The Art of Not Procrastinating

by Nicole Mennell

I am one week into my PhD and after a year out of studying I have struggled with the lack of structure I had gotten used to in my 9-to-5 job, causing the last seven days to be a continual fight against procrastination. Due to the independent nature of my Masters degree I was aware of the self-discipline I would require to complete my thesis so this was not a surprise, it has simply been a shock to the system after knowing exactly what Monday to Friday would entail for the past nine months. Effectively, the last week has been a period of adaptation and adjustment as I get back into the swing of things. And yes, I know writing this post is arguably me procrastinating, but it has allowed me to think about the differences between “regular working days” and “study days” and the ways in which I can enforce the same structure I had become accustomed to in order to make the most of my time.

Firstly, having the ‘I need to get up, be showered, dressed, fed and caffeinated in order to catch my train’ attitude every day meant I was up and out of the door before I could even consider what had happened on the Great British Bake Off or any of the other television shows I shamelessly watch. Secondly, knowing what time lunch was and for how long gave me the initial motivation I needed to get stuck into my assigned tasks with a sense of reward once I had completed them. Thirdly and finally, having a (more or less) set time for when I was due to unbolt the chains which tied me to my desk each evening provided a framework for ticking off all the items on my to do list. This is obviously an ideal picture – when deadlines loomed lunch often involved me taking absent minded bites out of an overpriced sandwich whilst typing furiously away and the chains remained firmly locked until I was satisfied I had done all I could in one day before I was blinded by the glare from the computer screen. For the majority of the time I had a clear sense of how my day would look and I had my evenings to attend gym classes, cook a decent meal and spend time with family and friends.
Towards the end of my Masters degree I had nowhere near the same sense of structure, especially when it came to the research and writing up stages of my dissertation. I was working ridiculous hours, not taking sufficient breaks and had hardly any time for myself in the evenings and at weekends. I am aware that I would not be able to sustain such work ethic for three years so I have decided to apply the structure of my working day to my PhD studies. Thankfully I made this decision after one week of failed attempts to limit tea breaks to 15 minutes and to not answer phone calls from my mum asking how I was getting on. I have committed to work from 8-7 in the library (the hour reading time either side on the train definitely counts as essential research) in the hope that this will create the same work environment I had gotten used to. I know that there will be days where I will not get to the library and days where a text will grip me to such an extent that I will be unceremoniously escorted from the library at closing time, but, by and large, I hope this structure will promote a productive working day. There is the added benefit that I will be working on exactly what I want to work on and will be striving to (hopefully) answer questions I have set myself. Knowing this will make those chains keeping my bolted to the library desk all the more bearable.
There are now of course other worries to consider, such as keeping my lunch cool in the library locker, deciding how much is an acceptable amount to spend on coffee each week, and the dilemma of whether to take my laptop with me on each toilet break or to trust my nearest neighbour to act as a security guard. These are just a few of the joys of studying in a library that I look forward to, but more on that next time.
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