How to manage work/avoid procrastination

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Re: How to manage work/avoid procrastination

Post by The Wisp on Mon Mar 23, 2015 8:40 pm

So I know there are multiple academics plus many other smart people around here, so does anybody have any tips for dealing with academic procrastination?

I'm in a weird spot where I can do things at the last minute and get decent grades (albeit with some stress), but I really need to be turning some B's into A's because grad school is my plan A at the moment, and I haven't been able to do that thus far because of procrastination. I know if I just did all the readings, started essays a week or even a few days early, and did the smaller homework assignments earlier and consistently I could easily master the material.

Yet, procrastination has a hold over me. The weird thing is I actually have a lot of free time where I do essentially nothing but surf the web or other idle activities, and objectively have more than enough time to do all the work in advance and still have plenty of downtime. But somehow I still feel overwhelmed, as if I barely had enough time to complete the work. Furthermore, on the rare occasions when I try to get work done early, my mind feels much more sluggish and I find it hard to focus, while when a deadline is looming I get in the zone and power through it relatively easily. Still, powering through things at the last minute involves cutting corners, skipping smaller assignments or even classes, and not having time for information to sink in, to think about the material deeply, or to revise papers.

Advice?

(Right now I'm in 3 philosophy classes, one math class, and one literature class, fwiw)
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Re: How to manage work/avoid procrastination

Post by eselle28 on Mon Mar 23, 2015 8:51 pm

I've struggled with the same problem all my life, and I still do as a working person and a maintaining a household person, so I'm more someone who knows where you're coming from than someone who's conquered the problem. A couple of things that do work for me:

- Starting right away. If I bang out a report or a memo or a few emails as soon as I get into work or right after I'm back from lunch, or if I do some housework immediately upon getting home, I generally manage to get at least some done and some is better than none. Likewise, it's best for me if I get at least a little work done right after I get an assignment - it's fresh on my mind, then, and it's less intimidating to start later if I already have some of it done. If I tell myself that I get to sit down and relax for awhile, I tend to fall into the "5 more minutes, mom!" trap that I got myself used to as a kid. Since I don't have parents looking over my shoulder anymore, that often means that 5 minutes later never comes.

- Giving myself permission to do just a little. I tend to clean with a 15 minute timer, and sometimes I give myself permission to break up odious and long term projects into small segments of time. It's easier for me to get started when I know that all I have to do right now is 15 minutes of work, or assembling a messy outline full of legal sources I want to cite, or write the meaty bits of a memo and leave the introduction/conclusion/transitions for later. Like the first suggestion, this one is most adaptable to small assignments or to things like doing reading that can be easily broken up into small segments.

- Writing down ideas as I have them, and giving myself permission to do only that and then go back to doing whatever I was doing. This one works best for me when it comes to the more thematic and creative aspects of writing. It's not quite the same as summoning last minute creativity, but it does give me an opportunity to get good ideas down while I do have them, and it's made me more sensitive to the fact that I sometimes have valuable insights when I don't have a metaphorical gun to my head.
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Re: How to manage work/avoid procrastination

Post by Enail on Mon Mar 23, 2015 8:58 pm

I'm not a major procrastinator, but I am totally incapable of making myself pull an all-nighter or otherwise make a massive push to get things done at the last minute, so procrastination can have worse consequences for me than someone who will go all out when there's a deadline looming and I have to fight procrastination pretty strenuously. So I'm not sure if my way of doing things would be helpful for a regular procrastinator or not, take it as you will.

I use all three of Eselle's strategies. And then the thing that I find helps most is, as soon as I get an assignment, breaking it down into small tasks, sometimes really tiny ones, and giving them deadlines. Making them small keeps them from feeling overwhelming, and if I put them in my calendar and treat them like they're real deadlines, it motivates me as if they're real deadlines as long as I can keep myself from questioning it.
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Re: How to manage work/avoid procrastination

Post by caliseivy on Mon Mar 23, 2015 9:46 pm

- I agree with Enail's suggestion about breaking a project down (and maybe doing that as soon as you get the assignment, before procrastination finds you).
For myself I know that looking at the project as a whole too many times overwhelms me, which sparks the procrastination (seeing that non-immediate, future deadline doesn't help either)

- With essays, I get overwhelmed because I start thinking about the final product and how good it needs to be, and how far that is from my blank page. What I've been working on is reminding myself I'm just doing a rough draft, and rough drafts are allowed to be hot messes with poorly connected thoughts. I find that makes it easier to just get through a paragraph or two, and once you've got words, you've got something to manipulate.

