I have a terrible problem with procrastination, especially when I have writing projects. In college I had weeks of stress over papers, which I know is common among students. But my anxiety levels were so high I couldn't function normally, and once even ended up in hospital before a paper was due because I had a severe panic attack that went on for hours, and left me gasping, unable to breathe.
Obviously this is a problem that I needed to fix. Unfortunately, I didn't really think it was something that was fixable, I just felt I would have to live with the anxiety everytime I had a deadline. I just worked as long and as hard as I could, and hoped it was enough.
But recently I was assigned a project that was completely outside my field of expertise, and I felt enormous pressure to do a good job, without letting down those who had trusted me by giving me the project. I already had the research and had written one draft, which I knew was incomplete and lacked a complete picture. However, I didn't have too much other research, and I had another 2-3 weeks to complete it and hand it in.
Then, in an attempt to push off writing I spent some time Googling various aspects of the project, and suddenly found myself with more research than I could handle, and certainly a lot of the information was only relevant tangentially. But I had solved my problem of not enough information, and I certainly could do justice to the report.
I was faced now with a new problem - I had mountains of information, and only limited time to complete the report, and at the same time I had another assignment to complete in the same time frame. Panicking, I basically stared at the computer and wandered around the aspects of the project for a few days, totally overwhelmed at the work in front of me. I had no idea how to even begin incorporating the information into my project.
After panicking for a while, I finally read a book I had been meaning to get around to - Neil Fiore's "The Now Habit". Its a very good book, I really recommend it. Anyway, I took on one suggestion of his, break down the project into smaller chunks and start with only 30 minutes of work. I decided to just focus on reading one report at a time, and keep track of how much I get done. I downloaded a timer app on my iPad, and set it for 30 minutes, and got to work. Amazingly, in about 2 hours of focused work, with breaks in between, I got through 6 reports that day, some of them 40-50 pages long. I used this technique to get through all the reports I had to read, and also writing up the research, and incorporating it into my draft. Throughout, I used the 30 minute technique.
This is the first project that I have completed without crying or calling up my mom and panicking. So far the response to my work has also been very positive. I think my work improved because I focused on one little section at a time, 30 minutes at a time. I told myself I wouldn't waste time thinking about anything other than what I was doing for the next 30 minutes, I could freak out later. And the high of completing large chunks kept me from getting around to freaking out.
What techniques do you use to beat the tendency to procrastinate?