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MIT student blogger Lydia K. '14, MEng '16

Planned Procrastination by Lydia K. '14, MEng '16

Productive Punting

Today, I will p-set. Really.

I wake up at 7 am. I shower. I try on four different outfits before deciding which combination of shorts and baggy t-shirt to p-set in. I sort my pile of clean laundry. I sort my pile of dirty laundry.

I print out my p-sets for the week. While I’m at it I print out past exams for my next three organic chemistry and genetics exams. I’ll need them eventually, right?

I put on socks. I realize I’m running out of socks. I spend an hour picking out socks on the Internet. I buy socks.

I should eat breakfast. I put away the clean dishes from the dishwasher. I can’t find my dishes. I run around Random Hall sequestering dishes. I find my dishes. I make cookies and send an email to the dorm about free cookies. I talk to people. I eat a cookie.


punt(1) v.t. To determine after analytical deliberation not to do something, said of something often academic in nature. (2) v.i. To be in the process of not doing something.

(definition from How To Get Around MIT)


Which brings us to my third semester class schedule:



My Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons and evenings are free. My Tuesdays are hectic. My Thursdays are almost completely empty. My p-sets are due Friday.

For the first few weeks of term, I prioritized my p-sets above everything else. I didn’t go to lab or blog or volunteer until my p-sets were done. My p-sets expanded to fill the time I gave them: all the time I had. As a result, when Thursday rolled around I still was not done with my p-sets. Furthermore, I hadn’t blogged, shown up to lab, or spent much time with friends. I felt guilty about getting nowhere in lab, I felt guilty about not blogging, and I felt guilty about not being done with my p-sets. I did not feel like I had accomplished much during the week. I did feel burned out.

MIT is about optimization. You have limited time and energy; the biggest challenge here is deciding what to do with it.

I learned during my first year at MIT that some variables are set: in order to be happy I must sleep for at least 4 hours and 44 minutes a night and allocate several hours a day to socializing, keeping my room clean, exercising, and buying, cooking, and eating food. (I imagine food is less of an issue if you live in a dorm with a dining plan, but I don’t. On the bright side I get to eat latkes with sauerkraut whenever I want latkes with sauerkraut.)

Then there are those things you need to do, because they are ostensibly what you’re here to do: go to class, slog through p-sets, write essays, and study for exams (or not, if you pick the right major).

Finally, there are the things you want to do outside of classes. In my case, I want to blog, I want to do research, and I want to volunteer with my APO friends.



The more time you spend on your classes, the better your grades will be. But at some point the improvement becomes miniscule compared to the happiness you give up to achieve it. This is where it stops being worth it.

I’ve come to understand that the things I want to do are just as important as the things I need to do. The goal at MIT, I think, is to pursue both without letting either one—or your emotional or physical health—slip away. This is time management.

And this is why I have consciously, “after analytical deliberation,” decided to punt my p-sets until the day before they’re due, every week for the rest of term. In my new system, I skim my p-sets when I print them out over the weekend, and then I ignore them. If something rings a bell during lecture, I do the corresponding p-set problem. Otherwise, I leave my p-sets alone until Thursday. This frees me to spend Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in lab, and blog whenever the inspiration hits. If I’m not burned out, the inspiration should hit often.


(This is an inspirational cow.)


19 responses to “Planned Procrastination”

  1. Sachi says:

    “The more time you spend on your classes, the better your grades will be. But at some point the improvement becomes miniscule compared to the happiness you give up to achieve it. This is where it stops being worth it.”

    I realized this after three years of high school were over! But nonetheless, it has made me happier. Great post! =)

  2. Chris Ong ('16)? says:

    What if you don’t finish the p-set? :O

    That’s seriously the best cow drawing I’ve ever seen :D Somehow I find it sensible and realistic for a cow to be eating fish…raspberry It lives among the bears that fish for salmon.

  3. @{Unregistered} (^16?): Yes! The Internets agree with you: That is why the cow is so inspirational.

    (But actually, I’m sure some dairy cows have fish in their food and haven’t noticed.)

    @Raj, Sachi, Chris: I have three p-sets every week: genetics, o-chem, and math. So far I’ve been able to finish o-chem p-sets almost entirely during or right after lectures covering the material. Organic chemistry p-sets are usually very straightforward. They’re also worth I think 4% of the final grade. Total. (Usually p-sets are worth 1-3% *each.*) Which gives you an idea of how straightforward they are.

