Degree In Sight

Here's the latest research on how to get things done:  

  • Know thyself. People who are more secure in their identities are less likely to procrastinate, finds a 2007 study in Personality and Individual Differences (Vol. 43, No. 4) by procrastination researcher and Carleton University psychology professor Timothy A. Pychyl, PhD, and psychology graduate student Matthew J. Shanahan. "Once you've achieved an identity, you're able to take those resources and put them on a task as opposed to trying to figure out who you are or what you should be doing," Pychyl says.  

  • Revamp your to-do list. Break that research paper you're avoiding into tasks that can be done in less than an hour, says Bruce W. Tuckman, PhD, director and professor of the Ohio State University W.E. Dennis Learning Center. "It has to be something like, 'I'm going to write an outline of my introductory chapter' because that's more specific and you're more likely to do it." 

  • Just get started. Progress toward our goals enhances well-being, according to a 2001 study by University of Missouri–Columbia researchers in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 80, No. 1). For students, that means just starting the thesis research can lead to greater happiness and life satisfaction, which in turn has the potential to lead to further progress. "If you just get to work on a project, your emotional state will often change, too," Pychyl says. 

  • Dig deep. Procrastination is a failure of self-regulation, Pychyl says. In a 2009 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 96, No. 4) study, researchers found that one of the best ways to enhance self-control is to focus on your core values. "That means doing things like remembering why graduate school is so important and affirming who you are and what you're committed to." When you're needlessly putting off a big section of your dissertation, taking a moment to daydream about your future career as a psychologist can help get you back on track, he says. 

  • Reward yourself. Give yourself an incentive to finish early, suggests DePaul University psychology professor Joseph Ferrari, PhD. Challenge yourself to complete assignments a few days before they are due and plan a night out. "You know the old saying, 'The early bird catches the worm?' Let's season the worm and make it more appealing to eat earlier rather than later," Ferrari says.  

  • Settle for a B+. If you're always waiting until you've got it perfect, you'll never finish anything, Ferrari says. Sometimes it's best to take the attitude that "done is better than good."  

    "We have to encourage people to do a good job, but not to worry if it's not an A paper," he says. "Students have to learn if they don't get it done, things start to snowball."