How to Procrastinate Yourself Toward Success

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Two years ago, I started writing my PhD thesis. The hard part was already finished. I had done all the experiments, completed the data analysis, even published a paper. Now I just had to sit at my desk and describe everything I did in the lab, so I could finally get my title.

This shouldn’t take long, right?

Wrong! To this day, I’m still struggling to find the time, motivation, and discipline to buckle down and write the damn thesis. But recently I stumbled upon a solution.

During 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 goal.

Just like you, 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. The thing you should be taking care of right now. But you just keep putting it off. So am I. And while we’re fooling around, the list of things we have to get done keeps getting longer and longer.

Frustration at work
Frustration by Peter Alfred Hess

Case in point: my top priorities right now are

  1. finishing the PhD thesis
  2. writing a book
  3. planning our wedding.

Each day I wake up and think: Today I’m going to make progress on these three goals. Or at least 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 goals I will work on.

To my utter surprise, during the past month I’ve chosen to work on my PhD thesis about 3 times out of 5. Although it’s not the most pressing task (the wedding is), nor the newest/most entertaining one (that would be the book), I keep deciding to work on the hardest task, which is writing the thesis.

Here’s the trick: whenever I feel too tired or unmotivated to work on my thesis, I take a break and ponder.

Do you want to work on the thesis 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 adding citations and working on figures like there’s no tomorrow.

I’m basically using the PhD thesis to feed my inner procrastination monkey. Yes, it’s just a way of avoiding those other two tasks on my list. 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 switch to one of the other tasks for a day or two.

There’s probably some psychological explanation why this works. All I know is that it works when tackling multiple goals at once.

So stop fighting your inner procrastination monkey. Embrace it, use it, and work together toward achieving your goals.

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