11 January 2016 | 6 mins

I am the worst person in the world when it comes to procrastination. Combined with a short attention span, it’s a wonder I ever get anything done. Even right now, I have Netflix playing in the background, and I’ve rewritten this sentence three times already because I can’t concentrate without looking up every five seconds. Damn.

After years of knowing how bad my procrastination was, and trying to improve my attention span, I realised that this was an issue I was never going to solve. I’m a procrastinator at heart; I can’t change such a fundamental aspect of myself. However, what I DID do was work on my self-discipline and motivation, which in turn masked my procrastination enough that I could get by.


I never had to work on myself as a child; without sounding too conceited, I never had to study in school, everything came naturally to me. I would maybe look over the material the night before an exam for an hour or so, but nothing like what the more dedicated students would do. I coasted along like this until I was 16, GCSE’s finished, and I started my A-Levels.

I remember my old Chemistry teacher telling us, while we were choosing our options for A-Level, that the gap between GCSE and A-Level was the biggest jump we would make. Bigger than A-Level to undergraduate, bigger than undergraduate to postgraduate, if we chose to go that far. “Pssh” I thought, “I haven’t had to do anything to get by thus far, there’s no way it will change THAT much…” But, he was right. I went from a straight-A student to mediocre and average more or less overnight, because I now had to work for my grades. I couldn’t just phone them in anymore.

At the time, I told myself that it didn’t matter. As long as I got the grades I needed to get into University, nobody would look at my A-Level results after that. Which is kind of true, but it wasn’t the reason my grades fell, it was solely because I had never developed the skills to revise and learn material on my own time. I scraped through AS-Level by the skin of my teeth, and it became a real possibility that I wasn’t going to make the grades to get into University.

I’d love to say that I pulled myself up by my bootlaces that summer, got my head down to work and aced all of my exams, but I didn’t. I still spent most of my free periods playing football in the park across from the school instead of in the library studying (I have a strange aversion to libraries. The first time I went into a library at university was two weeks before I handed in my dissertation, and even that was just to get some quotes that weren’t from Google Scholar.) But, even so, I devised a revision plan for my exams (more than revising the night before), stuck to it semi-religiously, and eventually came out with grades that weren’t terrible.

Results and reflection

My A in IT was pretty much a given by March as I was practically teaching the class by that point (sorry, that’s my conceited streak coming through again!), but Maths and Chemistry were a different story. Oddly enough, I got exactly the same grade in both, but one made me a massive disappointment to my teachers, and the other was pleasantly surprised. In Maths, as I’d historically done well, and done well in the practicals and coursework, I was expected to be a borderline A/B student. In Chemistry on the other hand, despite doing reasonably well in the practicals, the smaller class size betrayed my actual lack of knowledge. I was predicted to get a D.

On results day, I got C’s in both subjects (scraped a C in Chemistry, and close to the B-grade borderline in Maths). Newcastle University, by virtue of me completing their PARTNERS program, were more than happy to accept this (I received a lower entrance offer of CCC, which I exceeded with my ACC), and externally I was stubbornly happy. Internally though, I knew I had the capacity to do more. I knew that, had I not wasted my free hours, had I not procrastinated away the previous two years, I could have easily attained much more.

Beyond School

So, what next? University. Have you spotted the trend yet? Actually, in my first year I did pretty well. Terrified by the fact that I hadn’t heeded the warning about A-Levels, I actually got my head down (more than before, not as much as I should have though) and worked to get first-class marks for my first year. Shame Newcastle don’t care about your first year results at all (no, I’m not bitter at all. Honest.)

Second year I regressed. I moved out for the first time, spent and wasted way more money than I want to think about right now. I didn’t study like I should have done, way less than I did in first year, complacency had set in. I bombed a few exams, and scraped through with a low 2:1 for my second year results. Damn. This meant that it would be all but impossible to get a first for my degree (the Newcastle University CS department calculate your final grade as the mean of your 2nd and 3rd year results). So I’d need a 20% swing for my third year results.

That was a disappointing time for me. I moved to Edinburgh that summer to work on my industrial placement year at CGI, and I told myself, not for the first or last time, that I needed to get my head down and work hard. And I did, partly out of necessity as I wanted them to offer me a job at the end of my placement, and partly because I knew I wasn’t a kid anymore, and it was going to have to happen sooner or later.

Since then, I’d say that I’ve definitely kept up my self-discipline for the most part. I was successful in being rehired by CGI and moving back to Edinburgh, I worked hard and came within less than 1% of achieving a first class degree last year (wait, I mean 2014. It’s been a whole calendar year since I graduated. Scary.) Particularly in the last year, I’ve taken more control over self-improvement (hey, I started this blog didn’t I?), and I can definitely see it continuing from here.

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