When the confinement started, maybe you thought: “Let´s make this is an opportunity to get things done!”. But today, you’re looking for keys to stop procrastinating.

As PhD students, most of us are used to be self-sufficient, or at least we do our best to be. Sometimes, we are even used to work from home. Personally, I regularly choose to work from home, in a café or at the library. Changing environments allows me to be more creative and often more efficient. So when the confinement started, I thought that it wouldn’t be a problem. And maybe like me you even thought that it would leave you some time to do all the tasks you never take time to do when you have to go to the lab or the office!

BUT, just like me, you quickly realized that it was not that simple to do in this context of confinement! Procrastination, anxiety and stress appeared very fast… You do not make any progress … And at the end of each day you tell yourself that you are getting nowhere. It is decided, tomorrow you get started! But then, the next day goes by and in the end you spend your time on Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or watching the news, wanting to eat and going to the bathroom every five minutes… And you are angry at yourself for not having willpower!

It’s not your fault, it is the sign that your brain is working well!

So let me tell you right away that it’s not a question of willpower at all! If you are procrastinating, it just means that you are a human being and that your brain is working as it should! This is actually good news! During our evolution, we had to survive and those who were able to do so long enough to reproduce are the individuals who avoided the dangers to favor immediate pleasures. Imagine that you are walking in the forest and that you come face to face with a bear. For your own good, you would have to get out of there quickly! It’s better to go and eat somwhere else. It’s an extreme example but you get the idea.

Your brain is not able to distinguish the stress caused by a bear that is likely to kill you, or the stress caused by the idea of having to work on your article or your report: it remains stress and stress is seen as to be avoided by your brain. It is a signal that something is wrong. We therefore seek to avoid stress and all unpleasant emotions to favor pleasant emotions and especially immediate pleasures. This means that we are all naturally calibrated for procrastination! Indeed what could be nicer than eating candies or chocolate in front of your favourite TV show instead of writing your article or report ?!

Understanding all of this allowed me to free myself from guilt and shame I had when procrastinating. In those uncertain times, negative emotions are even more present all around us, so it is even more natural to go for procrastination. No guilt when procrastinating then: you are normal!

Solutions to stop procrastinating and work from home effectively during confinement

Procrastination is not necessarily inevitable! There are tips that can work around the problem and that can help you to be productive. Because even if it clearly does not help to blame yourself for procrastinating, you surely want to find solutions! So here are five tips that allowed me to stop procrastinating during confinement!

Stop procrastinating...... start being efficient!

Tip #1: set up a nice spot at home to work

Try to avoid working in the same place from where you are relaxing: stay away from your bed or sofa when you want to work. Set you up a small spot where you can concentrate and have fun working.

I am personally using a table that was on my balcony. I put it in front of a window to take advantage of the view and the light and I arranged it to feel good there. My efficiency has increased since then!

Tip #2: make sure you have a strong daily routine

One of the main keys to stop procrastinating is to structure your days. A good way to do so is to establish some sort of routine. When you work at home, it becomes really difficult to separate your personal and professional life. So it’s good to have a routine that you can count on to make it easier for you.

Morning is the perfect time to set up a routine!

In the morning is the best time to set up such a routine because generally, you already have one. As soon as you get up, whether you are aware of it or not: your alarm clock rings, you get up, you go to the toilet, you prepare your coffee , you have breakfast, etc. Basically, from the moment your alarm rings and you get up, there is a sequence of things you do that are linked and repeatable. You do all the essential things that allow you to be ready to work.

An exercise you can do:

An interesting exercise would be to list all the things you do from the moment you get up until you start working. It can be: having breakfast, showering, deciding what you are going to work on today, etc. All these rituals and routines that you do in a specific order will allow you to prepare for your day. This list will be different for everyone. Being aware of what you do naturally will allow you to choose the habits you want to keep and the one you want to add, such as meditating or exercising. It has to be repeatable actions that you do in a specific order so that you can do them without having to think about them.

Why having such a routine? What is the point of establishing habits?

