Procrastination: when the “I want to do it” becomes “I have to do it”

For most people who are engaged in PhD, doing the PhD usually entails negative feelings because of the pressure they feel to finish it.


Well, I am not an exception on that…  The interesting part is although I feel pressured to finish my thesis and I view it as my higher priority, many times in the past I experienced the phase of procrastination.

So, on the one hand I wanted to finish and on the other hand I was doing anything else I could imagine except working on my thesis! Of course you know how the rest of the story goes: Not working on thesis → makes you feel guilt for not working/not finishing → feelings of guilt makes you feel bad, not in the mood of working. It is a never-ending cycle! Being there, done that!

As I said in the previous post on Procrastination, a year ago I managed to “zoom out” and view the whole situation as an outsider. I saw what and why I was doing regarding my thesis. Then I start thinking why am I procrastinating? And I came to realize the true reasons of my procrastination.

In this post I am focusing on:

a) How my procrastination was related with viewing my PhD as a stressful activity since I didn’t see any joy in doing my thesis. b) How I re-found joy in doing my thesis and being productive.

The difference between “I want to do it” and “I have to do it

I realized that one of my reasons for procrastination was because working on my thesis made me feel isolated, stressed, and uncomfortable. Working on my thesis was not fun and I didn’t enjoy it.

So I start thinking… Why am I doing the thesis? Why I started my PhD?

It was my choice and I started my PhD because I like doing research. I find it creative and joyful!

So, why I didn’t want to do it anymore? Why I procrastinated in something that I have very consciously chosen?

I realized that I had lost my joy. I have labeled my thesis “my big obligation/priority/big goal, which is more important than everything else”.

I had taken something that was a pleasure (doing research) and transformed it to a pressure. I have transformed something from “I want to do it” to “I have to do it”.

Re-finding the joy and pleasure of doing my thesis

Ok! The interesting part! How I changed it and how I managed to see again the joy in doing my thesis?

I stopped viewing the PhD as my highest priority because…well, actually it’s not! What do I mean by that?

When I realized that I didn’t see any joy in doing my thesis I started wondering. What do I want in my life? I don’t know which your goal is, but my goal in life is to be happy. So I grab a paper and I wrote down: “My goal is to be happy”

Hmm…not a very specific goal, right?

So I started thinking “backwards”. What makes me happy? Well, there are many things that make me happy! Being healthy, have people to love and love me, doing my hobbies, having a job that I like, and many more.

In order to have these things that contribute on being happy, I have to do some other things. For example, being healthy contributes in being happy. But in order to be healthy I have to eat healthy and exercise regularly.

When I finished my notes, I look at the whole picture and I realized that my PhD (my “ultimate” goal) was just a part of the big picture.

All these years I was focusing only on my PhD, prioritizing my identity as PhD candidate and I have forgotten than I am much more things than just a PhD candidate. Of course it is important to finish my PhD! But that doesn’t counter the value of the others factors that makes me happy.

After seeing the whole picture I realized that the previous years I was working with a wrong working schedule. For example, I was working on my thesis and after some hours I was tired as it is normal. However, I was still pressing myself to work more or to stay in the office until late because in this way I was giving to myself the impression that I continue to work – or at least that I didn’t give up working.

But what did I succeed by that? Not working and procrastination…

I was staying many many hours in the office, but I was not working all of them of course. However I was very successful in getting and feeling tired most of the time… not happy, and ultimately stressed!

I’ve come to perceive my thesis as the monster that gets my energy, my joy, my happiness…  Who wants to keep working on something that feels that is stressful and pressuring? Not me! And I guess this is the case for many people too.

So I realized that I had to find a balance between work and personal/social life. It was a mistake to think that “PhD comes first; personal/social life comes after”.

No, they come together. They are both equally important in order to have a happy life.

My steps on planing a daily program including both PhD and personal life

I wantto work on my thesis, but I am also embracing that I want and need to relax, go for a coffee, etc. So, I planed my daily program to include both PhD and personal life!

Here is what I did!

1) Work 5 days!

I re-planed my working program to include 5 days (Monday to Friday) and not 7 like in the past.

2) Work until 17:30!

