During my time as a graduate student, one of the biggest challenges I faced was balancing my time between doing experiments, writing my thesis, and socialising. I also became very overwhelmed at the prospect of having to write and defend my thesis by making an oral presentation. These challenges were amplified due to my bad habit of procrastination and general disorganisation. Procrastination and disorganisation are issues most people experience at some point in their lives. For students, procrastination can be very common, with one meta-analysis finding that a shocking 80 to 95 percent of university students procrastinate (Steel, 2007 ). Putting off important tasks can lead to poor performance on assignments and high levels of stress, which can trigger additional problems such as deteriorating health (Sirois and Pychyl, 2016 ). As such, I would like to share some of my strategies I have used to overcome these challenges, hoping to assist other students who may face similar difficulties in the future and help them avoid the mistakes I have made.
Procrastination can be commonly defined as the deliberate and avoidable delay in starting or finishing important tasks, even with the recognition that there will be consequences for oneself or others if the task is not completed (Ferrari and Tice, 2000 ) in a timely manner. Existing literature spanning over two decades generally agrees that procrastination has many negative outcomes, such as elevated stress levels and can result in poor health. For example, one study surveyed university students in Sweden and found that students who procrastinated also reported mental health problems, widespread body pains, and the adoption of unhealthy lifestyle behaviours such as poor sleep quality, lack of exercise, and drug use (Johansson et al., 2023 ). Some commonly reported reasons for procrastination include distractions, underestimating the time needed to complete a task, perfectionism, lack of motivation, fear of failure, and poor time management (Grunschel et al., 2013 ).
Practical Strategies to Beat Procrastination
There are many useful tips to reduce procrastination, but I will mention some of the strategies that have had the most significant impact on my productivity. When it came to writing my master’s thesis, the most effective approach was breaking everything into smaller, more manageable tasks by creating a to-do list. When I sat down to begin writing the thesis, I felt overwhelmed by the multitude of thoughts regarding what I needed to include. I started by writing the introduction section, which can be one of the longest chapters in the thesis, making it somewhat daunting. I listed the topics I wanted to cover in the chapter and divided them into separate subheadings. I began by outlining the problem in a broader context and progressively delved into specific aspects. Completing even a single subsection of this chapter gave me a sense of accomplishment, eventually leading to the completion of the introduction.
The second strategy involved setting explicit intentions for completing tasks, specifying when, where, and how a particular task would be accomplished. For instance, if I aimed to complete the method section of my thesis, I would write down, “I will complete the method section in the library from 1 pm until 3 pm.” This approach enhanced my task completion because it went beyond a vague commitment to finishing the method section on that day.
The third strategy was practicing self-forgiveness when facing procrastination. Previously, I tended to be overly critical of myself when time was wasted, generating negative emotions and energy that hindered progress. Forgiving myself allowed for a more positive mindset when approaching tasks and proved to be a valuable tip for managing procrastination.
The fourth strategy involved adhering to a routine that enabled allocation of specific time periods to tasks. Using Google Calendar, I entered tasks and monitored my progress. This was especially crucial for managing experiments and accurately estimating the time required for completion before starting the thesis. In the beginning, I made the mistake of not planning experiments, which led to miscalculations of their time required. After correcting this, I was able to allocate the necessary time to a given protocol when it was proposed and assess its feasibility within a set timeframe.
Finally, changing my work environment had a positive impact. Dividing my time between my apartment, the lab study area, the university café (Kitchen Mototech), and Suzukakedai Library introduced an element of novelty that boosted my focus and task completion.
Tips for Defending Your Thesis
I would also like to briefly share some advice for defending your thesis via an oral presentation, which was the most nerve-wracking part of my entire master’s course. Personally, I am not adept at public speaking, and prior to commencing my studies at Tokyo Tech, presenting filled me with anxiety. Throughout my time at Tokyo Tech, regular seminars required me to present my research progress or discuss research from chosen journal articles related to my field. Engaging in these exercises significantly enhanced my comfort with presenting, emphasizing the importance of stepping beyond one’s comfort zone to practice extensively, as it is the most effective means of improvement. Tokyo Tech also provides classes aimed at enhancing presentation skills, along with opportunities to present research at conferences, which may additionally help. Furthermore, anticipating potential questions, both specific to the research and those general in nature, also allowed me to be more prepared for the defence.
As I reflect on my journey as a graduate student at Tokyo Tech, the biggest challenges I faced were overcoming procrastination and disorganisation. Maintaining a balance between conducting experiments, studying, and everyday life was difficult when I wasted time by procrastinating. However, implementing the aforementioned methods allowed me to break free of procrastination and achieve many things such as freeing up time to travel, spend time with my friends, and cultivate hobbies such as reading, allowing me to become a more well-rounded individual.
I am proud of myself for overcoming these challenges and becoming a better person for it in the long run. These skills are transferable and will continue to benefit me in my future endeavours.
In closing, I would like to say that breaking the habit of procrastination and improving my organisational skills did not happen overnight. It is important to remember that it takes time to break bad habits and form better ones. Armed with these insights, I hope that fellow students can navigate their academic pursuits with renewed determination, leveraging these strategies to conquer procrastination’s grip and unlock their full potential.
< References >
Ferrari, J.R. and Tice, D.M. 2000. Procrastination as a Self-Handicap for Men and Women: A Task-Avoidance Strategy in a Laboratory Setting. Journal of Research in Personality. 34(1), pp.73–83.
Grunschel, C., Patrzek, J. and Fries, S. 2013. Exploring reasons and consequences of academic procrastination: an interview study. European Journal of Psychology of Education. 28(3), pp.841–861.
Johansson, F., Rozental, A., Edlund, K., Côté, P., Sundberg, T., Onell, C., Rudman, A. and Skillgate, E. 2023. Associations Between Procrastination and Subsequent Health Outcomes Among University Students in Sweden. JAMA network open. 6(1), p.e2249346.
Sirois, F.M. and Pychyl, T.A. 2016. Procrastination, Health, and Well-Being. Academic Press.