That's all I've got.
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Re: How to manage work/avoid procrastination

Post by kath on Mon Mar 23, 2015 10:14 pm

Yeah, I find sometimes just doing SOMETHING, even if it is the stupidest thing, helps a lot. I have a lot of trouble making actual decisions about what I'm going to do, so sometimes I will procrastinate until I make a decision, when I really should just start down one line of working or thinking. If you find that, maybe trying one with the idea that you're experimenting and you can always change it if you need to (even though sometimes you won't be able to, self-deception can be a useful tool).

Something else you could try doing is ... making those smaller items more important to you. I'm a pretty bad procrastinator and was in university, but meeting all the little deadlines mattered as much to me as the big ones, so I got readings done and smaller assignments done (I just also did them right before the due date / discussion session). Not sure how to usefully groom something that was compulsive for me - I couldn't skip classes or assignments.

A strategy I made up for a group essay that worked well and that I wish I had done on an individual assignment was essentially that, but I broke the entire thing up in steps, so I we didn't end up stuck halfway (or, like the previous group essay, with a really disjointed result. We got like a C on the first paper where we had split it up in sections, and did much better on the second paper, but I don't remember how well). I think it could be adapted to other types of work, maybe it will help? Sometimes I get stuck on particular types of tasks, rather than starting at all.

1. do an outline with all of your ideas in point form.
2. flesh out the outline with particular points of evidence / arguments
3. add in your references to your pieces of evidence / arguments
4. turn your point form items into sentences and paragraphs
5. now you pretty much have an essay and all you need to do is edit it with a particular eye to flow.

(If it makes you feel better, I have a wearable tech fashion show on Saturday and need desperately to continue coding for it now Razz)
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Re: How to manage work/avoid procrastination

Post by sky on Mon Mar 23, 2015 10:28 pm

Wisp, that's pretty much a word for word description of myself. I'd been struggling with procrastination for years, but it didn't really turn out to have consequences until I reached college and was no longer smart enough to just knock everything out perfect on the first try, and then my grades started falling as I rushed to get things "good enough" at the last minute even though I didn't have time to finish them properly.

I've been out of college for a couple of years now and I'm still trying to tackle the procrastination, but I think I've got the beginning worked out. I can now recognize the point where I should get started on something but I really don't want to, and it seems to be a feeling of fear that is stopping me. Fear of what, I'm not quite sure, but I'm leaning toward maybe not living up to my own standards of quality work, because if I start late and then don't have enough time I've got a built-in reason that (sort of) isn't my fault. Just being able to say to myself "ok, I'm afraid for some reason but I need to start this anyway" has helped. Once I get myself going, then I find I have time to revise poor first drafts and turn out a reasonable product.

I find I have a much easier time revising a terrible essay into something good than starting from a blank page. Improving something that already exists is not nearly as difficult to me as starting with nothing.
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Re: How to manage work/avoid procrastination

Post by eselle28 on Mon Mar 23, 2015 11:10 pm

sky wrote:Wisp, that's pretty much a word for word description of myself. I'd been struggling with procrastination for years, but it didn't really turn out to have consequences until I reached college and was no longer smart enough to just knock everything out perfect on the first try, and then my grades started falling as I rushed to get things "good enough" at the last minute even though I didn't have time to finish them properly.

I've been out of college for a couple of years now and I'm still trying to tackle the procrastination, but I think I've got the beginning worked out. I can now recognize the point where I should get started on something but I really don't want to, and it seems to be a feeling of fear that is stopping me. Fear of what, I'm not quite sure, but I'm leaning toward maybe not living up to my own standards of quality work, because if I start late and then don't have enough time I've got a built-in reason that (sort of) isn't my fault. Just being able to say to myself "ok, I'm afraid for some reason but I need to start this anyway" has helped. Once I get myself going, then I find I have time to revise poor first drafts and turn out a reasonable product.

I find I have a much easier time revising a terrible essay into something good than starting from a blank page. Improving something that already exists is not nearly as difficult to me as starting with nothing.

