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Procratination Insight, now how to fix?

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  • Procratination Insight, now how to fix?

    So I am a terrible procrastinator, despite having used GTD in some incarnation for over six years now. I'm a graduate student, and so much of my work is doled out in long-term projects that, while I easily use GTD to identify NAs on, I still end up putting off until the last minute. I spend the last day or so before a deadline frantically pulling things together, often writing 20-page papers in under 24 hours.

    I realized last night as I got all of three hours' sleep before turning in a qualifying paper that, while probably admissible, certainly wasn't my best work, why I keep putting it off. I remembered David's analogy about creative people being very imaginative, and realized that my procrastination is begetting itself. When I put off the tasks associated with writing a paper, the last twenty-four hours are filled with incredible stress and pain and self-loathing. So I've programmed my brain that paper-writing is filled with incredible stress, pain, and self-loathing, so when I look at my NA list, the LAST thing my subconscious wants to do is start subjecting myself to those emotions any earlier than necessary. It now makes perfect sense to me why I've continued the same academic habits I've had since junior high school.

    However, seeing as I intend to make a career out of this kind of work (and, frankly am getting too old for these shenanigans--coffee just doesn't work as well as it did when I was 20!), obviously staying up all night every time I have a project to finish is a somewhat untenable solution. Does anyone have any really good suggestions to re-train my subconscious to get moving on the NAs I've already identified?
    Last edited by jesig; 03-12-2010, 09:43 PM.

  • #2
    What are...

    ...you then spending your time with if its not next actions or calendar items? If the calendar is mainly blank and you have only next actions instead of day specific events/chores you might need to install a regular working schedule for yourself. Pomodoro -technique (http://www.pomodorotechnique.com/) might be of help, I use it to clarify my schedule if I have few office-days in a row. And once you know what it is that you'd rather be doing instead of next actions, you might assign this activity as a "prize-pomodoro" for all the achieved goals on a given timeframe.
    - Jukka

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    • #3
      some strategies that have helped me:

      - Breaking next actions down to really small tasks (e.g.., create new Word doc called "First Draft", complete the sentence: "My central argument in this paper is …", etc) is sometime enough to build some momentum.

      - Cultivate a habit of focusing on starting rather than worrying about the final product.

      - Make commitments to others. Tell your thesis supervisor (or boss) that you're struggling with a section/report/paper and you'd like to run a draft by them in two weeks time (or well before the deadline). Better yet, make an appointment to sit down and discuss the section/report/paper with them. You might not want to believe this, but many people struggle with similar issues and sharing (and confronting) them can often reduce the stress and anxiety.

      - Figure out what the underlying problem is, and tackle that. What i had thought of for years as procrastination was really perfectionism. Figuring that out helped break a similar cycle of pain and anguish you outline above.

      - When you've got a chance, track down Neil Fiore's book The Now Habit - it'll help.

      Finally, and perhaps most importantly, go easy on yourself.

      best of luck,
      chris.

      Comment


      • #4
        You might have a look at Weinberg on Writing, by Gerald Weinberg. He uses what he calls the "Fieldstone Method," comparing writing to working on a fieldstone wall. There are lots and lots of small, non-intimidating tasks that need to be done, and the key is to keep moving forward. As he put it, you never hear a stoneworker complaining about "mason's block."

        Katherine

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        • #5
          Just start typing your thoughts. Open a new doc and start typing what your are thinking. Just like that. (Example: "Mmh, I dont know what to write. Yeah, like always, it's the place, it#s not I am nervous, I want to I dont know what to want. exacaxtlc , dont be cynic. what else should I be ? smart. really,? yeah, why not. ok, what would be smart? to keep on typing, what for? to write this dam thing. you shouldn do that yes I shoul..") These stupid thoughts will lead you to your work; at least it worked for me so often I used it. Just don't stop typing.

          Start with answering the basic questions (in writing): What am I writing? Why? Whom for? Doubleyou words.

          And don't forget: the first draft must be bad, otherwise you are cheating. (Or a god pretending to be human). Take your work serious, not your ego. Maybe. Ok, just start typing.

          Comment


          • #6
            Thank you all for all the insight. Katherine, I'll have to check out that book. I've never heard of it. I do have The Now Habit on my iPod--it's one of those ones that I find really inspiring in theory, but have trouble implementing. On the other hand, I was on a long drive today and listening again to the "Productive Talk" series that Merlin Mann and DA did some years ago, and David said there was a quote in "The Art of War" that you resist that which is closest to you. I think *this* might be on to something.

