Before anyone says anything I do get that it’s ironic writing about procrastination, rather than getting on with the task in hand. However, there is real value in understanding procrastination
Earlier this summer my work went something like this: reading journal articles – fine, making notes – fine, planning -fine , mind maps -fine, thinking about things -fine, meeting people for lunch excellent, writing actual words – not so good.
A typical morning would be boot up the computer, open my note book and try to write a paragraph of my response to some new literature. I’d stare at the screen for about 25 minutes without typing and tackle it head on by looking up a recipe for soap. Soap for everyone for Christmas, hurrah! Perhaps I’ll become an aroma-therapist. Look at watch, time for a mug of tea, mmm the kitchen needs a wipe…here we go.
My problem(s) FEAR & LOATHING. I’m afraid. I’m really afraid. This will never be over and there’ll be more recommendations, more changes. The examiner will hate me. I can’t write. It’s never going to be over, not now, not then, no never. Hmm I think I’ll bleach my tea spoons.
A v quick bit of online research suggests that procrastination is often rooted in fear of failure. There is a useful handout at the writing centre all about it. Also I came across a person who claims they procrastinated over their thesis for two decades and reading their story made me feel better about myself I have to say
According to the usefull handout I’m guilty of at least 3 of the most commone pro-cras strategies
- Substitute something important for something really important? (For example, cleaning instead of writing your paper = very clean teaspoons)
- Let a short break become a long one, or an evening in which you do no work at all? (For example, claiming that you are going to watch TV for ½ hour, then watching it all night = watching an entire series of Gossip Girl in 48 hours..perhaps Chuck Bass might ‘arrange’ me a docturate sigh).
- Spend too much time researching or choosing a topic (= I have read everything ever, I’m not kidding. I’m now at the point where I’m ordering unpublished manucripts from the 19th Century from obscure libraries).
Does any of this sound familiar? Sadly I think it may. The is at least one PhD & procrastination group on facebook with over 500 members. The latest news feed says “fffuuuuuuuck i hate my thesis” ( apologies for bad language these words are not my own). There’s even a forum.
The good news is there’s lots of tips out there for tackling pro-cras. 50 tips here and some nice Zen habits here. Common tips are chop up tasks into mini ones, make mini deadlines, make deadlines public, schedule a reward, have a routine, banish distractions. Also a really fascinating article about the science of pro-cras with some handy hints about building up stamina and will power to get things done in the same way one would train for a physical task like a marathon; the article suggests
you must treat your daily work like a competitive athletic event. Your self-control is a muscle. If you don’t tend to it through rigorous training and careful schedules of use, you’ll perform well below your potential..
There’s immense value to be found in trying to understand procrastination and getting to the bottom of why you’re prone to thinking in a certain way, IMHO is the 1st step to getting going. Realising that I do what I do, because I’m frightened has been liberating and now when I’ve a morning which starts badly I can label my thoughts and say to myself “I’m procrastinating”. In doing so, for me it seems to now stop it in it’s tracks. There is a really good talk at audio dharma on thinking which explains this technique and can help with lots of other things and noisy thoughts. The speaker talks about how our absorption in our thoughts pulls us away from being present and how we create an adversarial relationship with our thoughts. It suggests you work with what’s going on rather than resist it. It’s been a big help to me.
Look. Clean teaspoons!
Mini deadline and rewards don’t work for me. I miss the deadline and then give myself the reward anyway, because I’m nice and I deserve it. What has helped , is adopting the Pomodoro technique.
The author says…
I found myself in a slump, a time of low productivity and high confusion. Every day I went to school, attended classes, studied and went back home with the disheartened feeling that I didn’t really knowwhat I’d been doing, that I’d been wasting my time
It’s based on the idea of tackling tasks for 25 minutes at a time. You’ll notice a difference in your work and productivity almost immediately. You can down load a free booklet to get started that takes 25 minutes to read. Or even better, there’s a quick crib sheet to get you started.
Once again best of luck. Procrastination is a horrible horrible state of being. Be nice to yourself, don’t judge yourself. if you’re in it, just notice it – it’s the first step to moving forward. Good Luck!