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How to... Shut up and write. | Olivia Thompson

I am a PhD researcher in my second year at the University of East Anglia and I can’t seem to stop procrastinating. So, instead of working on my PhD, I have put together a blog post on how to stop procrastinating!  

Before diving into this blog post, it is important to note that I am not a medical professional. If you are going through a difficult time or struggling with your mental health, please seek professional medical advice, talk to friends, family and loved ones and let your supervisor know how you are feeling.  

1. Listen to yourself and be kind to yourself 

Sometimes procrastination is our body's way of telling us that we are overworking, stressed or just tired. 

Try and think about the root cause of your procrastination;  

Is it something you find yourself doing often?  

How much does it impact your work?  

When do you find yourself procrastinating? 

Are you procrastinating to avoid negative feelings like overwhelm and uncertainty? 

Is it really procrastination or is it the dreaded imposter syndrome? 

Sometimes procrastination disguises other things such as imposter syndrome, anxiety, tiredness, depression and burn out. It is so important that you listen to yourself and your body and be kind to yourself.  

If you do suspect that there may be other causes to your procrastination, there are resources available to you. Sometimes a chat with your supervisor, coffee with friends or a short break may be enough to start feeling more like you and getting that work done, however, other times a visit to your GP or your university student services may be helpful. For more tips on managing your mental health during periods of procrastination, burn out or just whenever you feel low, check out Eleanor’s recent post here. 

2. Flow 

Disclaimer: Flow is not sponsoring this blog post – I just really like it. 

Seeing as you are probably already procrastinating by reading this blog post, try visiting

Flow club is a website that allows you to work on solo projects in the company of others doing the same thing. You can join different sessions of different lengths and aims, share your goals and thoughts, work and then celebrate with other flow users in your session, all while listening (or not) to some lo-fi hits, soothing classical or a playlist of your host’s choice. 

You can create a to do list and enjoy the shower of confetti on your screen as you mark each one off.  At the end of your flow session, turn your camera and microphone back on (or not – no pressure) and celebrate with strangers as you all (hopefully) complete your goals. 

A reason why flow works so well is external accountability and the dopamine hit that you receive after checking off each item of your to-do list and celebrating your progress with others. Flow is based on the pomodoro technique which encourages short bursts of deep working coupled with breaks and so most flow sessions are around 50 minutes (5 minutes of goal sharing, 40 minutes flow, 5 minutes to celebrate). 

2. Clean and tidy workspace 

One of my biggest excuses for procrastinating is that I don’t have a clean and tidy workspace, this leads to an afternoon of cleaning the whole house instead of working as one task leads to another. I end up with a very tidy house at the end of the day... but no work done.  

Have a tidy space that is just for working and (try) to keep it that way! This means that at the end of a work session pick up those discarded coffee cups, snack wrappers, crumpled bits of paper and any other things that make writing that tiny bit more bearable and walk them to the bin/kitchen sink/their rightful place so that when you come to work again your space is free of clutter. 

3. Notepad for jotting down ideas 

Another issue I face when confronted with a particularly riveting form to fill out or an article to read is that my mind wanders...I think of all the other things that I should be doing (or could be doing) and then often give into temptation and do them. Sometimes an often simple and quick task can quickly turn into a string of related pro-task-inations. Taking that dirty coffee cup to the kitchen then means doing the dishes, ah the washing machine has finished I’ll hang it out, may as well put another load on, etc., etc.... One simple task quickly turns into several more and suddenly an hour or more has passed, and you have not even started working.


Keeping a notepad next to you whilst you work lets you jot down all these thoughts that pop into your head and helps you to create a to do list.  

This works for all and any tasks that might be taking up head space during your precious writing time such as emails to reply to, admin tasks to finish, chores, a friends birthday coming up that you need to buy a present for...  

Write them all down so that they won’t be forgotten, free up your mind to concentrate on your work and then revisit your list AFTER your work session has ended.  

4. Space for different activities  

As we continue on our journey of “how to trick your brain into actually doing work”, my next tip is to allocate a different space for different tasks. For example, if you often find yourself checking emails at your desk, find a space for writing only (or reading only, or emails only, or ethics approval forms only, or... you get the gist).  

This could be a comfy corner of the library, your favorite café or even just the kitchen table.  

Pro tip: when working in a public space, don’t allocate a particular desk or chair as if this is occupied you may find excuses to not do any work at all! 

5. Deadlines can be your friend 

I personally work well to a deadline, but a self-imposed deadline never works for me as deep down, I know I can just ignore it no matter how well intentioned I am.  

Talk to your supervisors about your issues with procrastination (they may even have some tips of their own!). Ask if they would be open to you coming up with deadlines together for sections of your work. 

This may not work for everyone, and it is important that these deadlines do not add more pressure or stress to your already hectic workload. However, as this blog post is essentially how to trick your brain, the pressure of a deadline can really help in the writing process. 

5. And finally... Procrastinate wisely 

Sometimes procrastination just happens... This blog post is born of a particular procrastination session where I am meant to be writing the last section of my literature review.  

My final tip is that if you must procrastinate, procrastinate wisely.  

Writing a blog post that may help yourself and others is probably a more useful way to spend time than endlessly scrolling on your phone. 

Likewise, if other tasks get done in the place of others take solace in the fact that at least you did something. Progress is progress and you should celebrate it, no matter the form it takes! 

Hopefully these tips are useful, you may also have other tips of your own that work for you. However best you work and whatever you do end up producing, be kind to yourself and know that you have got this. Procrastination is sometimes inevitable, but there are some things we can do to make the writing process easier. 

Now, there’s only one thing left to do... shut up and write! 


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