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Vivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.
It is important to end procrastination through self-discipline and dedication, but you know what’s better? Be inspired from your time of procrastination and start working again not because you have to, but that you want to. This past week I have been browsing through the internet to see advice on how to end procrastination and there are literally hundreds of suggestions. However, only a handful of them focus on finding the inspiration we need. Below are a few that stands out.
When you are in the middle of procrastinating, or if you have the urge to start, give yourself five minutes to write non-stop about whatever. Most people recommend writing about what you are working on, maybe a short summary of your thesis or a rationale on why your research is worth the time. This method resolves the existential crisis all writers – no matter what kind – have faced at some point. We have all found ourselves, deep in a writing project, wondering about the value of what we are doing. Use some time to convince yourself that what you are doing is important and explain to yourself why it is important. Freewriting is not only an awesome way to motivate yourself, it is a chance for us to generate new ideas or access the ones buried deep in our mind that we have forgotten.
I have never actually tried this, since relaxing seems to defy the sole principle of ending procrastination, but a lot of people are suggesting this, so it must work for some of them. Basically, if you feel stressed out from procrastinating over an important task, take a break. You can watch some TV, listen to music, or take a walk. Personally I recommend staying away from the internet, or your electronics in general, for this to work. Do not relax by browsing BuzzFeed articles your Facebook friends share or watching funny cat videos on YouTube. Soon one article will turn into ten and the cat videos will eventually take you to the weird part of YouTube that you both don’t understand and don’t want to leave (I’m speaking from experience here, guys). The internet is your best friend only when you have time to waste.
This is something I have tried, and failed at spectacularly, but again, someone suggests it and says it works, so it probably does for some. If you get stuck, find a book to read. I did this, twice, when I was doing a short fiction assignment. The first time, I picked up a novel I had just bought and ended up not putting it down for 3 hours. The second time I learned from my mistake and picked up a novel I had already read twice before. That time resulted in my deleting two thirds of what I wrote that day since most of it resembles that novel too much. Some say that, if you want inspiration through reading, you need to read something of a completely different genre than what you are writing. Novels are acceptable when you are working on your research paper, not when you are writing short stories. For fiction writing projects, try reading any kind of non-fiction. This helps to not distract you from your work while inspiring you at the same time.
Talk to anyone about what you are working on: explain your thesis to your parents during family dinners; call up your best friend and rant about how much procrastination sucks and proceed to tell them what you are procrastinating over. It may freak your friends and family out, or it may interest them. The point is you let people know what you are doing. If someone is interested, they may raise questions you have never thought of before or give – sometimes awful – suggestions that will help crush writer’s block. A lot of lightbulb moments happen when someone unintentionally says the right thing, even if it’s just a stupid joke at your expense. Alternatively, if you talk to too many people and absolutely no one is interested, this is a sign you should reconsider your entire project life 😉
Vivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.
Being an intern at PhD2Published means in the past few months, I’ve read more pieces on academic writing than my entire three years in the university combined. Many of what I have read involves investigating the problem of procrastination. I can’t help but notice that academic writers and creative writers hold very different beliefs when it comes to that problem. Some people are calling for academics to cease thinking of themselves as just scholars or researchers, but also writers, so perhaps we can take a few notes from people who fully identify themselves as writers.
So what exactly do creative writers have to say about procrastination?
Embrace it. That’s among the first things you will hear.
Creative writers often have slightly more flexible deadlines, so when they hit a writer’s block, they probably won’t tackle it by sitting down and ordering themselves to write at least 5000 words a day. They prefer putting the tasks aside and wait until inspiration strikes. “I’ve spent the last two weeks not writing and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it, and I don’t feel guilty for not feeling guilty about it [,]” writes Bryan Hutchinson, a creative writer and the proud owner of the Positive Writer blog. He explains in a blog post on why procrastination is a good thing that forcing himself to write usually results in work he doesn’t appreciate. He finds this method wastes time and is causes more stress.
Of course, this doesn’t mean creative writers simply procrastinate for the rest of eternity. Rather they treat their procrastination period as a short break for their worn out mind. They believe creativity comes and goes as it pleases, and cannot be squeezed out like lemon juice. When the time comes, inspiration hits and that’s their sign of going back to work. Optimistic much? Perhaps, but funnily enough, from what I’ve read, this strategy usually works. “I discovered that the more time I put off writing and procrastinate, the more time I spend creating [,]” claims Hutchinson in his post.
Indeed, for creative writers, writing is a process of creation, not gluing your hands to the keyboard and typing until you hit a word limit. The problem academic writers have to ask themselves is, do they have the luxury to NOT do the latter? Sadly, most of the time the answer is no.
The bottom line, creative writers are people who value quality over quantity, while the academic world seems to expect the opposite. Quantity often dictates a scholar’s worth: The number of their works which have been published by high impact journals; the number of citations those works have received… The list goes on.
