Even for those of us who don’t have grad. school senioritis, procrastination is almost definitely a recurring issue. I’ve noticed that even the people who always seem to be ahead of the game have motivation/procrastination problems at least once a month or so (you can tell so easily by Facebook status updates!). Since there is less and less imposed structure as you go higher and higher up the academic ladder, this is pretty understandable. In fact, even on grad. share, the theme that recurs most often in the advice section seems to be procrastination. There are different incarnations of the “I need to stay motivated and stop putting off work” question. Some deal specifically with paper writing, for example. Others deal with research, or how to say no to hanging out with friends without losing your whole social network.
The advice gradshare members give varies widely not only from question to question, but from person to person. Most of the advice is, I think, very good. As long as you keep in mind that not every tactic works the same way for every person. For example, I had a friend who recommended writing in 45 minute increments, then taking a scheduled 15 minute break, and then going back to writing. This is supposed to increase productivity. A gradshare member recommended a similar strategy, only working in blocks of 25 minutes with 10 minute breaks in between. I know a lot of people who have said this strategy was a wonderful revelation. It does not work for me. I know that it takes me approximately as many hours as I have pages to write when I have a paper. But when I sit down to write it, I can’t micromanage. I need to let myself go to Facebook when I feel like going to Facebook. I need to write when I have a burst of energy or a sudden epiphany. Sometimes that means I’ll write for an hour straight, and sometimes that means I’ll “waste time” for an hour straight. But that’s what I’ve realized works for me.
Same deal with turning off all forms of communication to the outside world. Many gradshare users recommend, especially for those of us who have trouble saying no to friends, turning off cell phone, email, etc. whenever you need to get work done. I, on the other hand, start going stir crazy if I don’t feel like someone else is out there. Sometimes at 4am when I am still working and I feel that I’m the only one awake in the whole world, I open up iChat or AIM. Sometimes I don’t even IM anyone. But just seeing that there are other people signed on and (potentially) awake allows me to concentrate on my work rather than on my (real or imagined) isolation.
The thing I have found most helpful, and something many gradshare users also recommend, is getting into a routine. This is the thing that has most helped me find a balance between work and play. For example, though there are sometimes exception, I have made it a rule not to work on whatever “my Friday” happens to be (this semester my Friday is Wednesday evening). Instead, I relax. My roommates and I have set aside Wednesday nights as time we share. During most of the week, they only see me leaving my room (what we’ve deemed my “hobbit hole” or “cave” for food. But Wednesdays are Battlestar Galactica nights (and dinners that begin with the letter B, like Breakfast or Burritos). So routine is good in my book.
But something gradshare users don’t mention, but that many grad. students nevertheless use as a motivation tool, is the energy drink. Whatever their drink of choice may be (maybe they want Red Bull to give them wings so they’ll fly through their work, or maybe they’ll pick up some Five Hour energy at their supermarket’s checkout counter in the hopes of avoiding that “two o’clock feeling”), most people have tried an energy drink. (Personally, I like tea. And sleeping a crazy amount of hours on my first weekend day. And then dealing with being exhausted the rest of the time. But I’m pretty picky, and I don’t think any energy drink I’ve sipped has tasted good enough for a full can/bottle. I don’t even like the taste of coffee!) So what are the pros and cons of this back-up plan? A lot of people site the crash that happens after you lose the initial kick, though some companies claim their product has no crash factor. But what about how to deal when your back-up plan is no longer a back up plan? Coffee every day is a pretty standard addiction, but what about coffee every morning and a boost of energy every afternoon? How many kicks does a grad. student need?
Is there any way around this problem? Are graduate students, or even students in general, or even adults in general, doomed to either perpetual exhaustion or caffeine/taurine/etc, addictions? Is there an energy drink that’s good for you? For example, recently there was a study that said having some coffee every day might actually be helpful in preventing Alzheimer’s and memory loss. Though there may not be scientific evidence, is there an energy drink that might be more helpful than harmful? Are there any other motivation/anti-procrastination tactics most people haven’t tried that they should?