Tips to beat procrastination

The act of delaying or postponing something is a common characteristic. For research students this can lead to bigger problems down the line. So if you are studying for a PhD then here are some tips to beat procrastination.

What does procrastination mean?

Procrastination means putting something off. This could be starting a piece of work, studying for an exam, writing an application or something else. In the case of a PhD it can have serious consequences. Research submission deadlines have to be met and so its important to find ways to manage your workload.

Most of us have times when we procrastinate. For some it can be a real challenge and as a consequence effect their everyday life. Experiencing periods of self-doubt is perfectly normal. The important detail is to recognise this is happening. Realise that you can challenge this behaviour and get better.

Why do we procrastinate?

We all experience feelings where we are not good enough. Impostor syndrome is a common issue particularly among new students. Universities offer a lot of support to help undergraduate students find their feet.

Periods of self-doubt can happen at any time. It's like the stories of famous actors who have starred in many roles on film and stage suddenly getting stage fright. People who you imagine would be the least likely to doubt themselves can experience it.

Humans are not born organisers. Even the most disciplined professionals require training in time management. Universities are very complex organisations. Therefore, staff who work in them often need to juggle a number of priorities, and they expect students to adapt to the learning situation.

Too little vs too much

Another common cause of procrastination is lack of motivation. The source of this can arise from a number of different sources. The student that undertakes a PhD has achieved a significant level of skill to be considered for a PhD. That status does not bestow the gift of 100% motivation on the student.

On the other end of the scale, it’s not uncommon for a PhD student to find it impossible to complete a task. Striving for perfectionism can be just as destructive as a lack of motivation. This manifests itself in behaviours such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Why is procrastination a problem for graduate students?

The most common example of procrastination is delaying the writing of your dissertation. A PhD is a demanding process which requires a lot of steps to completion. The core of a PhD is the development and completion of an original piece of research. Many PhD students (and their supervisors) invest a great deal of time and resources in this objective.

Delays are caused by a number of factors. For example, If the researcher runs in to difficulties or there are events outside the project. Unforeseen issues will limit the time available to complete the writing up of the PhD dissertation.

Tips on how to stop procrastination

  • Set priorities

Most people would rather go and do something that is fun rather than spend a long time on something unpleasant, dull and repetitive. This is an evolutionary throwback. Agreeing a set of priorities and working through them will bring much more satisfaction in the long run.

  • Manage distractions

Organise your workday into regular chunks of time. These can be arranged in ways that fit around your situation. If Tuesday 15.00 to 16.00 is your period for sending emails, then that is the time you do it. Remember that once you commit to a schedule it is there for you to complete. You will only cheat yourself if you get diverted away from the task in hand.

  • Seek out the support of people who will help you

A PhD is a big undertaking, and if you are working solo then you must not neglect contacts and colleagues who can offer genuine support. Your Supervisor is always on hand, but if you don’t have family or friends nearby then make sure you invest in contacts who are available in moments when you need help. They are likely to have their own tips to help beat procrastination.

  • Manage your study/workspace

The Pandemic introduced a whole new way of working for the majority of businesses. The requirement for self-isolation led many people to lead more insular and introverted lives. Therefore, it will take time to restore the balance. Remember also that the home is full of distractions. These can exacerbate your levels of procrastination.

  • Use peer pressure appropriately

The boom in virtual offices was driven by strong and attractive marketing. Shared workplace brands such as WeWork promote the virtues of collective working. Groups of entrepreneurs are now sharing workplaces to incubate new business ideas and models. If you just use your nearest coffee chain as a free wifi spot they can still be very productive spaces when used correctly. Rubbing shoulders with a super productive person is contagious (not in a Covid way!). You will be less inclined to dive down a YouTube hole when your time in a busy public space is limited.

  • Pay attention when you need to

Humans are at their most productive over small chunks of time. It is a well-researched fact that a window of 20 to 50 mins is the optimum time for someone to focus on one subject. Then you can stop and clear your thoughts before you carry on. Of course, there are exceptions, but the research backs up this finding.

Forcing yourself to spend more than 50mins on any one task leads to poor quality results. Scheduling correctly will pay dividends in the long run. This measure applies if you are studying or writing. Going beyond 50 minutes, without a short break, does not lead to better outcomes.

  • Use productivity tools

There are plenty of online productivity systems available to help you manage your schedule. Workflow is the next big transformative investment for the top tech giants. Being productive is also a state of mind. Our Scholarship winner Marjana explained that she invested a lot of time preparing for her future career alongside undertaking her masters studies.

  • Look after yourself

Your health will suffer if you focus solely on completing your PhD. Make time in your schedule to take care of your body, so it is there when you need it most. The Pandemic also showed the stark reality of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This is achieved as much by a proper diet, sleep and regular exercise, as it is by finding times to do fun and relaxing activities.

  • Build confidence with additional support

Remember to draw upon all the resources at your disposal. These include library and study facilities as well as colleagues who will help you to complete your project. Don't hesitate to use free resources where they are available.

  • The shape of the finished product

Your supervisor and colleagues within the research admin team are well placed to guide your research and dissertation. Don’t feel as though you have to control every aspect of your proposal. Additional guidance and structural planning from supporters is very valuable.

Managing behaviours that can lead to procrastination will help you to complete your PhD. We hope our tips to beat procrastination will give you some tools on your journey.