Just to cheer things up, I believe academic writers do have the chance to procrastinate. One thing both academic and creative writers can agree on is the best time to procrastinate: Something good usually comes out of putting your work aside after the very first draft. Give yourself a break before revising and editing and you will see your writing in a whole new perspective. If you don’t experience an inspiration spur during one of your showers at the procrastination period, it often still comes when you start working on the piece again.
On a final note, creative writers enjoy the writing process itself. As academics, you may find joy in researching or being published, but do try to enjoy the in-betweens like creative writers do. When you sit in a café with no wifi, writing your literature review, treat the process as something you have come to love. Passion always makes quality work.
Vivian Lam, a student at the City University of Hong Kong, is an intern at PhD2Published.
Here are some common conceptions about the negative impact of procrastination:
1.Decrease in productivity: Obviously, procrastination means avoiding serious or pressing tasks. When we procrastinate, we basically stop achieving anything constructive. It delays our work progress, creating much bigger problems down the line when that chapter is due.
2.Decrease in motivation: The longer you drag your feet on the task, the less motivated you become to start working on it at all, resulting in lower quality work overall.
3.A decrease in self-discipline: When we start giving ourselves reasons to believe we have all the time in the world to finish a task, we become more and more disorganised and our lack of work discipline can lapse into other areas.
However, a quick trip to the mysterious realm called ‘the internet’ reveals some benefits of procrastination:
1.Stress relief: If a current task is difficult enough to make us want to stop for a while, it usually means we are too stressed up by it. Taking a break from it can relax our mind.
2.Boosting creativity: A lot of people, especially creative writers, believe coming back from procrastination gives them a fresh perspective, and thus stimulates creative thinking. Personally, I am a firm believer in this point. In fact, as a student, the best grade I ever received from my assignments came from a sudden outburst of ideas right after a bad case of procrastination.
3.Sense of control: When we force ourselves to turn off the internet, ignore all the WhatsApp messages, and simply write, write, and write, it feels like we are letting our work control our life. The realization is both unpleasant and counterproductive. We need passion to get a job done well and right now all we’ve got is a deep sense of loathing. Procrastination gives the sense of control back to us. It might be a waste of time, but at least it would be your choice to waste that time, and when we start working again, we may have a new-found appreciation of what we are doing when we cease wasting time.
4.Getting the overlooked tasks done We accomplish a lot of other tasks when avoiding the main one (This is basically the idea of “structured procrastination” I talked about before. Some people procrastinate by completing less important, but also pending, tasks. Some do it by cleaning up their desks. All these, while less important, are still productive tasks. When we procrastinate, we actually have the chance to work on the responsibilities we normally ignore.
Apparently, even procrastination can have its moment if we look at it from the right angle. Some psychologists are brushing it off as people trying to reduce the cognitive dissonance in the act of procrastination. However, if you find yourselves trapped in a procrastination period, don’t panic. Remember, you are not alone!
1. What first impression do you want to make on your chosen audience? Remember, your title announces your intention to be serious, humorous, detailed, expansive, technical, or accessible—possibly several of those things at once. Double-check that your title matches your intention.
2. Take a look at the publication list on your curriculum vitae. How many of your past titles contain colons? In each case, can you clearly articulate your reason for needing both a title and a subtitle?
3. If you use colons frequently, try crafting a colon-free title. As an extra challenge, see if you can come up with a colon-free title that is both engaging and informative.
4. If you seldom or never use colons, or if your titles are informative but not engaging, try out the “catchy: descriptive” trick. First, formulate a snappy but appropriate title (for example, “Snakes on a Plane”) to go with your not-so-snappy descriptive subtitle (“Aggressive Serpentine Behavior in a Restrictive Aeronautical Environment”).
5. Next, ask yourself whether your title would still make sense without the subtitle. In some situations – for instance, a disciplinary conference or a special issue of a journal, where the context may supply all the extra information that is needed – you might find you can get away with just “Snakes on a Plane” after all.
6. Identify some typical titles in your discipline and analyze their grammatical structure: for example, “The Development of Efficacy in Teams: A Multilevel and Longitudinal Perspective” becomes “The Abstract Noun of Abstract Noun in Plural Collective Noun: An Adjective and Adjective Abstract Noun.” Now see if you can come up with a title that does not use those predictable structures.
7. For inspiration, find an engaging title from a discipline other than your own and mimic its structure. No one in your discipline need ever know.
8. Make sure your title contains no more than one or two abstract or collective nouns. (Many academic titles contain seven, eight, or more!) Abstract nouns (analysis, structure, development, education) and collective nouns (students, teachers, patients, subjects) have a generic, lulling quality, particularly when they occur in journals where the same noun is used frequently, as in a criminology journal where most of the titles contain the nouns crime and criminology.
9. Avoid predictable “academic verbs”, especially in participle form: for example, preparing, promoting, enforcing (law); engaging, applying, improving (higher education); rethinking, reopening, overcoming (history); predicting, relating, linking (evolutionary biology).
