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Academics - how to stop being a procrastinator?

(50 Posts)
CityDweller Thu 02-Jul-15 15:51:05

I'm a terrible procrastinator, always have been. But it's really becoming an issue. I'm 25 wks pregnant with DC2 and have a shit load to do before the baby comes, including finishing publications that had deadlines months and months ago.

The internet is my biggest vice. I've tried those site-blocking apps (wastenotime, etc) but they only work up to a point (they're too easy to bypass) and I can't completely switch off the internet as I need it to access legitimate research things online, such as libraries and journals.

Historically, the only things that have really got me working efficiently are fear (e.g. while I was a postgrad student - so much work, very clever peers) and rock-solid deadlines (e.g. PhD and book manuscript submissions). Alas they rarely works anymore as I've long since realised that deadlines are not in any way fixed sad and that there's nothing much to fear anymore (I'm in a permanent post, at a decent uni). Typically I work in fits and bursts of nothing for ages and then frenzied periods of activity to get something done. Ideally I'd like to work in a more consistent, 'chip away a little bit a day' at things rather than my usual tactic of writing a chapter or article in 4 panicky days

Help me! (Although I'm not sure why I'm asking you, cos if you're on MN you're clearly as bad as me grin)

CityDweller Thu 02-Jul-15 15:53:16

God, learning how to write might help too

they rarely work

lljkk Thu 02-Jul-15 15:59:53

Why do you like being an academic? Which are the bits you don't procrastinate on?

It's hard when pg, though, hormones take over your mind.

CityDweller Thu 02-Jul-15 16:31:55

Good question. I don't procrastinate on the easy/boring things (eg short admin tasks) even though this is the part I enjoy the least. The two things I ostensibly enjoy the most (research and teaching) are the ones I procrastinate on.

So I don't think it's to do with enjoyment or satisfaction, per se, more that I'm drawn to the path of least resistance basically I think I'm lazy

ElectraCute Thu 02-Jul-15 16:40:10

I'm watching this with interest as I am EXACTLY the same.

I currently have two book chapters outstanding, a paper half-written that I should've submitted months ago, and another paper completely unwritten and due for submission in 3 weeks, plus a malevolent-looking pile of marking.

The only thing I have found works in any way at all is fear, and to a lesser extent, writing with pomodoros, which helps a bit with focus.

But mainly fear.

ElectraCute Thu 02-Jul-15 16:41:54

And yy, give me a tedious but straightforward bit of admin and I'm all over it. But something that is actually necessary and even interesting....pfffft!

lljkk Thu 02-Jul-15 17:02:41

What are you actually doing with your time instead of finishing the research/papers? Could you schedule time in your diary to have a blitz on the low priority stuff on specific days (say, Mondays & thurs), and block out your time on other days for research/writing, with 2 hours devoted say every day 3-5pm on anything truly urgent.

So that way, every day you do some of the urgent stuff, twice a week you do the admin, and the other days you give yourself devoted time for doing research.

Might have to adjust for teaching, supervision, brown-nosing, presenting, etc.

CityDweller Thu 02-Jul-15 19:07:25

What am I doing with my time? Pointless Internet browsing (on here, for eg). 'Researching' lots of irrelevant hypothetical things not related to work (eg areas to move to). General time wasting basically. It's even more annoying because I don't even procrastinate productively (as in, it's not like I'm reading improving fiction or cleaning the flat).

I'm a wastrel blush

lljkk Thu 02-Jul-15 19:19:16

If I get tempted to MN while at work, I know it's time to go home. Or for a walk, at least!

AliceInSandwichLand Thu 02-Jul-15 20:58:13

The stuff you don't procrastinate on is very short. Is there any way you can break down the bigger tasks into sufficiently short sections as to seem like separate smaller ones? e.g. - 'read that one paper', 'write the next two sentences'. I sometimes find it motivational to write to do lists that have bigger tasks broken down to a foolish degree, so that I have more boxes to tick. Only sometimes, though. The brain gets used to all these tricks IME, and then you have to find new ones ;)

CityDweller Thu 02-Jul-15 21:14:46

lijkk I work from home a lot anyway! And I never allow myself to procrastinate in a useful way (e.g. going for a walk) because my brain says 'must stay at computer because I'm "working"'

Alice, yes breaking down into smaller tasks does make it more manageable and is a good idea. In general I tend to do that, but my brain has wised up to the trick and it can tell the difference between easy and short (i.e. admin stuff) and hard and short (e.g. writing a paragraph). It's no fool, even if I am...

CityDweller Thu 02-Jul-15 21:16:57

Electra I'm glad I'm not the only one. My to-do list is very similar to yours.

I don't know about pomodoros - will google that (more procrastinating!)

Themoonornot Thu 02-Jul-15 21:22:47

Do you really enjoy research / teaching? Intrinsically?

CityDweller Thu 02-Jul-15 21:29:00

Yes, I think I do enjoy it. As in, when I'm in the flow of writing, I love that feeling of things crystallising on the page and an argument coming together. Teaching, yes I do mostly enjoy that to.

But it's all the work involved that I don't like. The more I think about this, the more I think it is just a laziness thing. I've realised over the years the minimum amount of time required to write a lecture/ article/ book and therefore that's the amount of time I put in. I've also learned that deadlines are completely flexible. I wish they weren't as rock-solid deadlines do get me working efficiently.

So the issue is partly that I waste time, etc. But it's also that I know I could raise my game across the board if I just worked harder/ more. I'm basically coasting at the moment. Whereas there was once a time when I was super motivated and pushed myself to improve all the time.

lljkk Thu 02-Jul-15 21:42:07

Why were you super motivated before but not now?

