Why PhD Students Procrastinate and What We Can Do About It

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Post as appears on http://ahscribbles.com/phd-procrastinate/

PhD students are notoriously famous for procrastinating. To understand why, let’s take a look at an equation Nick Winter presented in his book The Motivation Hacker, as I’ve written about here;

The biggest problems PhD students face are impulsiveness and delay. Most of the time, these two go hand-in-hand. Graduation dates (or thesis deadlines) are so far off into the horizon {delay} that this one hour spent going down the IYS (Infinite Youtube Spiral) {impulsiveness} seems insignificant. Since both impulsiveness and delay are high for PhD students, Motivation levels tend to dip, and so we procrastinate….

a lot…

by watching videos on procrastination like Tim Urban’s famous TED talk.

Recently, I’ve had to fight procrastination because it was a luxury I couldn’t afford between finishing my thesis and other writing-related side projects. So here are a few tips that worked for me, which I hope works for you;

  • Fill your plate and take on more responsibility. I asked one of my friends who’s a working mother how she managed it all; job, home and having a social life. She said, she had to because she couldn’t afford not to. At first the statement was cryptic. I only understood what she meant when I started to get serious about my writing-related side projects (blog/book) in addition to my thesis…all of a sudden, I became more efficient. The attitude became, ‘Do it now or it’ll never get done.’

It seems quite counter-intuitive to add more responsibility when you’re busy, but try it out for some time and see if it helps you be more efficient. When an opportunity presents itself, don’t say no because you don’t have time for it (unless you really, really, really don’t have time for it), but if there’s some time that gets funnelled into facebook and the IYS (the infinite youtube spiral), then say, ‘Yes,’ and learn to adapt.

  • Use external motivators. For me, that was beeminder and I wrote about it here. The idea behind beeminder is that it provides short-term pain for slipping on a long-term goal by taking away money from your credit card until you reach the pledge cap(basically, varying the Delay parameter on your Procrastination equation). I was skeptical about beeminder until I tried it and it worked for me. So I’ve been using it to stay on track for big projects — though my pledge cap is low, to be honest — but I’m happy to report the website is yet to take anything from me. Because my thesis was supposed to be a 150–200 page manuscript, I started beeminder.com around 4 months before the first draft’s deadline. This transformed me from the amateur that I was to the professional that I am. I had to consistently add to my manuscript 5 days a week for 4 months straight.
  • Know your process. I can’t emphasize this enough. Whether you’re a lab scientist or a writer or a knowledge worker or a student…study your process with the enthusiasm of a microbiologist eyeing bacteria under the microscope. Know all the tiny details of your process, and questions to aid you are;
  1. Make a time-log for how long certain activities take. It usually takes 2–4 weeks of logging to understand your habits, but after that, you’ll be able to fine-tune your daily plans.

2. Know the conditions under which you enter a state of flow. State of flow is a state of hyperfocus while working on an activity. Some things about it from the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, author of Flow;

  • It’s an inner state of intense focus
  • It leads to a sense of clarity where you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other.
  • You know that what you need to do is possible to do, even though difficult
  • Sense of time disappears and you forget yourself. to give you an example, let me tell you something that happened while writing this exact section of this exact post; I was in such a state of flow, I ended up dropping my coffee because I wasn’t paying attention and ended up placing it at the corner of the table, where it plunged to the floor.

So know the conditions under which you enter a state of flow; Do you prefer silence or white noise? Can you work on your bed or do you need to be seated at your desk? Can you work in a coffee shop? Are you always distracted by your colleagues in the office? Do you have to get headphones to stop them from disturbing you?

3. Know how much time do you spend on shallow work and how much time you spend on deep work? If you want to distinguish between the two, Cal Newport gives a clear distinction between the two in his book Deep Work;

Shallow work: noncognitively demanding, logistical-style tasks, often performed while distracted. These efforts tend to not create much new value in the world and are easy to replicate.

Deep Work: Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.

In the context of office work, forwarding emails would fall under shallow work while deep work would probably be something creative like putting together a presentation for a client.

Once you know how much time gets wasted in shallow work, you can adjust your routine so you spend more time on Deep Work and less on shallow work. For instance, my phone is perpetually on silent mode, and I remove the notification from everything. Even work-related emails don’t come to me automatically. I have to fetch them, and I keep Outlook closed for most of the day.

  • Visual reminders. One trick I learnt to keep on top of my to-do list is to screenshot it and keep it as the lock screen wallpaper on my phone. That way the to-do list is always on my face. I usually update it every 3–5 days so sometimes I’ll have an item that was on that I had already done.

Even though I’ve mainly discussed my tricks for beating procrastination, I have to admit the most important thing when it comes to beating procrastination is actually the numerator;

Expectancy x Value

But I’ll talk about in another post. Love this post and know someone who is suffering from procrastination? Share this post with them.

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On Snapchat and the Ephemeral

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I feel there are two types of people; those who understand snapchat and those who don’t. Before I start, let me admit that I fall under the latter category. I don’t understand what is it about the app that has captured the attention of so many young people. It also makes me wonder what affect it could have on people, especially the young.Would they translate their love for the ephemeral to real life? Does that mean that their fashion, friendships, and marriages would have a 24-hour expiry date? What would history mean to them? Would it encourage stalkers?
Or maybe this fascination with the ephemeral could be a good thing. They might refuse to be shackled by the cultural story their parents brainwashed them with. They might be able to bounce up quickly after every fall because that rejection was “soooo yesterday. They might get engaged into every moment of their life without being encumbered by pains from the past.

Or maybe, I’m overthinking all of this? What do you think about snapchat? Do you use it? Tweet me @ahechoes.