            I don't have much trouble writing, per se. It's the things leading up to it that I put off. Like, I will do ANY difficult NA before I will complete the one marked, "Review X article's references for bibliography sources." And of course, like anyone, I have plenty of other NAs to keep me busy even if I ignore an entire project like that. Somehow, I resist getting going on the whole process like it's going to cause me physical harm (which, seeing as I inevitably end up with no sleep and then sick, I guess it actually does). But I'll keep thinking. I appreciate the insight.

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            • #7
              i second your suggestion

              Originally posted by Cpu_Modern View Post
              Just start typing your thoughts. Open a new doc and start typing what your are thinking. Just like that. (Example: "Mmh, I dont know what to write. Yeah, like always, it's the place, it#s not I am nervous, I want to I dont know what to want. exacaxtlc , dont be cynic. what else should I be ? smart. really,? yeah, why not. ok, what would be smart? to keep on typing, what for? to write this dam thing. you shouldn do that yes I shoul..") These stupid thoughts will lead you to your work; at least it worked for me so often I used it. Just don't stop typing.

              Start with answering the basic questions (in writing): What am I writing? Why? Whom for? Doubleyou words.

              And don't forget: the first draft must be bad, otherwise you are cheating. (Or a god pretending to be human). Take your work serious, not your ego. Maybe. Ok, just start typing.
              I have to agree that this is a very good idea to break free from mental block. All and all if nothing solid came out, you'll still be getting a fine humorous article to post in a blog. :P

              This methods works for me too. Once started, very hard to stop.

              Comment


              • #8
                This might help...

                I think you're asking a more abstract question than just, how do I write a paper without procrastinating. You're asking, how do I disassociate negative feelings to particular projects.

                Your example resonated with me quite a bit. I'm naturally inclined to procrastinate and when I read your story I totally knew what you were talking about. You've mentioned that in your past, you've often completed a paper in the last minute. So you've associated the writing to negative feelings of working under extreme pressure because of your own procrastination. Really, the only way to rewrite that association is to do something different. Your brain needs to be informed that it's possible to write a paper under minimal pressure, on time, heck, even before its due.

                So first, if you're like me, when you get an assignment to write a paper, (or whatever you're good at procrastinating at), you'll probably go through a roller coaster of emotions. Maybe first excitement at the opportunity, then fear of not completing it on time, to an encouragement that this time will be different. This is the first thing you'll probably want to fix. The minute you get your assignment you'll need to re-write some of those hard and fast neural nets that are causing your normal behavior. More on this in a bit.

                Second, I've found that by correctly implementing GTD, procrastination doesn't really have much of a place to gestate. Recall how you felt when you decided not to work on your paper, each time. It probably felt like a fuzzy blob that you REALLY didn't want to think about, and so you said, "that's a tomorrow problem." I'd wager that despite experimenting with GTD for several years, you've not truly tapped into the power of what next actions can do for you. See the key thing for me was that, instead of being afraid of the fuzzy blob, I was eager to attack the simple, physical next action. Furthermore, the fuzzy blob was still there but it didn't matter because I was confident that a single, simple, next action was truly the very next thing that I needed to do to move that fuzzy blob forward. so truly, I didn't experience some angelic miracle that transformed my fuzzy blob into a clear image - I just put it out of the way, and into my system, the project list.

                So putting it all together - when you get your assignment and start on the emotional roller coaster, get off of it. Because, now, it's time to re-write the way you think. Start thinking clearly about the project. Go through the 5 natural planning phases, as formally or informally as you want. Get yourself, push yourself, insist that you find the VERY next action for that project and write that sucker down. Put it on your list. Put it on your fridge. Write it on your forehead. Put it in whatever system you'll actually use, and then when it comes time to attack the fuzzy blob, just do that next action. It's really hard for me to procrastinate about something so darn easy. Notice the key here is that I've actually gotten myself to a point where I trust my system to keep the fuzzy blob under control so that all I have to worry about are single, simple, physical next actions.

                In closing, make sure your next actions are actually next actions. If you have a tendency to write next actions that are actually multiple steps then challenge yourself a little further. This was absolutely vital for me. Many times this was an emotional breakthrough for me, not a mental one. Turns out I DIDN'T WANT to think about the next action, because then I'd actually know what it is and become responsible for doing it. I was so sick of not keeping my own commitments to myself that I was afraid to create any more than I had to. I had to push past that and actually truly think about doing it - I can't stress how big that was for me. Sometimes I'd think about thinking about doing it, but it's just not the same. Thinking about doing a next physical action has a very profound effect on the psyche and your perception of the fuzzy blob.

