Sep 3, 2012

Procrastination tip: work in timed bursts


(S. João da Madeira park, Portugal)
I've been trying to motivate myself to keep going and finish my PhD. To help myself, I've been reading about procrastination - about what may cause it, and what strategies we may apply to motivate ourselves and procrastinate less. And I've also tested many of these strategies, eventually letting go of some, and keeping others.
I thought it would be interesting to share some of these strategies here. So I'll be dedicating some of my posts to sharing tips on how to beat procrastination. Some of these strategies will be more or less well known, but I'll still present them, trying to express how I found them particularly helpful. Of course (and this is very important) what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. I guess the secret lies in testing different strategies, and then keeping the ones that fit us best.

I hope this can be of use to anyone who stops by :)

So, here's my Procrastination tip no. 1: Work in timed bursts.

The length:

Some recommend 30 minutes of uninterrupted and focused work, others 40 minutes, others tell you to pick the time length that fits you and the task best. From my experience, the flexible approach is the best. I would say that 45 minutes is my 'ideal'. However, and before deciding the length of my timed burst, I analyse how I'm feeling towards the particular task at hand. If I'm resisting it a lot, then 45 minutes is too much. I will feel that there's no way I'll be able to be with the task for that amount of time. So I pick a number, starting from 5 minutes, with which I feel comfortable. Sometimes my mood is so low, and I'm resisting the task so much, that I can only bear the idea of working 5 minutes. Then, after the 5 minutes have passed, I ask myself: 'Can I work another 5 (or 10, or 15) minutes?' Many times, eventually, I actually work the 45 minutes.

In between:

Ok... But how do I organize these timed bursts? How much time do I leave in between them? And what do I do in between them? This can vary too, of course. The trick is to let myself feel as comfortable as possible with the 'working time vs. resting time' ratio. As an example, this could be my (flexible to change) daily working plan:

45 minutes of work
15 minutes pause*
45 minutes of work
Big pause**
45 minutes of work
15 minutes pause*
45 minutes of work
Big pause**
45 minutes of work
15 minutes pause*
45 minutes of work**

* For example: to stretch, do some quick house chore, refill my bottle of water (which I always keep at hand), sew a little, go chat a bit with my mother, go outside and enjoy the garden and the fresh air, do a mindfulness exercise, etc.
** For example: to lunch/dinner/snack, exercise, go for a walk, spend some time with a friend or with my boyfriend, take a nap, etc.

This makes a 4h30min working day of focused and uninterrupted work. Since I work 6 days per week, I believe this is a fair amount of working time. Anyway, it is just an example. Generally it won't be as perfectly structured, but this kind of scheme has helped me a lot.

The benefits:

- When you're working in timed bursts you've created yourself a mini deadline. You know when you'll stop, and so you won't be unconsciously dreading to be indefinitely stuck with your task. You can see the resting and refreshing period in front of you. I believe this way the work at hand feels a bit lighter and easier to deal with.

- Your pause periods work as rewards. And your brain loves rewards, and tends to reinforce the behaviors that get rewarded (more on creating rewarding systems on a later post).

So, I believe this is a simple strategy worth trying.

And you? Do you work in timed bursts? How does it work for you? I would love to hear about your personal experience regarding this tip in the comments section.

See you soon :)


6 comments:

  1. Great tips! I personally find that starting is the hardest part, so I try to start with something simple. And knowing that you'll have a well-deserved reward soon is a great way to keep you going. Thanks.

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  2. Hi LMandel,

    I'm really glad that you enjoyed this tip :) Yes, starting is very often the toughest part, and starting not only with a small amount of time, but also with a simple/small task can really help.

    Thanks for your comment!

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  3. I think this is a good approach. I did try it when I was still doing my PhD, and it worked well. I completed a lot of work when I used the approach. I wasn't able to sustain it due to my health, and I eventually had to stop doing my PhD. I just realised that whatever technique I would use, it wouldn't make the experience a worthwhile one, since I didn't want to continue in academia.

    I've read the few most recent posts, and I like your attitude towards powering through it. I too am proactive and always trying to find new ways of dealing with certain things. I want to start a new blog where I share my experience/strategies. I have another blog, "making things beautiful again", where I share the things I make, and my journey towards a simpler life.

    All the best to you :)

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    Replies
    1. Hi again, Linda,

      I'll be waiting for your new blog! :)

      And I already bookmarked your 'making things beautiful again' blog ;) Thanks for stopping by.

      And all the best tou you too :)

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  4. Fui encontrar uma portuguesa no meio dos meus blogs ingleses preferidos, certo?! :)

    Pomodoro technique is so similar to that spoken in your post. know it? see u!

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    Replies
    1. Sim! É verdade :) Portuguesa de gema. E o 'Be more with less' também é um dos meus blogs preferidos.

      I did not know about the Pomodoro technique! I first read about timed bursts in 'Do it tomorrow and other secrets of time management', by Mark Forster, and then in 'The now habit', by Neil Fiore. But yes, now that I googled it, it's the same principle :)

      Thanks for stopping by!

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