I have three finals this semester, all of them next week. The way I see it, I have two options: one, I can parcel out my studying, do a bit each day, and be in great shape come the day before the exam. Or, I can wait until four hours before the exam, panic, cry, run around in circles, realize there’s now only two hours left, and sit down and study.

I choose the second one, over and over. But you shouldn’t. Set a schedule, and stick to it—one of Kelly’s is a good place to start. If you fail, punish yourself. It’s weird to say, but for me punishment works better than reward, so here’s a few ways I punish myself into studying:

  • Unplug things:  if I stop studying for longer than I’m allowed, I unplug my Playstation. Next time I screw up, I unplug my stereo, By unplugging something, I can’t even use it if I want to, and not wanting to lose my Playstation for the night is pretty excellent motivation to keep going. It’s a total parenting trick, but it works pretty well on me too.
  • Don’t eat: Okay, long term, not a good idea. But there’s no better motivation than “I’m starving, but have 6 more pages I have to read.” Decide at what point you get to break for food, and don’t quit until then. One midnight lunch later, you’ll stop procrastinating.
  • Force more: This is my personal favorite tactic, actually. I decide that if I’ve read 100 pages by 5, I can quit. Otherwise, I have to read 200, regardless of how long it takes. I get the work done faster, and by making 100 not seem so bad, it feels like I’m getting off easy.
  • Time it right: Start studying at, say, 7, and you can’t go out until you finish what you’re supposed to finish. If you’re anything like me, work expands to fill the time you give it, so if you make it finite, with something you really want to do at the end, you’re going to work a whole lot more efficiently.

The trick is to create something for yourself that you either want to do even less than study, or just that you don’t want to lose for after you’re studying. Punishing yourself should only be used sparingly, but it can be hugely helpful in actually getting your nose in the book it’s trying so hard to run away from.

How do you force yourself to study?