Monday, 15 April 2013

On procrastination

I procrastinated last week for a little bit and made a list of topics I could blog about. I seem to have misplaced the list... So I will write about procrastinating instead. I'm sure there have been other posts dedicated to procrastination and I probably won't say anything that hasn't been said before. But then, this is my blog and my writing-training-ground. So why not? We all do it, at least to some degree.

I do it relatively a lot. I think it started as a way of dealing with pressure, taking a breather. I'm a perfectionist, I like things done properly, and it can be very overwhelming. Then however, the tasks became harder and more complex, the procrastination escalated hugely and started to frustrate me - why can't I just sit down and work? Why can't I just get this done and have some real time off? This was getting me nowhere, as what used to be a coping mechanism became a problem in itself. Something needed to be done.

I still find myself procrastinating in the worst, most unproductive ways from time to time. However, I found some ways of productive procrastination, as well as ways of reducing the opportunity to procrastinate.

Time management is not necessarily an issue - I often knew exactly what I need to be doing and yet just couldn't bring myself to stop procrastinating. But making sure that you always know what's to be done, and so can prioritise easily, helps. I make lists. A lot of them. I make sure that there always are achievable things on those lists in addition to real tasks. Lists allow me to prioritise, to ensure nothing slips my mind, to split goals into those needing doing today, over the next month or "after the exams". But the little achievable goals give me something to procrastinate on when I need to. Something that needs doing, is not urgent and gets overlooked, but still - it's better if I do that little thing, than if I troll the YT endlessly. Ticking achievable goals also reassures me that I can do things. If I can do all those little things on my list, then surely I can do one a little bit bigger thing, right? Every time I start to procrastinate I try to have a look at the lists and do something I can tick off.

I feel the need to procrastinate especially strongly when I'm under a lot of stress - close to a deadline or an exam. Little things from the lists don't always help in those times. I pull the big guns out then: cleaning and cooking/baking.  My house is never cleaner than during revision times and all my housemates know that I have a deadline if I'm down in the kitchen producing tons of cookies. Those forms of procrastinating are useful (besides the obvious benefits of a squeaky clean kitchen and availability of good food) - they require manual work. Which is great, because as long as you do a little bit of work first and then procrastinate, you allow your subconscious mind to keep working on the problem in the meantime. Sure, it won't help much if you need to be cramming stuff in for a memory-based exam, but just the other day I sorted a few coding problems in LaTeX that way. The answers just came to me, I suddenly knew what to try - and it all worked. Definitely felt better than 3 hours I spent on those problems sat in front of the computer, pulling my hair out the night before. What do I do when I can't afford to spent hours on cleaning or cooking and so need to avoid that sort of procrastinating? I plan ahead and make sure that all the cleaning is done and that there are no baking ingredients. I shop and cook in bulk, for a few days, so I don't procrastinate by cooking 3 times a day. I'm like a Pavlov's dog, I get hungry when I see my notes or papers to read. Making sure I eat enough helps to avoid procrastinating under the excuse of the need to eat.

Other than that I try to make my procrastination as productive as possible by picking specific things to do. Preferably those things should be beneficial in some way, new and stimulating. Blogging could be considered one - it allows me to vent, but it's also a good practice when it comes to writing and allows me to warm up before switching to more academic writing tasks. Twitter is a great distraction for a minute or to, but also following the right crowd means that I can get a lot out of it  - advice, links to papers, science news etc. I like to play with LaTeX and a little coding, I'm planning at playing around with R a bit more in the future. I'd like to learn more scripting (I made some little apps for my computer that make life easier). Cleaning my desktop, updating my reference library and making sure all pdfs are added makes future work more efficient. Reading a paper or an article that's not directly relevant to the current piece of work, but interesting, widens my horizons and can come in handy - that's good too.

When I really don't feel like any of the above I try to do things that motivate me - read or watch something inspiring, involving wildlife, travel or science of some sort, even when it's not about a biological subject. I read about mountains and rock climbing and all the spots that I could go to on the next vacation. I look for conservation projects that maybe, just maybe I could get involved in one day. I daydream for a bit. I daydream of what can be if I get the work done.

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