I am a serial procrastinator.
But I’m not lazy. I’ve run marathons, cycled the length and breadth of England (including a 140 mile slog from east to west coast in a single day and a 525-mile week-long ride from Edinburgh to Brighton), and climbed a mountain on crutches with a broken ankle just to escape boredom.
But when it comes to doing the easy things I procrastinate like crazy.
I procrastinate even if I know it’ll cost me money. I book flights at the last minute, even though I could have done it a month ago, and I leave bills until the day before they are due (and occasionally a bit later).
I barely scraped through to pass by undergraduate degree, leaving revision to coffee-fueled overnight cramming sessions. It was horrible, but the same thing happened every time.
I’m not a morning person…
… but then it’s also pretty rare that I’m in bed before 1 in the morning. It just doesn’t seem that urgent to go to sleep.
So I’ll struggle to get up before 9. During my PhD I’d usually arrive at work at about 11, then I’d need coffee, check email… then before I knew it I was going for lunch at 1.
But it’s OK, I’ll stay late and get more done this afternoon…
Just another 30 minutes…
I’ll just watch to the end of this episode of The Simpsons, then I’ll get down to work. It’s just 30 minutes to lunch, I’ll just check my email. I’m sleepy, I’ll snooze for half an hour…
It’s an endless cycle of self-torture.
I’ll change, starting tomorrow…
Tomorrow will be different. Tomorrow I’m going to get up at 6 am. Tomorrow I’ll buy a diary and a whiteboard and get myself organised.
But old habits die hard. After a week the diary is buried under a pile of crap on the desk, and the whiteboard has all the same stuff I wrote in the short-lived burst of enthusiasm the day I bought it.
And yet I still managed to write my PhD thesis in 3 months.
Making the transition
To finish your PhD, you have to make the transition from researcher to writer. That means changing some of your routines and habits.
There comes a time when you have to ask yourself if you are serious; when you have to ask yourself why you are here, and what you have to do to succeed.
It’s no use beating yourself up and wishing you had more will power. Instead you just need to ask how you can make life easier for yourself.
Change your environment
I struggled to stay off email, so when it came to writing my thesis I worked at home with no internet connection. There’s no way I could have stayed off the internet in the office, but at home, without the choice, no self-control was needed.
But at home my default habit used to be to watch TV. 99% of the programmes are pointless anyway, so I threw it out and after a week didn’t miss it in the slightest.
Those two decisions were as important as anything else in helping me finish.
It’s incredibly hard to change yourself, but you can change your environment easily to help change your behaviour.