Fighting Procrastination

One of the difficulties of pursuing a Ph.D. or Postdoc is that there are often some deadlines to complete the tasks such as preparing a progress report, conference presentation, journal publication, dissertation, etc. Without someone else ensuring that you are working on these tasks, it can be easy to procrastinate.

We’ve all been there: you have a big task coming up, and you know that if you start working on it early, it will be less overwhelming and you’ll be able to deliver a higher quality of work. However, you keep putting off the start date until the last minute. By that point, you’re stressed, anxious, and probably disappointed in yourself.

Procrastination is something that many people struggle with, from students, and researchers to professors and industry professionals. If left unchecked, it can significantly impact your productivity, performance, and work-life balance.

Here are some helpful strategies for overcoming procrastination and getting down to work during your Ph.D. or Postdoctoral stage.

1. Identify the root cause of your procrastination

Procrastination can have a variety of different causes, such as feeling overwhelmed by the task at hand, lack of motivation, or even fear of failure. In order to effectively combat procrastination, it’s important to identify the root cause of your procrastination so that you can come up with strategies to overcome it.

One way to identify the cause of your procrastination is to take some time to reflect on your thoughts and behaviours. Are there certain tasks or projects that you consistently put off? What do you typically do instead of working on those tasks? By understanding your patterns of procrastination, you can start to identify the underlying reasons for your behaviour.

2. Set small and achievable goals

It can be intimidating to start working on a large, vague task that seems insurmountable. One way to overcome this sense of overwhelm is to break the task down into smaller, more manageable goals.

By setting specific and achievable goals, you can make progress on the task without feeling overwhelmed, and you’ll be able to experience a sense of accomplishment as you complete each goal.

In order to set effective goals, it’s important to make sure they are SMART- specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

In other words, your goals should be clear, quantifiable, achievable, aligned with your values and priorities, and have a specific deadline. For example, rather than setting the goal of “finishing my project,” you might set the goal of “completing the research phase of my project by Friday at 5 pm.” This goal is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound, which makes it more likely that you’ll be able to achieve it.

3. Create a schedule

Having a schedule can help you stay organized and focused, and it can also help you avoid getting sidetracked by other tasks or distractions. When creating your schedule, make sure to allocate specific blocks of time for each task or project on your to-do list. This will help you stay focused and on track, and it will also help you avoid feeling overwhelmed by trying to multitask.

It’s also important to be flexible with your schedule. It’s okay to make adjustments as needed. For example, if you find that you’re struggling to stay focused on a particular task, you might want to consider taking a break or switching to a different task for a while.

4. Eliminate distractions

To stay focused and avoid getting side-tracked, it’s important to eliminate as many distractions as possible. This might involve turning off notifications on your phone, finding a quiet workspace, or using apps to block distracting websites.

It can also be helpful to create a distraction-free environment by decluttering your workspace, setting boundaries with co-workers or family members, or using noise-cancelling headphones.

5. Be accountable

Having someone else to hold you accountable for your tasks can be a powerful motivator. Sharing your goals with a friend, family member, or accountability partner can help you stay motivated and on track.

6. Use the Pomodoro Technique

The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method that involves working for a set period of time (usually 25 minutes) followed by a short break. This cycle is repeated until the task is complete. The idea behind this method is that by working in short bursts, you can stay focused and avoid burnout.

To use the Pomodoro Technique, set a timer for 25 minutes and work on your task until the timer goes off. Then, take a short break (usually 5-10 minutes) before starting the next Pomodoro.

7. Reward yourself

When you accomplish a goal or complete a task, it’s important to celebrate your success and give yourself a small reward. By rewarding yourself, you can stay motivated and stay focused on your work.

This can be a tangible reward, like a piece of candy or a cup of coffee, or it can be something more intangible, like taking a short walk or watching an episode of your favorite show.

8. Take breaks

It’s important to take breaks and allow yourself time to rest and recharge. Working for long stretches of time without a break can lead to burnout, which can make it harder to stay focused and motivated.

By taking breaks, you can give your brain a chance to rest and rejuvenate, which will help you stay fresh and focused when you return to your work.

9. Seek help if necessary

If you’re struggling with chronic procrastination and it’s affecting your daily life, it might be helpful to seek help from your supervisor, manager, or counselor. They can help you identify and address any underlying issues that may be contributing to your procrastination, such as anxiety, perfectionism, or low self-esteem.

With the right support and strategies, you can learn to overcome procrastination and be more productive and successful.

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