Daisy Hessenberger outlines how she turned her procrastinating into time well-spent whilst writing her PhD thesis.
Contributor Daisy Hessenberger
Early in the fourth year of my PhD I went to a talk titled “The Power of Procrastination” by Dr Jorge Cham (here is a similar talk that Dr Cham did in Washington), the creator of PhD comics. Although intended as a comedy set, I also left with an important take home message: procrastination may not be that bad. Dr Cham argues that procrastination, especially in an academic setting, is undervalued and that we should endeavour to procrastinate more. His reasons for this are that great ideas are more likely to come during times of procrastination and that by procrastinating we are doing what we want to be doing with our life. Concentrating on the former process, I found that I agreed, remembering the countless times I had spent hours of intent focus on data analysis only for the answer to come to me while on my bike or illustrating for a student article.
I was about to embark on writing my PhD dissertation, and though ideally my procrastination levels would drop as my workload increased, past experience told me that time spent procrastinating was proportionate to work load (see comic). So, I decided to be proactive and to actively plan in procrastination sessions in my writing process in the hope that my brain would yield enlightened ideas during this time, and that I would limit the time spent on useless procrastination.
So in an attempt to finish my dissertation in time, I embraced my procrastination. I am a procrastinator – so how could I make it work for me?
Time manage your procrastination
First I set about organizing my procrastination. I looked at when I was most likely to procrastinate, how long for and with what activities. From that data I developed a plan of action. Using the pomodoro technique, I was able to schedule in small sessions of procrastination into my working day. While some sessions would undoubtedly fall victim to passive procrastination, the rest of the time I strove to fill these sessions with activities that I both enjoyed and were beneficial. Here are some suggestions:
Build your online presence
With job applications on the horizon and the increased emphasis in academia on the value of science communication, it is becoming more important for scientists to maintain an accurate online presence. I decided twitter would be one avenue that fit perfectly into my breaks, as tweets are restricted to 140 characters. (Indeed tweeting is how I scored my first Naturejobs blog post!) Additionally the increase in twitter followers provided a small boost in esteem that is often needed to combat the trials of thesis writing. To make sure you don’t get caught up in twitter world, you can used bufferapp to write, store, and post your tweets. This restricts the likelihood of wasting hours on twitter reading other peoples tweets and makes fitting tweeting into 15 minute break windows more feasible.
Develop your career path
It is important to keep a handle on the future and if you love reading, what better way to procrastinate than to inform yourself about your career options? I have always loved reading as my preferred form of procrastination so in my 15-minute breaks I read career blogs and update my various online profiles.
Develop your writing skills
Write, write and write some more. Whether it is news, science, fashion, or food; for yourself, your blog, or another platform, writing is a great form of procrastination. Despite writing being my main activity in my fourth year, I found that writing non-academic articles was enjoyable enough to be a source of procrastination. The added bonus was that during these sessions of procrastination I was also constantly improving my writing skills. Although non-academic writing might be very different than academic writing, practicing both will increase your confidence and help you identify your writing style.
I often felt re-energized after allowing myself to procrastinate. The brief stint of thinking differently, whether it was extremely different (tweeting) or mildly different (non-academic writing), gave me the opportunity to approach my work from a fresh perspective. The more I procrastinated, perhaps the less I worked… but the more efficiently I worked.
If you have to procrastinate don’t be too harsh on yourself: the activities I used to procrastinate with have turned out to be important to my career. Without that procrastinating I would not be tweeting and blogging like I do now, and perhaps would not be considering a career in science communication. So use your procrastinating time wisely!