Tiny practice: Beating procrastination with The Right Now List

by Luis P. Prieto, - 2 minutes read - 373 words

One of the top barriers to PhD productivity is procrastination. Have you ever found yourself with a big ugly task getting stale in your to-do list, repeatedly postponed because it is too big, too abstract, or makes you somehow uncomfortable? This tiny practice post gives you an simple trick to beat this sort of procrastination.

Just try this: Pick up a post-it or a piece of paper, and write the first 3-4 simplest steps you need to do to *start working* on it – and then, complete those steps. So, if you procrastinate on writing an email to your supervisor about an upcoming meeting, the Right Now List could look like: 1) fire up my email app; 2) open a new message window; 3) write “Dear Prof. X”. The idea is that those steps are so simple and silly that even a master procrastinator cannot make excuses to not do those… and, once you check them off, you will already have momentum and will start doing the rest of the big ugly task, which will have lost most of its fearsome power.

After reading about this trick in David Cain’s Raptitude blog, I realized that this is basically what I do with the first 3-5 steps of my paper writing process: reduce the barrier of entry to writing a paper to the easiest (but still useful) steps – including getting some early feedback from co-authors. Now, I almost enjoy starting to write a new paper. Try this out with any scary, vague, or repeatedly procrastinated tasks/projects you have!

Did you try this practice? Did it work? Do you like this type of tiny post? Let me know in the comments or voice message sections below!

Header image by Bing’s Image Creator1.

  1. The prompt I used was “Please draw me a photorealistic picture of a doctoral student in a labcoat, seen from behind, being menaced by an overhanging dark and diffuse figure with horns and claws. The doctoral student is holding up against the dark figure a piece of paper with a list titled ‘Right Now’ which emits a vaporous light. Please use a 50mm lens and a wide aperture to focus on the hand holding the list, and blur the dark background.” ↩︎

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Luis P. Prieto

Luis P. is a Ramón y Cajal research fellow at the University of Valladolid (Spain), investigating learning technologies, especially learning analytics. He is also an avid learner about doctoral education and supervision, and he's the main author at the A Happy PhD blog.

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