Overcoming research procrastination

Ever wait days, weeks and months before starting your research on a project, thesis, business plan, or other big endeavor? How many times did you tell yourself that you should get started...but don't end up doing so until too near the deadline for the whole endeavor?

Here is some background on the problem of research procrastination and some suggestions for helping yourself "get on with it!"


The problem: You have a deadline for a major project of some kind. The deadline keeps getting closer and you still haven't started your research yet...

You wait, and wait, and wait, telling yourself you will start it today...or tomorrow. But you don't start it until very near the due date for the whole project. Each time you try to start, the idea of researching seems like this huge task that you just don't have the energy to do. So you don't do it until you are so near the due date that you panic and overcome any barriers and dive into the research. Unfortunately, you never end up doing your best work or really getting a deep understanding because you are under time pressure now to complete the endeavor. At times you even think it might be easy to simply copy and paste some stuff you found on the Internet into your own work. You know it is plagiarism, "but it is only a small bit, so I won't get caught...and the rest is my own work, anyway!" you might say.

Have you learned all you could have learned?
Was the project / thesis / business plan really good?
Was it all your own thinking and work?

Likely, the answer to all three of these questions is no.

How research procrastination happens

Step 1: You get/choose an endeavor - a project, thesis, business plan...whatever. The deadline is in 3 months, say.

Step 2: You think one of several thoughts:

Step 3: You do practically nothing on your project for a long time...days, weeks, and maybe months. In each of the cases in Step 2 you find that you don't get your research started early. It is always some time much later.


Because "research" - the whole nebulous, undefined, huge, idea of doing "research" - is daunting.

That's right: Most research procrastination is the result of you feeling:

These feelings lead to:

This is a paradox, of course! You can hold in your mind two conflicting ideas: You know your endeavor is an interesting or exciting one. But at the same time you feel it is boring and you dislike or hate it!

The result, however, is that you don't start your project early or on-time, but late and under pressure. You never end up doing a great job.

The problem that you can solve

The above mentioned emotions are symptoms of some problem.

The problem is that "research" is too big and undefined a task.

So, the solution must be to not try to do "research" as a single huge, undefined action, but to do something else.

How to overcome procrastination in starting and doing research

Literally millions of people all over the world in all walks of life run into this same problem. Here is how to overcome procrastination in starting and doing research:

1. Think about your endeavor. Ask yourself the following question:

"What would be the best resources for gaining a general understanding of my topic?"

2. Once you have these 3 sources, dedicate 2 hours for each of them. Then do the 6 hours of research.

3. Brainstorm a long list of resources you will research to get an in depth understanding of your topic.

Be as exhaustive as you can in brainstorming possible sources.

4. Prioritize the questions you want answered and match these to the possible sources you brainstormed in step 3.

Here you will be making up a prioritized list of questions you want answered and the possibly best resources for each that will aid you in answering these questions.

5. Set the amounts of time you will need to do the research to answer each question.

If any one source requires more than 2 hours, divide the research task into multiple 2-3 hour blocks adding up to the total time needed.

6. Schedule dates and times in the very near future for when you will do the research on each question.

7. Do the research on the days and times you scheduled for yourself.

8. Make up a new list of question and research sources for further scheduling of work for yourself.

Schedule that work and do it. Research is iterative - it is not linear. You will go around and around in research, finding new an deeper questions and bringing into focus questions you thought you answered earlier. This is a natural process. Do not get overwhelmed or too frustrated.

Some final suggestions...

In summary, dealing with procrastination in starting research is really about breaking down your "research" into reasonably sized and understandable chunks of work and in managing your time for doing that work.

The article © 2006 by Paul Kurucz. Please e-mail with your thoughts so that this document can be improved. This document or any information on it may be quoted or reprinted for non-commercial use. However, please reference this site and recognize Paul Kurucz as the author of anything you copy from here. Thank you.

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