                Oh, and for heavens sake, don't ever forget to assign another next action whenever you've completed one. But I guess that's what the weekly reviews are for.
                Last edited by JoshuaRamirez; 03-15-2010, 11:13 AM.

                Comment


                • #9
                  (I could've sworn that I posted the following. But I don't see it, so I'll try again.)

                  I'm also a terrible procrastinator. Some possible suggestions:

                  - One strategy that often helps me is separating the setup for a distasteful task from the task itself. That way, when I do hit that moment when I'm ready to work on the task, I'm not delayed by the setup.

                  For example, if I have to call the doctor and I don't want to, I look up the phone number and check my schedule for acceptable appointment times, telling myself that I don't have to make the call _yet_. In fact, I may even break up those tasks - look up the number on Monday, check my schedule in Wednesday, and on Friday decide what day I'll make the call.

                  Similarly, when I had a distasteful school project, I'd separate the task of assembling the books and papers and notes and supplies from the actual work. I'd have everything arranged, in almost a still life , ready for me to sit down inside it and work. Later.

                  - Is it possible that in addition to the dread, there's some perfectionism going on? I know that I have a tendency to feel that I should do the most important or difficult or distasteful task associated with a project first, and I should do it right the first time. If I allow myself to be directed by those ideas, they pretty much ensure that I get nothing done.

                  Also, the pressure of those ideas gets worse the closer I get to the due date - the later it gets, the less willing I am to waste any time on a possibly fruitless strategy, so the less likely I am to do anything at all. Irrational, but there it is.

                  So I have to train myself to accept that (1) doing _anything_ on the project is worthwhile and (2) possibly wasting time on a mistaken strategy is no big deal.

                  So are there any tasks around the edges that you could start with? Filling out interlibrary loan requests, for example? Drawing diagrams that you may or may not need in the paper? Writing random paragraphs without worrying about how they'll fit in the final structure?

                  - It also sounds like the actual academic project, and the project of getting yourself to touch the academic work before it's almost due, are separate projects. So that's all the more reason not to worry too much about whether what you're working on is productive. It seems worthwhile to form a habit of touching the work regularly, whether or not what you're working on ends up being useful to the project.

                  Gardener

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                  • #10
                    When I am really stuck in a procrastination rut...

                    I find that it helps to actually tell someone about it. There are a lot of times when I know I am in the right place, at the right time, with the right tools to do my Next Action, but I just don't want to do it and can't force myself to do it on my own. Somehow saying out loud to a witness that I am procrastinating on such a small doable action seems to dislodge the resistance.

                    Actually, sometimes just imagining having to bother a specific person with that embarassing phone call to admit that I have hit a stubborn, irrational wall of procrastination over a tiny next action is enough to get me to initiate at least a 15 minute attempt.

                    Let me know if this works!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      You're having trouble keeping a commitment to yourself. Once the accountability becomes external (the deadline to turn it in is approaching), you certainly have no problem writing this paper. Most people are the same way.

                      One thing that may help is to simulate external accountability for your personal commitment. You can do this by creating electronic reminders in your email, asking a friend to check up on how you're progressing on your paper, or writing an appointment into your calendar to work through this particular project - and treat that appointment exactly as you would treat one defending your paper to your professor.

                      Now I realize that blocking out time for a project isn't strict GTD. But we aren't using this as time management, we're trying to kick-start your motivation.

                      As you approach your appointment time, remove all possible blocks to doing this project. Neaten up your workspace. Make sure all your materials are available. Install one of those web-blocking distraction programs. Send your phone to voicemail. Get your lighting right, prepare your favorite hot beverage, turn on some smooth jazz. If all you need is your computer, you can work at a coffee shop or a comfy quiet lounge. Remember, you want to program your Pavlov's Dog brain into thinking this is pleasant.

                      So do as much as you can to prepare for writing for your paper. But once you hit that appointment time, WORK ON IT. No excuses.

                      I would recommend committing to writing every day until you break the association. Even if you end up with nothing at the end of your appointment time. It's easier to do something every day than it is to do it sporadically - otherwise, you put it off and end up with procrastinationtown, population you.

