One night (in the middle of the night) I woke up panicked because my imminently due project was nowhere near completion … why do I procrastinate? Why do I do this to myself? At that late hour it seemed I would not fall back asleep, so I tossed and turned and came up with three good reasons for procrastination and one bad one.
- Beyond writing my name at the top of the page, I have no idea how to get started. This happened to me on a couple major engineering projects. Remedy? Set ego aside and ask for help. Open conversation with, “I’ve given this a good think and really have no idea how to get started.”
- My paper is started, but now I am stuck. Typically this means I do have a good idea, but I do not have anything new to add. My depth of understanding is not enough for insightful writing. Remedy? Head back to the library, pillage bibliography and reference cited lists from published works and start taking notes.
- Physically can’t do it (falling over from lack of sleep, or cannot sit still, or stomach will not stop begging for necessary sustenance). Remedy? Power nap, quick work out, or eat meal as necessary.
- I just do not want to do it. In the words of a former roommate, “Suck it up, cupcake.” Really, just set your timer and go. If you find that you are in a degree program (or a job) where this is your standard response rather than the occasional episode, there is a good chance you’re in a bad fit. Remedy? Find a new adventure.
I now practice procrastination regularly:
- Getting a jump on the research and background understanding is what makes the difference. Once the starter material is in my brain, it has time to sit and ferment into something really interesting. I do not start writing or attacking the problem until closer to deadline precisely because the interim rumination phase makes such a big difference. Applying the mechanics of writing or problem solving is less of a challenge — it is the “big idea” that takes so much time to develop.
- Another benefit to both researching early and procrastinating on the final product is that I have time to run my idea past people in the know and elicit feedback.
How has procrastination benefitted you?
I have the bad habit of procrastinating on every aspect of a project, including the research portion, but I hadn’t considered that letting the material sit in my brain before writing about it could have good results. Yet another bit of advice from you I’ll have to try out!