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Procrastinating? Try This Trick

"Halve it, then halve it again"

I got this advice a while back from a friend. I was procrastinating on my yoga goals. Back then, I wanted to spend an hour on my practice. I was doing it at home, following along with a video available online that was, you guessed it, just about an hour long. So my goal, my plan made sense. But I wasn't doing it.

Instead of leaving the conversation at "I should be able to do this, it's a good plan," she told me a trick she'd learned: Take your goal, then cut it in half. Then, cut it in half again. That meant that all I had to commit to doing was 15 minutes of yoga.

I've remembered this and have suggested it to my own clients when they're facing procrastination challenges or simply a lack of time. One of my current clients works full time and has family responsibilities in the evenings and on weekends. But she's determined to apply for academic jobs this year, which means she needs to carve out time to work on applications. An hour -- the amount of time she wants to have -- is a tall order; 15 minutes is much more doable. And that means she's more likely to actually do the work.

My client isn't dealing with procrastination, but it's a challenge I'm on intimate terms with! A couple years back I listened to an interview with research psychologist Tim Pychyl, an expert on procrastination. Pychyl explained that it's often about "providing immediate mood repair." Instead of facing head-on a task that may be unpleasant, draining, or difficult, we chose not to do it -- and then we feel better! But of course in the long run, we harm ourselves. (See my Storify for more info and ideas from Pychyl.)

In my own life, I procrastinate on administrative tasks. I dislike putting together the materials that I send new clients. The task isn't a pleasant one for me. But it is something I must do! Instead of putting aside a big block of time to do it all in, I'm better off "halving it, then halving it again," at least in spirit. In practice that means breaking the task into small chunks.

I did this the other day, after a new client signed on to work with me. I did the administrative work over three different days, doing just a few minutes at a time. It made the work much more palatable. Over time, I might build a better, more efficient habit, but I'll never get there if I'm procrastinating.

That's the impetus behind the popular book Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day. The author, Joan Bolker, isn't saying you only need to do 15 minutes a day. But if you're not working on your dissertation at all -- an experience I know all too well! -- focusing on just 15 minutes can help you get started. And once you've started,  then you can work on building a good-for-you long-term habit. You'll never get there if you don't start small.

Think working with me might get you where you want to go? I'm accepting new clients! Sign up for a free, no obligation initial consultation. Feel free to forward this to your friends.
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Blog posts

Miss anything from the past month? Here's what's appeared since the last newsletter.

"Transition Q & A: Sara Langworthy," University Affairs, 25 Aug 2015.
And congratulations to Sara on the publication of her book!

"Transition Q & A: Pablo Dominguez Andersen," University Affairs, 15 Sep 2015.
Pablo's non-academic job is such fun! And yet he used be sure he wanted to work as a professor.

"My new mission: From PhD to Life, the book!" University Affairs, 23 Sep 2015.
Eek! And today, I finished drafting the introduction.

"Transition Q & A: Christine Buske," University Affairs, 29 Sep 2015.
What's an extroverted biologist to do after her PhD? Why, work as Head of Outreach for a software company!


Elsewhere on the web

PhD Perspective: What I learned at Mitacs Step workshops,” Mitacs blog, 27 Aug 2015.

I'm featured in Suzanne Bowness, “What’s up with alt-ac careers,” University Affairs, 8 Sep 2015.

Interview with Scott Rank, The Scholarpreneur Podcast, ep. 023, 16 Sep 2015.

Check out my website for resources for PhDs, including the Transition Q & As, and lots more info about my services. Connect with me on social media or send me an email anytime!