Just Do It!

by | February 22, 2010

Throughout my career in consulting and teaching, I have included the subject of procrastination in my various course outlines, syllabi and workshop agendas. Having taught writing, speech and group communication, as well as job search workshops, the topic was always apropos. When have I met individually with clients in the past, the subject frequently came up. At Capella, with milestone deadlines looming, our learners often ask why they procrastinate. Alternatively, as advisors, we sometimes confront learners about their progress on their dissertations and try to determine if procrastination is a significant barrier.

I suppose a disclaimer is in order at this point in my writing. At the AskDoctoralAdvising blog we have a schedule for contributors and I have chosen to submit my post on the fourth Monday of the month. So here it is 6:15pm CST on Monday, February 22nd and I am just now tackling my monthly assignment. (By the way, my day ends at 7:30, so I have about 75 minutes to write this before I sign out for the day. Do you think there may be some procrastination going on?

Since procrastination is a subject far too large to tackle in a short blog post, I decided to write only about one of the many causes. In my case, the reason I usually wait to do something is that I cannot settle on a single topic about which to write. I experience this whether I am choosing ceramic tile for a bathroom remodel or shopping for a water filter (I visited Home Depot, Lowes, Target and Sears before I settled on a Pur faucet filter.) I know I spent nearly as much in gas and wear and tear on my car than the cost of the filter, but I digress.)

This is all quite puzzling to me, as I am a fervent believer in “just do it!” Yet, I suffer from something that many of my learners do – possibilities paralysis. Some learners cannot settle on a topic and a basic research question because in their research they uncover additional interesting avenues to explore. Each new wrinkle excites them and they continue to uncover even more possibilities. Rather than finalizing their choice and pursuing it, they continue to search.

Think about your own work habits. Have you hesitated to submit your MRF* because you cannot settle on a topic? Do you claim that you do not have long blocks of time for uninterrupted writing and thus cannot your ideas down on paper? Are you still exploring ideas even as you are in your third quarter of dissertation?

As corny as it sounds, the best way to tackle procrastination is to make a decision, then sit at the keyboard and write. If you have a spare 20 minutes, then write for 20 minutes. A writer friend of mine was very disciplined and placed himself in front of his PC every day for 4 hours, from 8am to noon. He often deleted much of what he wrote, but he managed to make slow, steady progress. The result was definitely measurable – he published three novels after he turned 70!

Submitting drafts and receiving feedback is basic to the dissertation process. With all of the steps required, the approvals needed and the level of scholarship required, it is expected that give and take be part of the journey. The only way to find out if a topic will be accepted is to present it to the mentor.

Once learners become comfortable with the process, the path becomes much smoother. Nobody expects learners to do perfect work along the way. Learners are like novices or apprentices who are learning the craft from the masters. It is not unusual to have a few false starts before making significant progress.

Therefore, it comes down to simple, basic advice: do a little each day, be open to critical feedback, and continue to make revisions until your work is approved.

I guess there is little time to get feedback on this post before the publishing deadline, but rest assured I will be rewriting and revising until the bewitching hour – 30 minutes from now!

*The MRF or Methodology Review Form is used in the Harold Abel School of Psychology as a preliminary proposal. It is completed prior to the proposal and is reviewed at several levels.

6 Responses to "Just Do It!"

  1. Preata Nortier says:

    I am so glad you created this post regarding procrastination, or “possibilities paralysis”; this reminds me of myself. I have changed my topic many times, I have written and deleted multiple pages, yet I have not submitted anything to my mentor. I am in my third quarter of the dissertation proposal stage going back and forth trying to work on chapters one thru three at the same time. Sometimes I just feel like screaming. Just when I know what I want to say and write, writing it is a different story. I will submit my proposal this quarter, good or bad.



  2. Gary Mercer says:

    Just coming into the final colloguia…and will have lots and lots of questions sooon..once I know what to ask. However, your comments helped elaborate and ease a bit of the anxiety…and heighten some. I look forward to getting disciplined in the work ethic. Maybe not four hours day..but..


  3. Mark Larson says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting on the post. A slow, steady approach to the dissertation seems to work well for most people. One key to moving forward is to make sure that faculty have something to review at the very beginning of a quarter. That way, you as the learner will have feedback by the start of week 3 and you can make changes and resubmit. Timing the breaks and turning revisions around quickly should save time over the long haul.

  4. Christopher Peacock says:

    You need to avoid procrastination on dissertaion advisor choice. Look into what the faculty has in terms of skill-sets and make a short list to decide befor it becomes the time it is needed.
    Just a suggestion.

  5. Sandy King says:

    Thanks for the post. I start my dissertation next year; start comps in Jan.
    I have NO idea what I’m going to write about. Being a single parent, self employed, etc,, etc., time seems to run by you. I would appreciate any ideas on what to expect for my comps coming up. Thanks and Blessings!

  6. Ryan James Reid says:

    Living up to one’s highest ideals, – pragmatically, existentially, realistically, and romantically, – all from a spectrum of naturally growing good or best sets of practices towards a higher plane of the evolution of self….

    … for the less than attenuating reasons, – towards developing consistency, competency, commitment, confidence, and compassion (towards oneself & Others) for the substantive skills, knowledge, abilities and behaviors….

    Ryan James Reid

    P.S.: Thanks for letting me extend the dialogue….in the world of academia and such… ;D