    Genetics p-sets are usually also straightforward but long. Lately they’ve involved lengthy yeast experiment simulations. Math p-sets have varied from sort of hard to so hard I’ve been unable to do a single problem until after getting through all the class material for the week. I’m usually pretty time pressured on math p-sets, but those are the ones that seem to go a lot faster when I am time pressured, with almost the same result.

    If I actually start Thursday morning I can finish all my p-sets and get plenty of sleep no problem. (Unfortunately my Thursdays sometimes look more like the beginning of this blog post; then I finish my p-sets but don’t get enough sleep.)

    Thank you, everyone, for the comments and the compliments. =)

  4. Pete says:

    This is exactly how I feel, and how I felt when I read the first part of this blog.

  5. Hahaha :D
    Now that was humorous! Does putting off the p-sets till Thursday work all the time? What if you get stuck on a certain problem?

  6. {Unregistered} (^16?) says:

    Huh… do know that cows don’t eat fish, right?

  7. Having Thursdays off is absolutely phenomenal. In a semester or two you, too, will hopefully have such control over your schedule. My first semester schedule was considerably uglier than my current schedule: 7.012 10-11 am, awkward lunch break, 5.11 12-1pm, awkward lunch break, 8.01 3-5 pm.

    I’m not very good at making good use of awkward lunch breaks (5-7 pm on Tuesdays for me, I guess =p ). I usually spend them on email and sometimes blogging. It’s awesome that you’re able to be more productive.

    I’ve found that time for myself tends to sneak into my day regardless of whether or not I schedule it. I feel less guilty if I just accept it.

  8. and by 5.11 I mean 5.111. I totally know what classes I took freshman year. Oops. =p

  9. Anthony L. '15 says:

    Having an off day devoted to psets… that seems so nice.

    All but one of my psets are due Friday too (the one being 8.01, which is straightforward), but I actually have classes on Thursday, so what usually happens is that 80% of my psetting gets done between 7pm and 5am on Thursday. This isn’t healthy, so I’m actually trying to tend toward the opposite, making use of leftover time that isn’t useful for anything else (like my awkward 11-1 lunch breaks nearly every day).

    But reserving time for yourself is definitely a good idea. I still need to work on that.

  10. Oh man! I actually almost linked to that in this post. Yes. An excellent video. :D

  11. That’s pretty cool! But is Genetics and stuff a part of the GIRs? Or have you already declared your major?

  12. Thanks! None of my classes are GIRs, though the writing classes do count toward the HASS requirement (8 humanities, arts, and social science classes).

    Being a sophomore I got to declare my first major (6-7, computer science and molecular biology) at the end of last semester. I will declare 21W (science writing) as a second major next semester.

  13. The REST requirement is covered in my major requirements: math for computer science and either differential equations or linear algebra. I’ll be taking all three.

    I wouldn’t say that MIT actually forces you to learn to swim. In order to graduate you need to either pass the swim test (swim a few laps and tread water for 10 minutes) or take a swimming class. It’s entirely possible that you could take the swim test and still not know how to swim. I have no idea what they do with you then.

  14. Ah! I’m sure you people are so innovative that one or the other person will soon find a way to do that with some device :D

  15. Oops. I meant it’s entirely possible that you could take the swim test, fail, take the swim class, and still not know how to swim. I should really learn to not say things on the Internet when I have a fever.

  16. Hahaha :D

    And don’t forget to get well soon! :p

    Hope it’s not the schedule that is taking its toll on you. Especially the procrastination!

  17. I just read the course catalog and was totally WOWED!! I have dropped biology this year and have taken Geology in my high school. If I make it, looks like I will have to brush up big time raspberry

    Also, is it that by the time every student leaves MIT, they learn to swim if they don’t know it? Now that’s exciting!

    What courses did you choose for your RESTs?

  18. José('17?) says:

    I just loved this sentence “I’ve come to understand that the things I want to do are just as important as the things I need to do. The goal at MIT, I think, is to pursue both without letting either one—or your emotional or physical health—slip away. This is time management.”
    And the cow

  19. Sami says:

    I’m procrastinating right now…haha