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Leaping Over the Hurdles of Procrastination

“This blog post is due when? Now, it’s due now!” I think to myself. I start typing in a fury.

 

“I can write something beautifully composed and witty in a short time frame, right?” I lie to myself.

 

How many times do you approach a writing project thinking that you can pump that piece out quickly? “I can write that paper in 1 to 2 months…Sure, I can have that draft turned into you by Friday.” Sound familiar? I’ve said these phrases to myself and my advisor on several occasions, but those deadlines are rarely met.

 

Why is that? Why do I, and my peers, continuously do this? I’m organized and motivated, but I rarely meet my writing deadlines. That’s because writing is often my “frog,” my biggest and most important task that I am most likely to procrastinate on if I don’t do something about it.

Brian Tracy’s book, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, was introduced to me in my grant writing class last year and unfortunately hits very close to home for me. Tracy talks about tackling those nagging tasks, the ones that linger in the back of your mind that you never want to touch, in an effective and satisfying way.

Green tree frog. Emily via Flickr http://tinyurl.com/gv4jk2b
Green tree frog. Emily via Flickr http://tinyurl.com/gv4jk2b

Eat That Frog introduced me to a new way of thinking about my most procrastinated tasks and familiarized me with the breadth of research that has been done on procrastination–these are much needed resources for people like me.

 

Now your frog may not be writing (my hat goes off to you), but perhaps it is analyzing your data, sorting through your electronic files, organizing your lab notebook, preparing for a presentation, etc. Whatever your frog is (we all have one!), there is hope for us if we can learn to practice eating our frog.

 

The simple idea is that if you start your day off by doing the worst thing on your list, the rest of the day will be smooth sailing.

 

There are tons of advice columns and books on how to stop procrastinating and tackle frogs, but I’ve found that most articles come down to just a few simple things:

 

  1. Time travel….no not literally.
    As humans we are incredibly bad at affective forecasting, predicting how we will feel in the future. This is where “time travelling” comes in. We need to create specific mental images of our future self frequently and accurately, to represent the future as though it were happening in the present. Think about the specific task in a tangible context of your day, and think about how these tasks make you feel. Think about getting that paper accepted a few months down the road, what does that feel like? How did you get there? Work backwards from that point of “manuscript accepted” to the present. What steps do you need to take to get there? Think about killing that departmental presentation you have to give. You have well-analyzed data, articulated thoughts about the flaws in your data set and how to move forward, and you answer the audience questions well. How does that feel? Now, how did you get there? When did you start working on your slide show? How long will it take you to analyze your data well? You get the picture.

 

  1. Gain Emotional Intelligence
    ‘Eating your frog’ often doesn’t feel great because it makes us feel overwhelmed by the task at hand. Ever sit down at your computer with that flashing cursor on your blank Word document staring back at you mocking you? Yeah, me too….Learn to acknowledge your negative emotions toward the task, but continue to work on your frog. By pushing through these negative feelings, you’re making small progress towards your goal and soon the negative feelings will pass. Maybe before you know it the task at hand will no longer be your frog.
The blank cursor mocking you. Via Flickr http://tinyurl.com/z5r7lts.
The blank cursor mocking you. Via i a walsh Flickr http://tinyurl.com/z5r7lts.

 

  1. Decrease Distractions
    Working on your least favorite task is already hard enough, so why make it more difficult for yourself? Create an environment that will actually allow you to succeed at your task and help you gain more self-discipline. Set aside a specific time to work on your frog, don’t check your email, or your favorite websites, get off social media, and set realistic goals towards that task on that day. I wake up and write before I do almost anything else. This is when I’m the least distracted and can focus on my own agenda and not everyone else’s. Find what works for you.

 

  1. Accountability
    Tell someone your goals. Find someone who will actually help you and push you towards completing your task (even the frogs on your list). Be honest with yourself and your accountability partner on where you are in your progression towards completing the task, and a realistic time frame to complete the task. This is not the time to try and impress your friends with how much you have on your to-do list, you want to truly tackle your frog.

 

  1. Ask for help
    I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to ask for help often. When I do ask for help it’s usually ten steps later than I should have. If you’re not good at writing, then seek out sources that are and can help you be a better writer. No task in science is completed in isolation, so why should writing be any different?

 

  1. Build Your Willpower
    Willpower is like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it will become. That means there is good news for those of you who feel like you have no willpower…have no fear because it is not a limited resource.

 

Chances are you already know what your “frog” is. If you don’t, think about what that one task is that you despise doing each day? Once you’ve got it, start to make it a habit to do that task first every morning.

Finally writing. Hillary via Flickr http://tinyurl.com/jpjbvjb.
Finally writing. Hillary via Flickr http://tinyurl.com/jpjbvjb.

 

As I sit here at 5:38 AM, I’m impressed to say I have officially tackled my frog for the day.

 

Now go eat that frog so you can say the same!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image Credit: Brocken Inaglory via Wikimedia Commons

References

The Truth About Frogs http://www.briantracy.com/blog/time-management/the-truth-about-frogs/ , Brian Tracy, Brian Tracy International.

Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time https://www.amazon.com/Eat-That-Frog-Great-Procrastinating/dp/1576754227 , Brian Tracy, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2007.

Ersner-Hershfield, H., Garton, M. T., Ballard, K., Samanez-Larkin, G. R., & Knutson, B. (2009). Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow: Individual differences in future self continuity account for saving. Judgment and Decision Making, 4(4). http://search.proquest.com/docview/1011239100?accountid=170463

Wilson TD & Gilbert DT (2003) Affective Forecasting, Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 35, 0065-2601/03, http://wjh-www.harvard.edu/~dtg/Wilson & Gilbert (Advances).pdf

Ending Procrastination – Right Now! https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200909/ending-procrastination-right-now , Timothy Pychyl, Psychology Today, 2009.

Emotional Intelligence https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/emotional-intelligence Psychology Today.

Pomodoro Technique Planning https://www.focusboosterapp.com/pomodoro-technique-planning , focus booster

SelfControlApp, A free Mac applicaton to help you avoid distracting websites https://selfcontrolapp.com/ , Charlie Stigler of Zaption and Steve Lambert.

Freedom, Block the Internet, Apps, and Websites https://freedom.to/

SMART Goals, How to Make Your Goals Achievable https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm , MindTools, Essential skills for an excellent career

The One Question That Instantly Improves Accountability in Meetings http://www.forbes.com/sites/markmurphy/2015/09/11/the-one-question-that-instantly-improves-accountability-in-meetings/#58ec532df9c8 , Forbes, Mark Murphy 2015.

Procrastination http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/procrastination/ , The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill

15 Tips for Improving Your Writing in Graduate School https://blogs.plos.org/thestudentblog/2016/08/26/15-tips-for-improving-your-writing-in-graduate-school/ , PLOS ECR Community Blog, Meredith Wright, 2016.

Resistance Training For Your ‘Willpower’ Muscles http://www.npr.org/2011/09/18/140516974/resistance-training-for-your-willpower-muscles , NPR, Weekend Edition Sunday, 2011.

Discussion
  1. This one hits home for me! Updating my lab notebook is definitely my “frog” of each and every day. I think the big problem is that I keep notes in multiple different notebooks and usually end up grabbing the first one I see, so my notes are never organized in chronological order. I keep telling myself to start an online lab notebook, but I never get around to it. Any good recommendations for online lab notebooks?

  2. Hey Stephanie- I just keep a detailed Google Spreadsheet with columns for what I did and why, result, conclusions, and next steps! Works wonders.

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