There you are, cleaning your bathroom like a maniac when you really should be working on that paper with a deadline next week. Yet, it seems impossible to write while your bathroom is still a mess, you just can’t, right? Right?
Procrastination. As Wikipedia states; procrastination is “the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished by a certain deadline”. It is a common trait, and we all do it, especially in academia.
But what can you do about it? How do you get into that superfocused ‘writing-mode’?
There are a couple of tricks that may help get you back on track with your thesis, article, abstract, or proposal writing.
First of all, you need to be prepared to start. Maybe you are not. When you begin writing, you need to have done the research that allows you to actually start writing without having to stop every 2 minutes to dive into various papers, your data, etc. Make sure to do that first, because as soon as you get distracted by looking up that one paper, you are bound to fall into the trap of looking up another, and another, and another article. When you are ready to start, actually start without opening anything else, and just write.
The Task is Too Big to Finish
Often a trigger for procrastination is the sheer amount of work. You look at the task ahead of you, and the enormity of it simply seems too much. That is fair. It is a lot of work, and it is not just writing you’re dealing with, you also have to research, review the literature, look up the specifics of that reagent you used, etc. All these things are a perfect ground to get distracted and end up in this spiral of distraction.
So what can you do about that? Any massive task can be split into subtasks. The bigger the project, the longer the list of tasks. Write them down and have them in front of you. Then start without thinking about this massive thing you need to finish. Think about that one small task that you can complete right now. Once you have typed your way through some paragraphs, reward yourself. You typed another 500 words, well there you go, you get to eat that chocolate bar or have that glass of wine, or go crazy on that all-you-can-eat sushi buffet, you deserve it!
The Ultimate Cure for Procrastination
In the end, the only real cure for procrastination is the deadline. I have yet to meet the first person that is actually good with deadlines, and have all their work done well in advance. Academia is full of people that can only work right before the deadline.
Whether it is a short abstract, a paper, a grant, or an entire thesis, the chunk of the work will be done right before the deadline. Because that is when THE FEAR kicks in. “Oh boy, how on earth am I going to finish this??” And suddenly you can set yourself up to do great work.
That is fine to a certain extent, but when it comes to enormous tasks, such as a thesis, the fear may just kick in too late. When you have to write so many components all at once, you are setting yourself up for wild panic attacks that will stop you from being productive. So don’t fall into that trap. Create ‘in-between’ deadlines for yourself. If you are honest and strict with yourself, set them up with yourself.
However, that will probably not work for most of us, so getting others involved is your best bet. A first good option here is your supervisor. Who else creates more fear of failure than them? If they are willing to review your work in early stages, give you feedback, and hold you to that deadline, go for it. If not, find a friend, a colleague, just ask around. You might be surprised how many people you can find around you that actually enjoy proofreading your work. Others might just love the power they get over you with this threatening deadline. If needed, make a bet or some other deal with them. Whatever it takes for it to be a serious business for you, do it.
You will finish, you will get through it, and yes you can beat procrastination. Just allow yourself a bit of it for those little bursts of creativity, and of course, so you get your laundry done.