Why we don’t write and what to do about it

Procrastination means ‘belonging to tomorrow’. So when you delay writing today, you are creating more work for tomorrow. Unfortunately this delay creates a gap between your intention and your action. So what is the cause of this gap? Are you worried that your writing is not good enough? Perhaps you are stuck and don’t know what to do next?  Are you a perfectionist? Or are you just tired? What do you think creates your gap? When you procrastinate, you may feel good, or you may feel guilty. But no matter how you feel when procrastinating, you can be sure that you won’t feel good the next day. So what can we do about this?

I recently watched a video about helping students who procrastinate. The presenter was an academic who has done some interesting research on the topic of procrastination. He provided some great strategies to help kick the habit. The video is almost an hour long, so don’t worry if you are too busy procrastinating to watch it! I will share the best strategies with you, right now.

Live up to your own standards. Some people procrastinate because they are trying to live up to what they imagine are others extremely high standards. Instead make your own standards and live up to those. Self-direct your own learning. Do what you can now until you know better, and when you know better, do better. But most importantly, do it because you want to.

Draw on your emotional intelligence. Understand your emotions and manage them. Feeling anxious? Think through your feelings. Yes, writing is hard. Yes it’s scary. But you don’t have to run away. No matter how anxious you feel, you can sit down and do it. The more you push yourself to write while feeling scared, or not knowing what to do, the easier it will get.

Find your willpower. As the day goes on, we lose our willpower. To get more willpower you will need to draw on your values. Ask yourself, why am I doing this? Every time you ask that question, turn to a new page write down the reasons. If you run out of willpower again, ask yourself the question again. Once more turn to a new page and write down the reasons. Keep doing this each time you want to stop writing.  Find your willpower by writing value affirmations.

Develop implementation actions. Unfortunately we tend to have weak intentions. Fortunately you can create implementation actions to strengthen your intentions to write. The goal, ‘today I will work on my PhD’, is too big and will weaken your intentions. Instead break the big goal down into sub-goals.  Here’s how: An implementation action consists of three parts: In situation X I will do behaviour Y to achieve sub-goal Z.  Here are two of implementation actions I created for myself.

  1. When I wake up at 6 am (situation X), I will go to my desk and write the section on focus group interviews (behaviour Y) for my methodology chapter (sub-goal Z).
  2. If I find my mind wandering, I will remind myself why I am doing this and then take 10 deep breaths, in order to focus my mind on the task I am completing.

Action2

Video details: Teaching Talk: Helping Students Who Procrastinate, by Tim Pychyl, EDC Video Channel [58.43].  He discusses academic procrastination and strategies for change. Video link:  https://youtu.be/mhFQA998WiA

If you would like to ask me any questions you have about writing your thesis, or finding the motivation to write, I would be happy to answer. Please write your question in the comments box.

Cheers, Julia.

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About Julia Hallas

Julia Hallas contributes to Thesislink posts in the hope of overcoming her procrastination and worry about completing the PhD so that she can develop some sound research skills. She enjoyed worked with Jennie Billot on Thesislink’s inception and continues her role as advisor to the team. Julia is a Teaching Consultant at the Centre for Learning and Teaching.

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