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Strategies for the Procrastination Battle

Do you ever feel like you are your own parent? During my first year of graduate school, I had the distinct feeling that I was growing a kind of internal parent (or superego?) in my mind who was disciplining me and keeping me on track. "Turn that TV off!", "You can't go out tonight unless you finish that assignment first," and other admonitions often echoed through my mind. Not being one to talk to myself usually, I found this rather odd. But I was glad that I was able to pull myself back from procrastination at times when I could tell I was intimidated by the level of work I was expected to do. I think procrastination is often something we do to avoid dealing with an anxiety-producing task, but there are ways we can push through our fears to achieve greatness.

No one checks up on you or structures your time for you in graduate school, and also in college to some extent. For me, this was no problem in college somehow, but in graduate school, I found myself feeling like I was floundering a bit and not doing my best work. In order to improve my effort, the internal parent I had grown in my head came up with some self-motivation and time management strategies, which I would like to share here.

First, find out what it is that is making you anxious or what is blocking you from getting stuff done. Joan Bolker, in the wonderful book How to Write Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day, recommends keeping a journal in which you start every day by writing about what you want to do that day. Often you will find that the next thing to flow from your pen is the reason why you don't want to do it, i.e. the aspect of it that you find difficult or scary. Just identifying this can make it seem less scary, or can help you brainstorm ways to get help with it or solve the problem.

Second, set easy goals and give yourself rewards. Usually the goal should not be "finish the assignment," but rather some smaller part of the project, like "gather materials," "write an outline," "draft 4 pages," etc. Rewards can be things like lunch with a friend, going out for the evening, watching a movie, playing a round of your favorite game, etc. If you don't meet your goal, you don't get your reward! Practice makes your inner parent grow stronger and more strict! Actually, one of the best goals for me was getting to check my email. I would say "No internet in the morning until you have worked for half an hour." It is so easy to log into cyberspace and let hours go by before you open your homework. This strategy circumvents this problem.

For me, the best goal sometimes was just an amount of time I would spend working on a project. For example, I would say "today I will work on my paper for 5 hours," or "This week I will spend 40 hours on my dissertation." As we discussed in my last post, time on task is not always sufficient, but it is usually necessary, and tracking your time with a timesheet is a great way to become aware of how much you are procrastinating.

I wish I didn't need these strategies, but I do, and I have a feeling others do, too. Let me know if this was helpful, and good luck in all of your endeavors!