Do You Struggle with Procrastination? Try Using a Daily Checklist

Procrastination is a huge problem in academia. Everyone suffers from it to some degree or another. Should I work on this 3rd round revise and resubmit, or watch cat jump fail videos on YouTube? Should I prepare and record my next lecture, or listen to one more Johnny Cash song? Should I read the latest article published in Nature, or read through my Twitter feed? Sometimes the choices are a bit harder: should I learn R coding or get a root canal?

One of the biggest obstacles to productivity in academia is that our goals tend to be long-term, for example, “publish two papers this year” or “improve my teaching evaluation scores next semester.” You have to wait months and months before you know whether you’ve achieved your goals.

Fortunately, I have a solution for you: the daily academic checklist! Checklists are proven to help people achieve their goals. What’s great about daily checklists is that they don’t always have to include work-related goals. You can also include non-work goals, like:

  • Walk 10,000 steps
  • Meditate for 10 minutes
  • Spend 30 minutes playing with the kids
  • Eat an apple
  • Read one article from Dire Ed

By including and structuring work and non-work goals into your daily routine, you will be better positioned to improve your work-life balance.

The key to a sustainable daily academic checklist is to pace yourself. Don’t make your daily goals too difficult because you will eventually become demoralized and dejected when you fail to meet your objectives repeatedly. At the same time, don’t make your daily goals too easy because then you aren’t maximizing your potential. It’s good to start out with modest goals and then, slowly but surely, work your way up over time, much like you would with exercise.

My daily academic checklist usually looks something like this:

  • 20 minutes of autogenic training
  • 45 minutes revising statistics textbook
  • Two hours of writing or revising
  • 30 minutes of reading for pleasure
  • One-hour walk with the dog
  • Storytime with the kids
  • Call a friend or family for a chat

Obviously, checklists change, sometimes from day to day and almost certainly from week to week and month to month. It’s important to make sure you adapt your checklist based on increases and decreases in demand for certain tasks. I also recommend that you keep a record of your daily checklists, whether digitally or on paper. This way you can identify patterns of tasks you regularly fail to achieve.

What are you waiting for? Give it a go. If you try this out for one month, you will see a positive change in your work-life balance.

Prof. Andrew R. Timming

This article is published under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

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