If you like this post, support the work by sharing it with your friends on facebook, like the facebook page; https://www.facebook.com/AH-Scribbles-1699410536954329/

Also, check out my short story collection, “All Bleeding  Stops and Other Short Stories from the Kenyan Coast,” and the book summarizing a lot of ideas in the personal development field if you want to change your life but don’t know where to start, “Mine your inner resources”.

Why Do You Have To Struggle For Every Little Thing In Your Life

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legs-1031653_1920A friend of mine voiced this fact once… “I have to fight for every little thing in my life…my family…my weight…my husband…my health” (she survived cancer).

But maybe she doesn’t see it in herself; she’s one of the kindest, strongest, most fascinating people I’ve ever met in my life. And I find myself thinking that sometimes our struggles exist to help us grow into the strong, compassionate people we’re supposed to be…As Srini Rao — author of Unmistakable — says occasionally in his Unmistakable Creative podcast, “some people go through post-traumatic stress, while others go through post-traumatic growth.”

This in no way or shape diminishes those who go through post-traumatic stress, but it also shows that pain and stress aren’t always the only thing waiting at the end of that long tunnel of life’s struggles. Sometimes what lies there is a sense of growth, wisdom, peace, and the inner security that you can handle hard challenges.

“What doesn’t break you makes you stronger,” is a cliche for a reason…Challenges build your resilience, your threshold for pain, your attitude in life, your support system. They also give you a chance to be grateful when you’re not facing a challenge. So don’t dismiss them just like that, as they appear in your life for a reason.

This is a reminder for myself more than others.

What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to leave your comment below and tweet me @ahechoes

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Also, check out my short story collection, “All Bleeding Stops and Other Short Stories from the Kenyan Coast,” and the non-fiction book summarizing a lot of ideas in the personal development field if you want to change your life but don’t know where to start, “Mine your inner resources”.

How Do You Eat Your Cereal? A Post on Individuality

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As a Kemeni girl in the UAE, I never felt like I truly belonged. When I brought mahamri to school, I felt embarrassed because none of the other kids brought mahamri to school. They would get sandwiches and crisps and Capri-sonne. I was sure they had no idea what that strange dark bread that dark-skinned girl was eating. Summers in Kenya were not any better. I didn’t fit in there either, even though they were fully aware of what mahamri was.

What I regret most from those days is that I spent so much mental and emotional effort trying to fit in when I could have spent it to stand out. In Linchpin, Seth Godin writes, “For hundreds of years, the population has been seduced, scammed, and brainwashed into fitting in, following instructions, and exchanging a day’s work for a day’s pay. That era has come to an end.”

I agree with him; “fitting in” is so yesterday. Nowadays, we live in a post-globalized world where social media has helped melt borders and introduce cultures to one another. And while many people might be tolerant towards intercultural differences, there are still some who are really hung up on keeping their own culture homogeneous so they try to destroy the concept of individuality. In other words, just like you’re born in the tribe, you’re supposed to eat, talk, think and behave like the tribe.

But that’s practically impossible, because we’re all unique. Take an example, ask everybody you know,

“How do you eat your cereal?”

You would expect the answer to be; with cold milk, but that’s not always the case. I’ve met people who never outgrew their love for baby food and like their cereal soggy with warm milk. Others have it with no milk. Then there are those who are sequential eats; they eat the cereal, and then wash it down with milk.

We may have gone to the same schools, hung around the same people, but we all experience the world differently. So today’s post is about celebrating your individuality; a skill that needs to be honed more in our Asian & Middle Eastern & African (AMEA) societies. Here are five practical ways;
5) Mix languages in a unique way. Some people are serial linguists; they use one language per conversation. However, many people in this part of the world are multi-lingual so be unique and mix words from different languages in a single sentence. Speak 3arabenglish for a while. Or as they say in Swahili goes, shoofil qurabu fog ilmabamba.
4) Engage in hobbies you enjoy around people who don’t. Sometimes, we hide our interests and hobbies in order to fit in, because we’re scared of the strange glances and the whispered comments, but we need to be comfortable with those “you’re so weird” glances. And in case you’re looking for a comeback to those who call you weird, you might say, “I’m not weird. I’m just unique.”
3) Be brutally honest. Even if it pisses people off. Especially if it pisses people off. Try talking to conservative aunties about ideas related to feminism and watch the fireworks. After some time, you might even start enjoying pissing people off.
2) Learn to say no without giving any reasons. Many times, we want to please others and end up saying yes to requests we would rather say no to because we’re trying to be nice. While it’s very easy for people to take things personally if you deny them requests, life has taught me, they just get over it and find someone else to do those things. And if someone really resents you for saying no, then – hint, hint – you don’t need such people in your life. So exercise in front of a mirror.
“Because I simply don’t want to.”
1) Be tolerant of other people. Mocking others for being different and judging them is just a sign of a closed mind. It cultivates the sort of environment that makes people bury their authentic selves, hide beneath masks and basically stamp on their own individuality. So basically, celebrate your individuality by allowing others to celebrate theirs.

So what are you going to try today to celebrate your individuality? Whether you decide to mix languages in a unique way, become brutally honest, engage in hobbies you enjoy around those who don’t, say no without giving any reasons or practice tolerance towards others, try it and tweet me on @ahechoes. Also don’t forget to tell me; how do you eat your cereal?

Like this article? Share it with your friends on Facebook and like AH Scribbles on facebook https://www.facebook.com/AH-Scribbles-1699410536954329/

Also, check out my short story collection, “All Bleeding Stops and Other Short Stories from the Kenyan Coast,” and the non-fiction book summarizing a lot of ideas in the personal development field if you want to change your life but don’t know where to start, “Mine your inner resources”.