New Year, New Intentions
Part 3: Just Do It!
Having undertaken a review on current status on the course and thought about how and where you work best in the last two weeks, hopefully you have been able to schedule some time to get work done. But this isn’t always the case.
There are lots of reasons for why we don’t just do it.
If you are about to sit down but get that nagging feeling that something else could be done … this is procrastination.
A temptation can be to revise plans, maybe draw up elaborate study timetables which take up more and more time. You can get caught in the never ending spiral of spending so much time planning that you never get any work done, and then need to revise plans which use up more time … and end up repeating this process ad infinitum.
Another default response is, ‘there is always tomorrow’. Bumping sessions to another future day is easy to do, but before you know it days turn into weeks and even months go by without doing any work.
It is also too easy to get distracted by other seemingly straightforward tasks. The ‘it will just take a minute to …. empty the dishwasher, check social media, make a drink, rearrange the furniture … “, whatever task seems more appealing than what you should actually concentrating on for your course.
There is something going on in the brain when we procrastinate. Sometimes it can be a good thing, we need to look and think before we leap. Time taken to revise ideas, to reflect and ruminate, can be positive for the outcomes. However, at other times we are just avoiding the ‘thing we need to do’. The more we ignore it of course, the larger ‘the thing’ will loom in our minds.
When we think about the tasks we need to do, if they are hard or challenging it can trigger responses in the same area of the brain that we feel pain. The desire to procrastinate relieves this feeling and for a short time period we feel better. Once we fall into this cycle, it can be hard to break from it, deadlines can then loom ever closer, causing that unpleasant sensation to intensify, we then procrastinate more to avoid the sensation.
There are some simple (and not too time consuming) strategies that you can adopt to help you focus and sit down to work.
The use of timers was explored in “The Pomodoro Technique” by Francesco Cirillo. The idea is very simple, that you set a timer for a designated short burst – 25 minutes is the common amount of time. Just work for that time period. Don’t worry about quality or editing your work. It is better to just get into the work. Many writers use a variation of this either working to a specified word count every day or working for a set time period.
Take a break after the session and get up and move around. If you have time for another session after the break, just sit down and set the timer again. Don’t think about getting a task finished, focus on the process of working instead.
Sometimes the session will not produce work of any quality, but you will have achieved something. It might be that you know what doesn’t work for this piece of work.
If you are really struggling with a creative block or complete lack of motivation, try working for just 5 minutes.
Then when the 5 minutes are up, stop if you want, take a break then try another 5 minute session later that day.
It’s amazing what you can do in 5 minutes.
Start a page in a sketchbook, read some research, practice some music, draft a learning log entry.
EAT THAT FROG!
This is from consultant Brian Tracy’s book of the same name. The idea is that you tackle the task that is looming as the very first thing you do that day. It may be that you only work on it for 5 minutes when you first get up, but that first few minutes can help break down the barrier to then working on it further.
In the previous post, I discussed scheduling the evening before. Combine ‘eating the frog’ with scheduling the night before, and you will have primed your mind to work on the task for when you wake up.
SET UP FOR THE NEXT SESSION
If you are lucky to be able to have a dedicated space to work, try setting up for the next session as part of the close of a session.
Leaving the book ready for the next chapter to be read for research. If it’s practical work then making notes on what you should focus on, for the next creative session and leave these in clear view. This helps to prime the brain for when you start work again. It can also help prevent the blank mind syndrome, where you don’t know what you should be doing or which task is the greatest priority.
The prompt of seeing the work laid out can really help you sit down and start. People starting fitness routines who leave their exercise clothes out the night before are more likely to go for run or to the gym when they get up in the morning.
Do share any tips you have for overcoming procrastination.