procrastination is the thief of time

Most of my academic life has been blighted by my own tendency to procrastinate. And there is nothing worse for an expert procrastinator that FACEBOOK! Admittedly only a bad workman blames his tools, and I know that Facebook was making me a very bad workman. So – I took a very drastic step a couple of weeks ago and cut off my right arm deactivated my account. Initially I was so busy trying to write a conference paper that I really didn’t notice. I had hit ‘the research zone’  – that magical place where you eat, drink and sleep your ideas until they begin to formulate themselves into a coherent argument.

But then the editing stage began. I’d had the ideas, I’d written several drafts, I had a fairly complete piece of work, but it needed the polish to finish it off. And I reached for my crutch when faced with a task I find laborious – Facebook! Only it wasn’t there!

And a good job too. It meant I had to face the reality of actually getting on with the job in hand! As a result I finished a fairily decent paper within a much shorter space of time than I would normally need, because I didn’t have to factor in the incalculable hours I spent ‘checking’ my online accounts!

I am not saying anything new here – procrastination is everyone’s friend when it comes to getting on with it. So how do we create a situation whereby we can keep this urge at bay?

These are strategies that work well for me.

  1. Set yourself daily realistic goals: A short list of things that you know you can achieve.
  2. Work in relatively short bursts: I found myself sitting for hours plugging away trying to write or read. Now I allow myself 45 minutes to an hour and then I force myself to take a 15 minute break. I make a cup of tea, I walk about, I catch up on emails/texts. It refreshes me and helps me digest what I have been trying to absorb.
  3. A dedicated workspace: I am still dreaming of the log cabin in the mountains with just me and the whirr of my laptop, a glass of chilled pinot grigio to one side and a plate of antipasti on the other as I delicately pick out the bones of my thesis. But, I may as well face it: It ain’t gonna happen!  But I can clear a space that is just for work! Make it pleasant and just for me.
  4. Turn off distractions: Unplug phones and log off websites. It takes guts sometimes especially for academics who work in an isolating environment, but you can allow yourself reconnection time during your breaks or at the end of the morning or afternoon sessions. Just because you can reply instantly doesn’t mean you should! 
  5. Plan ahead: When you wind up for the night take ten minutes to schedule your goals for the following day! It means you can get straight on with them, rather than using the planning as a way of procrastinating.
  6. Keep life simple: There are endless ways of making life ‘easier’. I think this is a really misleading way of viewing the world. Phone Apps, online apps, electronic organisers, kindles, etc etc etc all demand time. The more linear you can be the less time you will spend checking or modifying your different applications. Work out if your methodology is really the most productive one you can follow, and if not what needs to change? I’ve just discovered Scrivener, but I have to analyse whether the time it takes for me to familiarise myself with it is actually time worth spending. Will it really enhance my life exponentially, or will it just provide me with yet another ‘tool’ to play with?
  7. Flexible Approach: Spend one morning a week looking back and forward. Assess what was good about the past 7 days and then try to make sure the next seven capitalises on that. Don’t be afraid to change things that you know are not enhancing your working life.
  8. Schedule Treats: Every couple of days or so go out, make time and see people. Do something you enjoy. Or work in a coffee shop of pub for the day … a change is as good as a rest.

The internet is a marvellous tool for researchers and procrastinators alike. But don’t be a bad workman and blame it for not getting the job done. It is a tool and how you use it is up to you! I’ve been off Facebook now for nearly three weeks and even though I miss the contact with friends near and far I feel I really should remain offline. Or maybe develop an out of office hours policy that will allow me to stay in control. Hmmmmm ….

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4 thoughts on “Procrastination

  1. Facebook & Twitter are a crutch for me too. If I have an idea it was’I’ll just look quickly ‘ …an hour later I realised I’d lost the tread of that idea. So I too logged off. The trouble is, I have made contacts via FB. I want to stop my FB account because of all the recent changes, yet can’t because I connect with friends (real), academic networks, libraries etc. Once in its hooks there seems to be no way out! Very clever system – it makes itself indispensible!

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