The Last Minute

Nick V. Flor • March 20, 2017 • @ProfessorF

It’s rare to find people that complete their work way ahead of time. Let’s be honest. If you’re like most people, you do things at The Last Minute.  This is true of almost all students, and (surprisingly) teachers as well.

Now, because so many people do things at The Last Minute, I’ve invented this pithy saying that I tell all my students who cry about all the work they have to do in such a short amount of time:

Stop complaining & remember this: “If not for the last minute, nothing would get done.”

Important note: I didn’t say you’d get quality work done in the last minute, just that something would get done. And something is better than nothing.

The Last Minute allows you turn in something.

Of course, the real truth is that students ought to plan their work and work their plan ahead of time; then the last minute wouldn’t exist. But since students (& teachers) are actually bad at planning work, let’s look at some things you can do to make sure the work you do turn in at the last minute is somewhat of quality, rather than something questionable:

Think about the problem in the meantime.

If you’re not going to work on the problem until The Last Minute, at least think about it so that when you do start working you’ll have some direction and have a head start.

Breakdown your work into Tasks With Times.

For example, if you have a 1000 page paper that needs to have a thesis statement, argument, and conclusion, along with diagrams, and you have 4 hours to do it—break this up into 4 tasks (thesis, argument, conclusion, diagram), each one hour a piece.

Abandon a task once you hit its time deadline and move onto the next task.

Once you hit your task’s deadline, you have to go with whatever you have and move onto the next task. Give each task it’s due and no more. Leonardo da Vinci is reported to have said: “Art is never finished, it is merely abandoned.” So abandon once you hit the deadline.

Take heart knowing that the last minute will force you to pick a solution that’s good enough instead of wasting your time finding the optimal solution.

The law of diminishing returns says: even if you had worked way ahead of time searching for the optimal solution, at a certain point the time you spend trying to create perfection isn’t giving you a much better solution—and you were better off doing something else more valuable.

Of course, this doesn’t help if you’re doing math, where there’s usually a single correct answer, but for creative solutions with many equally good answers the last minute can be your ally.

And the final thing I want to leave you with is this:

There is no such thing as “free time.” You make time.


Any free time you have will be sucked up by some activity. No, there is no such thing as free time. You have to make time. And The Last Minute is an opportunity for you to do so.

Get to it.