“Such a good morning’s writing I’d planned and wasted the cream of my brain on the telephone.” – Virginia Woolff
Procrastination generally gets a bad rap, especially when you’re trying to finish something deemed important, like your dissertation…or taxes. But interestingly, there are aspects of dissertation procrastination – percolating just under the surface – that can help you get the job done, even though it doesn’t necessarily feel like that at the time.
Procrastination inspires the productive daydreamer within.
Many well-known figures employed consistent downtime in order to refuel their creativity. Franz Kafka took afternoon naps to recharge. Leonardo da Vinci filled countless notebooks doodling – though his sketches included early renditions of the helicopter, a metal rolling mill, sophisticated designs for bridges and a movable dyke for Venice!
When you let your mind wander, you often discover out-of-the-box solutions to complicated problems more readily. Who isn’t aware of the Hot Shower phenomenon, where many of our best ideas often arise? (Personally, I find that a brisk 30 minute solo walk frequently unleashes fresh ideas and possibilities.)
Sidebar: After reading this article, if you feel the lingering need to procrastinate a bit longer, check out this fascinating article on Leonardo and many other highly creative and productive “procrastinators”. And tell yourself you are in excellent company!
Active procrastination gets other jobs done.
You know the feeling: in order to avoid doing one task, you engage fully in another. In fact, the “other” task suddenly seems to take on an almost biblical magnitude when compared to facing your lowly dissertation. I say this as someone who once spent an entire afternoon diligently completing a critical task: tacking down speaker cords (yes, cords!) under wall moldings around a very large living room in order to avoid writing a paper on feminist dystopia.
Whether you fervently clean your home, start reading that long forgotten novel sitting by your bedside or run mindless errands, you’re busy…just not what you consider to be the “right” kind of busy. But active procrastination ensures that some tasks are completed, with less of a feeling of self-admonishment afterward.
At least you’re in motion and moving forward versus remaining in static mode. Plus, there’s a reasonable chance that by being in action and getting something done, no matter how inconsequential, your writing (and thinking about the project) may be ready to flow again.
Procrastination is just part of the process.
According to author David Foster Wallace: “If past experience holds true, I will probably write an hour a day and spend eight hours biting my knuckles and worrying about not writing.”
While that sounds undeniably tortuous, it’s a reminder that there’s often an anxious prelude or build-up to the task at hand that’s perfectly normal. Think of a writing project as a true process, one that has natural ebbs/flows and alternates between cycles of engagement, reflection, productivity and downtime. Sounds a bit like your average day, doesn’t it?
Allow a reasonable amount of time for dissertation procrastination and accept it – instead of seeing it as a guilt-inducing enemy. Trust the process. Remind yourself of the many writing projects you’ve taken on previously – and successfully completed. The reality is that you wouldn’t be working at the doctoral level otherwise.
The damaging effects of procrastination often lie in the self-punishment that frequently ensues. This can create a painful and energy-draining cycle of guilt, avoidance and resistance. Many of the graduate students I work with as a dissertation coach are perfectionists; they feel badly if they are not continually working on their projects. This greatly adds to their feelings of stress and overwhelm. (For more tips on procrastination, head over here.)
The key is to disarm procrastination by reminding yourself of its usefulness as part of the natural project process.