctantly got up and made a cup of tea. (I bought a 100-pack of tea off Amazon in September for occasions like this; I'm not really a fan of it because it's not remotely sweet or minty enough to earn the supposed claim of "Moroccan mint tea".) Then, I resigned myself to the work ahead while cursing myself for not doing it earlier (the post-procrastination blues).

I must say, I was surprisingly alert. I don't know how much caffeine was in the tea, but I did not feel tired at all. If I wanted to go to sleep, I probably couldn't. With the shade up, I gradually saw, somewhat sadly, as the city woke up and sunlight appeared above the Boston skyline. This was a research paper, so there was -- sadly -- a significant amount of research involved. But, thank you, Google Books for not forcing me to wait until daylight to read the relevant text in most of the books I was interested in! Okay, I'm making excuses again; research notwithstanding, it was only a four-page paper (plus two "analytical drawings"). If you're curious, it was an essay about Humayun's Tomb in Delhi; unfortunately, each time I found an ostensibly good source about the place, it'd actually be a paragraph in a giant book about the Taj Mahal.

I had to take a break around 9am (after six hours of wakefulness) to finish up some work for my UROP, which involves modeling two road networks in Singapore (I had a meeting with my UROP adviser at 10am). Around this time, I also called the Information Center (who organizes campus tours) to inform them that, unless they really needed me for the 11am morning tour, I would rather not give it in such a zombie-like state. As I knew they would (few people take campus tours in December and there's a second tour guide), they relieved from the duty and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The 10am meeting with my UROP adviser was rather straightforward and brief, but, unable to resist the distraction, I watched the BBC's online, live feed of the announcements of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosts. FIFA was not doing me a favor by taking all of an hour to take two cards out of envelopes...

I had a Spanish quiz at 1pm as well, so I had to study for that some. Meanwhile, I still had my essay. But, okay, there was no way I was going to finish this on-time; I had not used my one unofficial extension for the term (really amazing, to be honest), so my TA permitted me an additional twenty-four hours to complete the assignment. But, I knew this was really just an additional nine hours, mostly in the middle of the night.

Why, you ask? See, I had earmarked Thursday afternoon for working on the final 1.00 problem set (we got to work with a partner, and we both agreed to put the assignment off until the night before -- see, we all do it!). Despite being on Hour 12 of being awake, we managed to blaze through the problem set in record time. We were done in two hours. Still a Christmas miracle, though, I tell you.

That left me just thirty minutes before I had to report to The Tech office for another night of news editing duties. I did my very best to multi-task -- splitting time between editing articles and working on my 4.614 essay -- but it wasn't working out too well. I cannot convey this to you clear enough: the Tech office is a very distracting environment. Others have tried to work there on issue night, but with Rockband in the next room, Ripsticks all over the office, and an editor-in-chief who likes to play "Whip My Hair" over the sound system because it annoys everyone, I could have gotten more work done sleeping.

Despite the fact that that issue was fairly light, I had to stick around until 2am. Sigh. After forty-five minutes of break, I slogged back to my room in the biting cold and continued to work on my essay. At 3am, in commemoration of reaching the 24-hour mark, I had only my second cup of the not-so-Moroccan mint tea. I was fairly happy with my progress around 6am, so, unwilling to see another sunrise, I went to sleep after 27 consecutive hours awake. Believe it or not, I had to be up at 8:30am ahead of a 9am tour. I volunteered to take the tour a few weeks earlier thinking I'd be finished with this paper well before Friday morning.

And therein lies the recurring problem: foresight. Indeed, I thought I was close enough to finished with the essay to complete it in the two hours between the end of the tour and my target completion time of 12pm (when I needed to leave for the airport); in reality, I ended up leaving closer to 12:45pm. When I arrived at the airport check-in desk twenty minutes before my flight, the agent initially refused to give me the boarding pass, saying I was too late. I briefly argued with her (noting technical difficulties with their website and a previous call to the airline), and she eventually caved in: "Alright," she said, "I'll print it out for you, but there's no way you're going to make that flight." Thought myself, Challenge accepted...

I made it.

Comments (Closed after 30 days to reduce spam)

Such a harsh entry! It was Awesome.

I hope you find time for visiting Islamic architecture in Iran and especially Isfahan.

Good luck with you.

Posted by: Observer on December 11, 2010

epic

Posted by: Ovid on December 11, 2010

What comic were you reading? Sounds like my kind of writer.

Posted by: Sam on December 11, 2010

Your writing abilities are awe-inspiring. Please keep entries like that coming.

Posted by: Sandro Rodrigues on December 11, 2010

@Sam He was most likely referencing the 'challenge accepted' meme within rage comics (started by 4chan and adopted by reddit within the subreddit f7u12).

why am I responding to this? I should be studying for finals ._. /procrastination

Posted by: sgibson '13 on December 11, 2010

Ah, reddit, the vane of all productivity and homework...

Posted by: David on December 11, 2010

Yes, sgibson is correct. I saw the comic via Reddit; if I remembered the URL, I probably would have linked to it.

@Sandro, Observer: Thanks for the compliments!

Posted by: Elijah '11 on December 11, 2010

I've never heard of reddit until now. Officially addicted to it now
Thanks for wasting my life.... i was such a happy kid :(

Posted by: zuney on December 12, 2010

This is, by far, the best blog I have read on this website. Unfortunately, it reminds me of my admissions application process. Once again, we move on, with intentions of doing it better next time.

Posted by: Aaron W. on December 12, 2010

"Challenge Accepted"!!

Seriously Elijah! If MIT could add more hours in a day, then that would be Super cool... Super Awesome... and morevoer, Super Reddit!!!!!

Posted by: Gaurav on December 12, 2010

wow, this reminds me more and more how much I want to go to MIT. I would fit right in with all of the procrastinators, ahhaa. I'm pretty sure that "challenge accepted!" is my motto.

Posted by: Jaaron on December 12, 2010

@jaaron. You said everything running on my mind right now. Me too. Challenge Accepted

Posted by: Arvind on December 16, 2010

Wow, I read a lot of these blogs but I really loved this one. I feel so reassured that there are people at MIT that function *exactly* like me academically! hahaha, enjoy your trip, man. Good read.

Posted by: Michaelwiggins on December 19, 2010

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