                      Reference: Me having been there

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        The best solution I have found to stop procrastination that is beyond the obvious

                        If you have a paper-based system that goes everywhere with you, and you check it throughout the day, you can make small leaps of progress whenever and WHERE-EVER

                        My system serves as a self-contained "office' for me

                        for example, I knocked off 20 minutes of a presentation I am giving in two weeks when waiting at the doctors office

                        Nothing is faster than paper

                        =================================================
                        J.D. Iles
                        Hyatt's All Things Creative

                        Equipment and Software / Sales and Training
                        On-Line Training Coordinator


                        direct line or text: (603) 348-7658
                        voice: (800) 234-9288 ext. 862
                        fax: (603) 962-8522

                        jdiles@hyatts.com
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                        • #13
                          OMG! I'm so glad I'm not the only one with this problem!

                          Great answers everyone! Some really COOL ideas and solutions!

                          Okay, I would like to address the negative associations too.
                          Sometimes if I really don't want to do something, I journal about it and LITERALLY write stuff like 'I don't want to do it, it's stupid, etc.' Then, I tell my Mum I still haven't done it and she yells at me and makes me do it. There. And I go there, shivering and pale, and somehow do it. lol

                          Another option is to write down all your options, including: I don't do it, (another person - list all that might be applicable) does it, nobody does it etc etc. And then write down the consequences.
                          It may turn out there may be a different solution, or you really don't have to do it, OR you'll see you doing it is actually the best possible way to go!! (And then apply the above, lol!)
                          Maybe your intuition is telling you something - at times, it really turned out I didn't have to do the work involved, as circumstances changed. (Can you take a step back to see the big picture or verify some things, eg do some more research to see if it is all still necessary and relevant?)

                          Maybe you are trying to put too many things into one thesis? (That's what I was trying to do with my 1st BA! I realized I'd need a totally different Masters before writing the BA as I imagined it first, so I needed to change my expectations.) What are expectations of the mentor/s and general expectations for projects like this? Are you trying to go way beyond the scope of a normal thesis? (MAybe it's not necessary, you just need to write a decent work and get rid of it and go to more fun and interesting and rewarding projects!) Imagine the relief after it!! (That sometimes helps too!)

                          Also check your nutrition or any weather-related causes (for some things, I find it best to eat protein in the morning already, I'm more 'gung ho let's do it' then!) Sweets may give one a 'hangover' the same or next day, so beware! Also check how you are dressed. This is FlyLady's tip, but so true! I may be more inclined to do important phone calls or work if dressed nicely, not just in sweatpants that yell 'taking it easy/slackin' off'!

                          Paper is good, a dictaphone may be great too.. (Or switch between the two, play with it a bit..) Maybe write down the most important things you want/need to cover. (That often helps too.)

                          Good luck with it!!
                          Many people struggle with thesis, and it may be one of the most miserable times in one's life! I read an article in German about it, the lives of grad students and such.. How unglamorous it all is.. (or can be) So maybe realizing others are in a similar difficult position may help too?

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Cpu_Modern View Post
                            Just start typing your thoughts. Open a new doc and start typing what your are thinking. Just like that. (Example: "Mmh, I dont know what to write. Yeah, like always, it's the place, it#s not I am nervous, I want to I dont know what to want. exacaxtlc , dont be cynic. what else should I be ? smart. really,? yeah, why not. ok, what would be smart? to keep on typing, what for? to write this dam thing. you shouldn do that yes I shoul..") These stupid thoughts will lead you to your work; at least it worked for me so often I used it. Just don't stop typing.

                            Start with answering the basic questions (in writing): What am I writing? Why? Whom for? Doubleyou words.

                            And don't forget: the first draft must be bad, otherwise you are cheating. (Or a god pretending to be human). Take your work serious, not your ego. Maybe. Ok, just start typing.
                            This is what I call freewriting. I usually do this when I don't know how to start a writing assignment. Through this, I am able to let my thoughts flow until i get the feel of what i have to write about for my paper. For non-writing assignments, I would choose to do the easy tasks first and the more difficult tasks later. I should have gained momentum when I get to the tasks I tend to put off. These are the methods that work for me.
                            ______________
                            http://primerate.info
                            Last edited by Wall-Street-Guru; 05-02-2010, 09:14 PM.

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                            • #15
                              Hi everyone! Thank you for everything that you shared here. I've been experiencing the same problems with my daily tasks and your insights are really helping me realize what to do to overcome such problem.Thanks much!

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