Two years ago I started writing my PhD thesis. I had already done all the experiments, finished the data analysis and even published a paper on the topic. I just had to sit at my desk and describe everything I’ve done in the lab, so I could finally get my title.
This shouldn’t take long. I’ve already done the hard part, right?
Wrong! To this day I’m still struggling to find the time, motivation and discipline to buckle down and do it. But recently I stumbled upon a solution. In the past month, I managed to do as much progress as in the six months before that. You want to know how? I procrastinated my way toward my goals.
Like most people here, I’m quite familiar with procrastination. Let’s face it: that’s why you’re surfing the internet right now, instead of doing that thing. You know very well what I’m talking about. And this is not even the main problem. The worst part is that the list of things we should do, but keep avoiding, keeps getting longer.
Case in point: my current top priorities are finishing the PhD thesis, writing a book, and planning our wedding. Each day I wake up and think: today I’m going to work toward these three goals. Or at least toward two of them. Fine, I’ll settle for one, as long as it gets me closer to finally achieving it. Then I sit at my desk (never try to work toward your goals in bed, it won’t work!) with a cup of coffee (you know you need that coffee, stop fooling yourself) and decide which of the three tasks to tackle today.
To my surprise, for the past month, I picked the PhD thesis about 3 times out of 5. Although it’s not the most pressing task (the wedding is), nor the newest/most entertaining goal (the book is), I keep deciding to work on the thesis. It’s also the one that requires the most intellectual effort. Still, I somehow prefer it over and over again.
This trick doesn’t just help me start. When I’m tired, I take a break and ponder: “Do you want to keep going or would you rather pick wedding invitations and call that girl with the cupcakes? Or maybe you want to finish the book chapter that froze your mind last time”. And before you know it I’m back adding citations and working on figures like there’s no tomorrow.
I’m basically using my PhD thesis to feed my inner procrastination monkey. It’s just a way to avoid working on those other two tasks. But it’s also getting me closer to my goals, one day at a time. And whenever the procrastination monkey is on to the trick, I work on one of the other tasks for a day or two.
There’s probably some psychological explanation why this works. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience. If so, please leave a comment and tell me why it’s working. And if not, give it a try! Stop fighting your inner procrastination monkey. Accept it and work together toward your goals.