Working from home sucks, I can't focus when I'm at home, at all. Honestly, I'm out in the garden, petting the cat, worrying about the laundry...

Could you become more self-disciplined, in a way that suits you?
Like blocking in 1 hour to work on x project and nothing else. Your reward is to then take an hour to deal with minor stuff or whatever else is easier.

I keep documents that say what I need to do and what I've done on each project, and that way I get a bit done each way, and when I have to pick it up again after a spell, I can look over my notes to see where I got to. Then I have a master document (a repeat entry in my outlook calendar, every Monday or Friday) that is has many one liners about roughly where i am with each project area, and maybe the name & location of the progress document for each area.

I couldn't stay motivated if I wasn't organised about all the different areas.

CityDweller Thu 02-Jul-15 22:53:00

Working from home isn't an issue for me. I wrote my PhD at home. I wrote a book at home. So that's not the problem.

But yes, I can (I will!) become more self-disciplined. I like the idea of working in focused blocks. In fact, this sounds much like the pomodoro method, which I've just been reading up on.

And being organised helps. I think it was easier, in a way, to do my PhD or book because I was only doing one thing, so I always knew where I was at and what needed to be done. At the moment, I've got tons of things on the boil at once and it takes me a while to get back up to speed when I pick each one up. I've adopted various new organisational strategies this year (a to-do app, using Scrivener to write and keep everything to do with one project in one place), but what I don't have is the kind of project-specific master document you mention. I could easily add one to my scrivener file for each project and keep tabs that way.

In fact, I think you might have nailed one of the cruxes of the issue. It takes me too long to get back up to speed with a larger task/ project so I inevitably don't bother if I have anything less than two or three days to dedicate to something. And as I rarely get that sort of time anymore, I end up not tackling the big tasks.

Hmm - thanks! I think I already knew this was an issue, but haven't yet come up with a strategy for how to be productive in the shortish amounts of time I have.

CityDweller Thu 02-Jul-15 22:56:02

Oh, and in my periods of being super-motivated on research, for example, it was because it was the only thing I had going on at the time (e.g. as a postgrad student) and was surrounded by motivated, clever people who all pushed me to work hard. And the deadlines were rock-solid.

Now there's just more to juggle/ distract me (kids, the various different elements of an academic job, life, etc).

ReallyNotAMorningPerson Thu 02-Jul-15 23:09:24

CityDweller - are you me?

I am Exactly. The. Same.

It's exhausting.

When not procrastinating, I spend most of my time berating myself. I am absolutely astounded by how inefficient I am.

I actually thought I might have ADD at one point.

And I know OP enjoys the work, because that's how I feel. I enjoy it but can't quite bloomin' get myself to do it.

(Most work achieved in short hyperactive bursts when the right cosmic stars are aligned -
ie. rarely.)

Can someone please elaborate on how this master document might work?

It sounds like I need one!

lljkk Fri 03-Jul-15 09:35:54

Friend says she can't be bothered to get her sewing machine out if she has less than 2 hours for using it. Completely daft. It's same thing as you say, getting into the job is such a big mind shift.

Good luck!

CityDweller Fri 03-Jul-15 19:19:05

OMG - I just tried out the 'pomodoro' thingie today and it really worked. Not only did I work more, but I was more productive in that time. Today - I shortlisted from 67 candidates for a post we advertised. I read and took notes on two sources for a research project and I did some tedious copy editing.

The shortlisting in particular I think would have taken me a lot longer if I hadn't used pomodoro. And it also made me realise what a short attention span I have when it comes to reading/ taking notes.

Electra and Really I highly recommend it. Especially for that ugly pile of marking Electra. I'm terrible at allowing marking to take up far much more time than it should - I think using pomodoro would help me be much more efficient on tasks like that.

Sorry to sound evangelical! I didn't even download the book - I just read the quick tips in the 'how' section on the website and applied those today

CityDweller Fri 03-Jul-15 19:19:42

Oops sorry Electra just realised it was you who actually recommended it in the first place. Thanks!

ElectraCute Fri 03-Jul-15 22:49:43

That's ok; pomodoros really do work, don't they? grin It's a very simple idea but its amazing how easy it is to focus for 25 minutes - and scary how difficult it is to do without the timer ticking away!

rhetorician Fri 03-Jul-15 22:59:20

this is me as well, and I think the pattern of hyper-focus for PhD and first book followed by um, drift, is probably as you've all suggested, a consequence of having simply too many (mostly distinct) tasks each requiring different skill sets. Research already involves a high degree of multiplicity - collating multiple sources/texts/results etc and I think breaking it all down into smaller units is helpful. But it's part of the job to move constantly between detail and the larger picture, and I find it really hard to keep focus on the reality of what I'm doing instead of day-dreaming about the ideal article (which I never manage to write). Off to google pomodoro...grin wink

BlueMoonRoses Sat 04-Jul-15 08:49:36

I am a bit like this. easily distracted. interested in lots of things, possibilities, hypothetical stuff. will look into pomodoro but I need to find a way to park the random musings that pop into my head and so I have a random thoughts notebook to park and follow up thoughts - you know like " I wonder how much a two bed flat in Edinburgh is..." I DO NOT NEED TO KNOW THIS! But I will still go on rightmove to check. It's a curiosity thing borne of being a learner/nosy parker I think.

rhetorician Sat 04-Jul-15 12:24:37

bluemoon yes I am the queen of accumulating random information, much of which does eventually come in useful. I'm just interested in (almost) everything

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