There's my little procrastination hobgobblin, right there. I'm not not naturally inclined to be a perfectionist, but I grew up in one of those houses where a 97 was met with a question about what happened to the other 3 points, so I've got a lot of fear and anxiety issues mixed up with starting anything I've labeled as being work. Weirdly, I have no similar issues with making crafts or learning to play an instrument or playing an MMO, even though elements of all those things can seem very close to work at times.

A lot of my procrastination management techniques revolve around making the task seem less scary in various ways.
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Re: How to manage work/avoid procrastination

Post by nearly_takuan on Mon Mar 23, 2015 11:19 pm

For me the problem was usually one of prioritizing my work. Even when I felt like I was up for cranking out a bunch of papers in one night, I'd end up thinking about all of them at once instead of actually doing any of them. The excuse I gave myself, such as it was, was that I didn't have any concrete ideas for anything yet, so how could I work on it?

I didn't really figure a way around that while in college; I just made myself work longer hours, eventually getting through everything. It "helped" that I didn't have anything better to do: it was either school or video games.

After school, though, I worked for a big software company that did everything through the "Scrum" process. I actually dislike most of the methodology/ideology, but there's one part of it that has helped me keep from falling too far behind in day-to-day chores and is also a clear benefit of the way my current workplace implements it: prioritization.

Essentially, we build out a stack of things we need to do. We figure out if there's anything that can't be done without doing something else first. We figure out if there's anything that would make other tasks go faster or more easily if we do that first. And we figure out vaguely how much time we expect to spend on the task. Then we sort things in order of priority and just work on them in order. Additionally, we've been trying to make each task have a strongly-worded "completion criterion" so we know when we're done, and once we have marked something done it is done and we go do something else.

Personally, I find that it sets my mind somewhat at ease, knowing there's a set plan for how I'm going to do things. I work on whatever's at the top of my list, and don't think too much about the other stuff. After all, someone else might finish their task early and grab the next one before I can work on it anyway. (Well, that is far more likely to be the case at home than at work....) Anyway. I'm thinking it may be possible to adapt that sort of workflow to school.

The way I've adapted it for housework is as follows: I estimate time and effort, but also make note of resources/inventory consumed, i.e. cleaning supplies. Usually there will be at least a couple of things that are "blocked" by the Go For A Jog And Then Walk To The Store And Breathe Some Fresh Air And Return Home With Sore Shoulders task, which in effect lets me put "take a break" somewhere in the middle of my task list. If for some reason I can't or really don't want to do whatever's Next, I push it back by up to two places. But I have to do one of the top three things.

(Come to think of it, I was much more self-sufficiently productive in the semester when I took the "Recess" class and played dodgeball in the middle of the day somewhat regularly.)

So...in short: plan out your tasks, do 'em one at a time, give yourself enforced breaks, and go kick some ass.

ETA: other mindset things to consider if you try this: keep track of the things you have done. It can actually help a lot with motivation and reduce the scariness of upcoming tasks if halfway through the week you can look back and see how many things you've already done this week. Even if you aren't perfectly on schedule yet and find yourself cramming a few things in at the last minute, you can compare your current week to previous ones and look for improvement. Or if you're terribly behind, maybe that lights a fire under your ass and also tells you you need to work on your estimates better. Watch the estimates to figure out how much time you'll need to set aside each day to work on homework and things consistently.

Lastly, I thought of something else that did help me kind of, which has nothing to do with Scrum: find classmates who aren't doing very well themselves and offer to do "study groups" or otherwise help them with assignment stuff during mutual free time. That additional obligation to another person can help, provided you actually do manage to work on your own assignment at the same time. (Occasionally I would go the other way and end up helping my classmates but then forget to actually write my own copy of the homework. Lucky me, this was generally in math classes, where the professors weighed our exams as like 80% of the grade.)
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Re: How to manage work/avoid procrastination

Post by The Wisp on Mon Mar 23, 2015 11:54 pm

Thanks for the advice everybody! I will test out some of these strategies this week.
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How to manage work/avoid procrastination

Post by sky on Tue Mar 24, 2015 12:02 am

nearly_takuan wrote:keep track of the things you have done. It can actually help a lot with motivation and reduce the scariness of upcoming tasks if halfway through the week you can look back and see how many things you've already done this week.

Huh. That's an interesting thought, and something that never occurred to me before. I always go the route of making To Do lists and then being daunted by all the things I have to do and forgetting about the ones that I already crossed off the list. Building a list of successes might trigger a mindset of striving to earn all the achievements. Hmm...
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