Having a reproducible routine allows you to have a series of actions that you no longer think about, which become automatic for you. Like when you brush your teeth: you have to take your toothbrush, open the tap, put your toothbrush under water, take the tube of toothpaste, open it, squeeze the tube to take out the toothpaste, put the toothpaste on the brush, etc. You don’t think about all these steps when you brush your teeth, do you? It is automatic for you, it is a habit. And this is the mechanism that we want to use so that we no longer have to make the effort to make a decision. If an action is not a habit for you then you have to make the decision to do this action and it requires some effort. You then need willpower to do this action, and it is therefore easy to fall into your bad habits. So instead of getting to work, you are going to end up on Facebook or watching the news.

So I really advise you to set up a routine from the moment you get up until the time you go sitting at your desk to work and start to make the list of things you want to do in your day for example.

My tips to create new habits!

You want to create a new habit in your life: going to bed or get up early, exercising for 15 minutes in the morning when you wake up or meditating five minutes a day? And maybe you have already tried several times without succeeding. Then this method will surely interest you: it is fun and really quick to implement!

The most effective way to IMPLEMENT a habit is to associate your new habit with a trigger present in your life. It is easier in the morning because you already have other habits. For example, between the time I get up and the time I prepare my coffee, I included my yoga session in my routine. And to ANCHOR your habit, you will need a reward. If doing the task by itself is not a reward strong enough for you, you can download the document below. It is this tool that allowed me to really get into the habit of doing my yoga session every morning. Before that, it was really impossible for me to stick to it!

It is really simple:

Whenever you succeed in doing the new habit you want to create, you can color a new box of your mandala. It will allow you to reward yourself and to start your new habit gently while having fun. When the mandala is fully colored, it will be a habit for you!

I’m interested!

Tip #3: write only three tasks on a sticky note

What really allowed me to stop procrastinating during this period of confinement was to take a sticky note and write only three tasks a day. It’s simple, it’s less scary and it is therefore effective. It really allows you to have a sense of accomplishment and to be able to really enjoy having done your tasks. You can then allow yourself to relax because you did what you decided to do in your day. It’s very rewarding and it really allows you to get into action!

You can even include this action at the end of your morning routine to take direct action and continue with your work day!

If you don’t have sticky notes at home, you can use softwares that will allow you to create sticky notes directly on your computer like Simple Sticky Notes. You can also use Evernote.

Tip #4: Start your day with the hardest and the most important tasks for you

Willpower is a limited resource. You get up every morning with a certain amount of willpower and it runs out during the day. This is why it is easier to do the tasks that are the most difficult for us first thing in the morning. In addition, you continue your day with the satisfaction of having done this task rather than telling yourself that you still have to do it. If you don’t do these kind of tasks as soon as you start your day, you risk not to do it until the next day. I know what I am talking about.

So to stop procrastinating on this type of task: look at your sticky note with your three tasks and start your day with the most difficult or most important task for you!

Tip # 5: Avoid compulsively checking news or social networks

It can be important to stay informed and to be in contact with your loved ones during this very special period. But checking the news and social media all day long can be very stressful and a waste of time. Each time, you need time you do so you need to refocus on the task you were doing. So decide on a time of day and on how long you want to spend time checking news and social media, so you don’t lose your whole day.

You can decide on time slots when you will focus fully on your work. For example, you can avoid visiting social media from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. You will not consult WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. But it is not an easy thing to do when you only rely on willpower. As soon as you are stuck in your work, you risk having a look at Facebook, your cellphone or your emails without even realizing it! So to stop procrastinating and help you stick to it, you can use tools like cold turkey, it will allow you to block certain sites at certain times when you choose to focus fully on your work.

  • You can find condensed news on YouTube so that you are still informed without spending too much time.

  • Apps such as Squid compile information from lots of different sources.

  • There are also movements for positive information, for example on Instagram with the Good News Movement.

Your plan to stop procrastinating:

  • Set you up a nice spot to work at home.

  • Make sure you have a strong daily routine and if necessary, develop new habits.

  • Write only three tasks a day on a sticky note. This step can be included in your morning routine.

  • Look at your sticky note and start your day with the most difficult and the most important task for you.

  • Avoid compulsively checking news or social networks: plan fixed times in your day to check these but the rest of the time block these sites (with Cold Turkey for example).

If you want to go further:

Share your own tips, comments or experiences below!

I’m curious to know what you do to stop procrastinating and to work effectively from home: Have you ever tested certain things? Have you encountered any difficulties? Did my tips help you? Do you know some awesome tools?