10. Include one or two words that you would not expect to find in any other title in the same journal. Concrete nouns (piano, guppy, path) and vivid verbs (ban, mutilate, gestate) are particularly effective. Proper nouns (Wagner, London, Phasianus colchicus) can also help individualize your title and ground your research in a specific time and place.
I was going to start writing this post on procrastination yesterday, but then I thought, maybe later.
Procrastination sucks. We all know that. Professor John Perry from Stanford University coined the concept “structured procrastination”. The idea is that you can turn procrastination into a productive process if you spend the time not doing one important task by doing an apparently less important one. For example, in the time when Dr. Perry really should have been grading papers and filling book order forms, he wrote his essay on structured procrastination in order to procrastinate doing those top priority task. The essay would go on to win him an Ig Nobel Prize in literature fifteen years later, proving everyone procrastinates, including the Prize Committee.
Of course, Dr. Perry had admitted that “structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception”. For this to work, you have to adjust your mentality into thinking the task with the seemingly (but not really) most pressing deadline is your absolute first priority right now, so you would gladly fulfil other tasks to avoid working on that.
When I first heard this, I thought it sounded rather clever. Structured procrastination assumes that all chronic procrastinators always ditch the first priority for slightly less important work. It plays with our own psychology.
However, the problem, I believe, is the evil existence of some less flexible deadlines. Perhaps a conference coming right up, or, for a humble BA student like myself, assignment due dates. Unlike Dr. Perry’s examples, these responsibilities can’t be ignored and saved until some even more urgent matters pop up. It also depends highly on the procrastinator’s self-discipline. The fact that my method of procrastination, instead of accomplishing other marginally useful tasks, is to start a Doctor Who marathon definitely does not help!
Personally, I prefer the traditional ways to overcome procrastination. Bribing yourself is usually a good idea. Take a tiresome piece of writing: When in doubt, take a deep breath; sit down, and once you reach a certain word count you get a drink, or maybe snack a bit, or even reward yourself 2 pages of that novel you’ve been obsessing over – whatever floats your writer boat. I also find adding more details onto the outline whenever I feel like putting the writing aside helps motivate me to continue working.
Whether it’s for you or not, structured procrastination means one more option for all procrastinators out there. If you are interested, I would suggest first trying it out on tasks with softer deadlines. Be sure to let us know what you think about it. Do you have other great ideas for battling procrastination? We would love to hear about that too!
Professor Helen Sword (The University of Auckland) is the author of the hugely popular Stylish Academic Writing. Below is an excerpt from her book which offers her top 10 tips on using creativity to keep the words flowing.
1. “Read like a butterfly, write like a bee.” 19 Novelist Philip Pullman exhorts writers to read widely and voraciously, without necessarily worrying about whether a given book or article will be useful to their current research. Later, you can make a conscious effort to integrate ideas drawn from your outside reading into your academic writing
2. Freewriting is a generative technique advocated by Peter Elbow and others as a quick and easy way to get your creative juices flowing.
a. Grab a pen and paper (I favor high-quality fountain pens and attractively bound notebooks, but many writers are not so fussy), settle yourself someplace where you will not be disturbed (a park bench or café would be ideal, but an office with the door closed works just fine too), and resolve to write without interruption for a predetermined amount of time.
b. As you write, don’t allow your pen to leave the paper for more than a few seconds at a time. Your goal is to keep writing continuously until your time is up, without stopping to correct errors, read over what you have just written, or polish your prose.
c. You may feel emotional barriers rising or falling and unexpected thoughts surging through your head. Whatever happens, keep writing.
d. Afterward, you can shape your words into something more coherent—or not. The process, not the product, is the point of the exercise. Free drawing, mind mapping, and verbal brainstorming (for example, talking into a voice recorder) offer visual and oral alternatives to free writing.
3. Free drawing, mind mapping, and verbal brainstorming (for example, talking into a voice recorder) offer visual and oral alternatives to freewriting.
4. Make a list of all the ways your research arouses your passion, stokes your commitments, and gives you pleasure.
5. Write about the funny side, the absurd side, or even the dark side of your research project.
6.Write a poem about your research – anything from a confessional poem about your own scholarly struggles to a series of haiku about your research subject.
7. Make a mind map of your research, starting with your central thesis or research question and working outward from there. (For more detailed instructions on mind mapping, see Tony Buzan’s Mind Map Book or any of the many computer programs that include mind-mapping software).
8. Color code your research: for example, by using colored highlighters to signal connections between themes or ideas.
9. For a new perspective on your research, try looking at your work while wearing each of Edward de Bono’s six “thinking hats”: the white hat (facts and figures), the red hat (emotions and feelings), the black hat (cautious and careful), the yellow hat (speculative-positive), the green hat (creative thinking), and the blue hat (control of thinking).
10. Ask colleagues from other disciplines to recommend work by the best and most accessible writers in their field. As you read, consider form as well as content: What strategies do these authors use to engage and inform their readers? Are those strategies different from the ones commonly used in your discipline? Can you spot any new techniques worth borrowing?
This Twitter chat was dedicated to co-authoring (hosted by @llmunro)