I structured my daily program in a way to include both work and personal life. I am a morning person so I start working at the morning.

8:30 until 12:00 Working
12:00 until 13:00 1 hour break (lunch and walk outside)
13:15 until 17:30 Working
After 17:30 Relaxing! Without feeling guilty and not thinking about my thesis*

*It is important that my mind relaxes so that the next morning I will be able to focus and work concentrated.

During my hour break I have lunch and I go outside the office/house/library. In the past I was staying inside and loosing myself on the web, checking mails, etc. However, I realized that my mind couldn’t relax.

So I started going outside during lunch – just walking around some blocks and watching the sky, the people walking and not thinking about my work. The 1 hour break is for relaxing your mind!

3) Work concentrated with the Pomodoro technique

Recently I found a trick that helps me to stay concentrated during my working hours. I use a technique called Pomodoro! I found about Pomodoro from the blog of an academic, Tanya Golash-Boza. Her blog is the  Get a Life, PhD.  You can read her post here.

The logic of Pomodoro is that you work for 25’ and then you have a break for 5’. Then you start working again for the next 25’, have a 5’ break, and so on. You can check the Pomodoro technique here.

I also found a website with an on-line clock ( that has 2 functions:

1) You can use it as timer to ring after the 25’, and

2) It helps you to track your working tasks everyday.

(I will write more about it in another post. In this post I want to focus on how to re-find the joy in writing a PhD thesis!)

By using the Pomodoro technique I manage to work 5-6 hours per day. And when I say 5-6 hours I mean pure work, not checking mails or whatever else…!

To sum up, I am not arguing that you have the same reasons as me for procrastinating. I presented how I lost my joy in doing my thesis, how I came to realize what I was doing wrong and how I managed to get back to the right track and feel happy when doing my thesis. How I became productive again!

Of course my procrastination was not only due to the lost of my joy but it was a combination of more things. I will discus each of these reasons in next posts.

However, the fact that I am including free-of-guilt relaxation in my daily program plus the deadline I put on my working hours (until 17:30) makes me more concentrated during my working hours. Now I am thinking: “My working hours are until 17:30 so I have to exploit them the best way I can”.

My PhD is not my obligation for which I have to put everything besides. As a matter of fact it’s not even an obligation. It is something I chosen to do. Just like other things I want to do, e.g. exercising, my hobbies, etc. So I am not pressuring myself to be focused only to the PhD.

The best thing is that after work, I feel productive and I really enjoy my free time! I relax so the next day I’m not tired but I am able to focus and work productively until 17:30.

My suggestions for reducing your procrastination and re-finding the joy in doing your thesis:

1) View yourself and your situation as an outsider; what I called “zooming out”. Why do you procrastinate?

It could be many and different reasons for each of us. For me there were 2-3 reasons. In this post I dealt with one of them. In next posts I will discuss my other reasons and how I manage them.

 2) Think and remember why you started your PhD/master/research/or whatever.

For me it was that I find joy and pleasure in doing research; I feel good about myself.

 3) Realize and accept that your work/PhD/master/research is not the most important thing in your life.

Your needs as a human being are much more complex than your work/thesis.

 4) Embrace your other needs with the same warmth and include them equally in your daily program.

Knowing that you have planned time for your relaxation will help you be more concentrated and focus during your working hour.

5) When working, try to use the Pomodoro technique.

6) During your big break go outside.

Do not stay inside your office/house/library. It will help your mind to relax and it will be like a re-start in your day.

7) If you don’t manage it for the first days, don’t stop it and give up.We need time to adjust in new things and in new practices.

It took me days to do all these and I am still working on these every day.

8) Even if some days you continue procrastinating, don’t be harsh on yourself!

Don’t say to yourself “I can’t do it. I am still procrastinating; it is hopeless to try to do new things/see things different. I don’t have self-discipline. I am the definition of procrastination”.  

Yes, some days you might not be able to work. So what? The next day will go better. And the day after will go even better… 🙂

What is important is not to give up and continue trying!

But enough about me!How about you?

Which are your reasons for procrastinating?

How you deal with them? Which are you strategies for managing your procrastination and being productive?


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Filed under Managing time, Writing

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