Dealing with the Temptation of Procrastination while Doing a PhD or MA
The temptation to procrastinate while working on a PhD or MA can seem irresistible at times. For the majority of students, the process of writing (or starting to write) a thesis or dissertation is the activity most likely to arouse the desire to procrastinate, but other aspects of working towards a degree, such as essays, reports and research, can also promote the urge to defer what must be done in order to move forward. Fortunately, procrastination can be successfully conquered on a daily basis through the application of a few simple strategies.
First and foremost is the need to avoid distractions that enable procrastination. There are exceptional circumstances, of course, when distractions are unavoidable, but it should be possible to set aside an amount of time on most days in which you will focus solely on the work before you. Disconnecting from the internet, ignoring text messages and phone calls and turning off the radio and television are excellent practices. Even when only a minute or two here and there are dedicated to these things, the mind is distracted, and the focussed thought necessary to conduct and report complex research is interrupted. The internet is a little tricky, because many researchers and authors follow up questions and leads that arise as they work by searching online at once. This is fine if you are able to resist being redirected; if not, it will probably be better to stay offline and make a list of questions and resources to look up when you are next surfing the web.
Setting daily goals is also extremely helpful. Establishing certain hours of the day for research and writing is obviously a good idea, but if you are prone to procrastination, you may still find ways to avoid work even when you are surrounded by sources that need to be read or sitting at your computer with fingers poised. It is therefore a good idea to decide on a certain amount of work that must be done before you allow yourself to turn your attention to other activities. You might, for instance, tell yourself that you must read a set number of articles or write a certain number of words or maybe paragraphs or even a particular section of your text. Your daily goals should be challenging but not impossible – you want to be able to complete them in the time you have and feel the rewards of achieving your work for the day.
The liberating sense of accomplishment that comes with having successfully met your goal for the day will also make the time when you are not working much more productive. For one, you will be able to relax knowing that you have not left work undone and piling up, and your positive mood will enhance other activities with family and friends. In addition, time away from your research can be time in which your mind runs over ideas and makes new connections, often resolving problems that arose while you were reading or writing, and this is especially the case after hours of successful work. If, on the other hand, the time away from your thesis or dissertation is the result of procrastination before your work is done for the day, you are more likely to feel frustration and self-criticism, and these sentiments are rarely conducive to thoughts that will advance your research and writing.
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