Sunday, April 6, 2014

When Procrastination makes your Motivation sink

More Q&A time! (Yes, I'm currently trying to work through a backlog of questions that deserve a longer answer).
The question we are dealing with today is about procrastination, and was posted as a comment on 7 ways to motivate yourself.

The original question was the following:

I dont find it very motivational..everyday I make new strategy but do not why its never implemented ....what should i do now...I know that I have to follow it very strictly...but I wll defer work every time...and the end of the day I am very angry at me...please help me somebody!!

And my quick answer read as follows:

Take a break, get rid of the stress, high expectations and pressure on yourself in the first place.

Then, make a planning that looks too easy - and try to stick to it. If you manage to do so, treat yourself to doing whatever you feel like in the evening (great dinner, movie, bath, you name it).

Let's look at the elements of the original question, and break these down into parts that we can discuss.

1. everyday I make new strategy

Don't try a new day planning or strategy every single day. Instead, try to set up a template for your day planning, and gradually implement it.
For example, try to implement a healthy morning routine, then set aside an hour for reading, then 2 hours for data analysis, then half an hour to clear your inbox to zero, then the afternoon for writing and the evening for whichever activity you like. This is just an example, listen very carefully to yourself and try to figure out which part of the day you have the right energy for each of these tasks.
You won't get it "right" from the start. Just be gently on yourself, acknowledge that you are experimenting with your schedule, and see where the flow takes you.

2. My planning never gets implemented

Here's where you need to get your monkey brain under control and reason with yourself. Checking facebook might give you pleasure at this very moment, but at the same time you are depriving yourself of the ability to go home early and do something you really enjoy.
Try to first observe your own behavior: What type of procrastination are you susceptible to? What triggers this kind of procrastination? How often do you feel the urge to leave your work and do something else?
Now that you know what is really going, try to watch the urge, and just hang in that feeling of unpleasantness, and then watch the urge go away. This mindfulness technique is one of the most powerful methods to get a hold of your impulses.

3. I know that I have to follow it very strictly

NO!!!! You're not trying to whip yourself to death, you're not trying to work yourself to exhaustion. What you need is a continuous movement forward. If you are constantly putting stress and pressure on yourself, you will dislike your work day. Try to find pleasure in your work. Remind yourself of why you were drawn to PhD studies in the first place. Remember that being able to do research is an intellectual privilege that not many people are granted. Most people have to obey a boss and do back-breaking mind-numbing work. If you have the opportunity to do research, pursue your intellectual whims and enjoy academic independence, you should realize that you are actually very lucky. So remember that science is fun, and find that lightness back in your work.

4. At the end of the day I am very angry at me

It's awfully frustrating to realize at the end of the day that your day was pretty much wasted time. I know the feeling very well, and I think many of us can relate to it in some way. You might have spent the entire day trying to get your computer back running. You have a crash in the late afternoon and lose a couple of day's worth of writing in your article/dissertation. You might have fretted the day away doing minor tasks such as e-mailing, doing some admin work, and *bam* time is up.
Know that this happens to everybody from time to time. If you have a procrastination problem, it might happen often to you. But consider yourself as "in rehab", trying to kick a bad habit. Don't get mad at yourself. If you fail today, tomorrow is a blank slate again. Tomorrow you start again with 24 hours to fill at your disposal. It might help to journal. When I go through bouts of having poor concentration and not getting my work moving forward, I journal about it. I grade myself for a couple of days. One day will be a 4/10 in terms of productivity, and then I analyze in my journal what precisely went wrong. The next day might be a 7/10, and then I celebrate my success and see why I was feeling motivated. It could be because I worked out in the morning. It could be because I ate something that did not make me lethargic. It could be some good news that made feel like a million bucks.

I hope these thoughts help, and if you have more questions, feel free to reach out to me!


  1. Thank you for this post. I'm a 4th year PhD student, and I definitely get into a bad habit of being angry/disappointed at myself when I'm not as productive as I want to be. So often there are things that "go wrong" throughout the day and end up taking more time than we want them to. I really appreciate the idea of grading yourself at the end of the day and appreciating, not being perfectly productive, but the things that do get accomplished. Thank you for the helpful tips!

  2. Thanks. I'm a month into my PhD and I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing. I've been reading around my project for a month now and the more I read about it the less I want to do it. This is completely opposite to anything I've ever experienced; usually even if I'm not THAT motivated I can make myself motivated but this time I'm slowly realising this project is not what I thought I applied for and it's not what I want to do for the next four years - most of all it won't teach me the skills I want to gain in the next four years. So I end up procrastinating. ALL THE TIME. I just want someone to tell me this is normal.

    1. I'll reply your question at lenght in an upcoming Q&A. Stay tuned!