How To Fight Procrastination While Writing Your Dissertation

Completing a long-term academic project such as a thesis or dissertation can be a daunting, time-consuming task. Because a dissertation is such a lengthy project (often taking as long as two years, and spanning well over a hundred pages of research and criticism in most cases) and because it is so self-directed, many graduate students slip into a period of lengthy procrastination. Here are some tips for progressing at a reasonable pase and fighting the urge to procrastinate:

Set (and Adhere to) a Regular Work Schedule

When you are in graduate school, progressing in your degree is your main job, and you should commit your time to this work the same way you would a conventional job. That is to say, you should devote several hours per day to writing your dissertation (up to eight hours, if your schedule allows).

The temptation, in many cases, is to write large chunks of your dissertation in big writing “binges” rather than to devote regular, daily focus to the project. While writing in this manner works just fine in undergrad, it is not acceptable in graduate school. Instead, you should schedule designated writing time and follow your schedule rigidly, even when you do not feel like writing.

Focus on Small Tasks

Do not focus on the whole dissertation when working on your project; the scope of the work will be too daunting. Instead, devote yourself to a specific, accomplishable goal each day that you work on your dissertation. Make a highly detailed outline, with small discrete tasks. Instead of focusing on writing your whole Introduction section, for instance, focus on writing three or four very broad opening paragraphs. Then focus on writing a few more paragraphs about a specific area related to your dissertation topic, and so on.

Harness the Power of Social Pressure

Many universities offer dissertation writing boot camps, where graduate students spend a week’s worth of eight-hour days working on their projects together in a designated space. Working alongside fellow graduate students is a fantastic motivator for several reasons. First, if you agree to a specific work schedule, the social pressure to stick to that schedule will make it far less likely that you will procrastinate. Second, working in a quiet space with several other highly motivated people is an incredible source of motivation and inspiration in itself.

Writing a dissertation can be incredibly difficult, and the desire to push back deadlines and waste time strikes everyone. However, by following a strict writing schedule, focusing on small, accomplishable tasks, and by working alongside others, you can beat the urge to procrastinate and graduate on time.