20/20 – Day 10: 20 pushes to get you working

Difficulty in starting a project doesn’t have to be down to procrastination.  A number of factors can buzz around, disrupting your efforts.  You may not even know what’s causing the problem.

If you’re serious about starting, or at least want a nudge in the right direction, here are 20 possible solutions for you.

  1. Start straight away. Important, yet rarely used.  The best way to deal with any work is to start soon after you’re given the task.  You needn’t do loads, just get started.
  2. Small chunks. Part of the brilliance with starting straight away is that you don’t have to spend hours in one go.  20 minutes here, half an hour there…in the first few days you’ll be a lot closer without breaking into a sweat.
  3. Stop treating coursework negatively. It’s easy to feel trapped in essay hell when rushing to complete work, especially when looming close to the deadline.  A negative attitude toward the work will simply make you feel worse.  Fine, given the choice you won’t always jump at essay work over everything else, but when a job’s got to be done, you’ll find it more difficult when you’re downhearted about it.
  4. Study buddies. Some people swear by the power of working with others.  They don’t have to be on your course and they don’t have to be in your year.  It may help for some study, but the main draw here is to get together in a group so you can spur each other on to work.
  5. Write casual. Treat writing like a personal blog post, diary entry, Facebook message, or conversation.  Switching to scholarly gear isn’t an instant process.  Get rid of the problem by going casual.
  6. Use different materials and stick with what makes you happy.  If you hate staring at a blank screen on the computer, get a pen and pad.  If the software proves too distracting, try a minimal interface.
  7. Procrastinate AFTER you start, not before.  Procrastination before you know where you want to go with an essay makes the job harder.  Procrastination when you’re half way through the process is not so bad.
    Anyway, a bit of a pause can be a good thing.
  8. Write drunk, edit sober.  Whether or not you take this advice literally, the point drives home the need to write without fear.  Don’t clear up as you go along, especially if that means obsessing over the exact words and ending up writing nothing at all.  When you’ve written the detail, you’re in a better place to mould it suitably.  Set aside separate time for the editing process.
  9. Take inspiration from unlikely sources.  This depends on the subject, but some lend themselves to this exercise.  An unlikely source doesn’t have to be weird, just away from a regular starting point.  For instance, your lectures are separate entities, but they overlap in terms of content, reference, people, and so on.  Therefore, a generally unrelated lecture may still hold a cue to set you thinking.
    Alternatively, a news story or a YouTube video could provide you with an idea.  Be on the lookout for anything that draws you back to the essay you’re working on.  Anything is possible.
  10. Work somewhere else.  The simple process of leaving one situation and engaging with another is often enough to give you renewed vigour.
  11. Do something daring. Changed perspective and a sense of the unknown help bring clarity to your thoughts.  Step out of your comfort zone and do something you wouldn’t normally. A bit over the top, you might think, but it can feel so, so good!
  12. Don’t offer yourself rewards for work. Just make it rewarding! You should be studying this for a reason.  If it’s that dull, pick a different theme/title.
  13. Find inspiration from quotations.  I’m not talking about self-help nuggets.  I’m referring to quoting others in essays.  When you find a killer quotation, write around that.  Shape the essay around the quotation, rather than shaping the quotation into the essay.
  14. Use your past work as inspiration. I don’t mean you should plagiarise, but you should look back to relevant coursework and refer to key points and major areas in order base your new work.
  15. Go for a walk/run. A very common piece of advice (regularly offered by myself among many others).  Alas, it’s advice commonly ignored.  It works so well, you should at least give it a chance.
  16. Change the lighting.  This is a weird one, but it works wonders.  If the main light in your room is on, turn it off and use a desk lamp instead.  If it’s the middle of the day and your curtains are open, see what happens when you close them and have a bit of artificial light.  Changes in the light do all sorts to your attitude, mood, outlook, and focus.
  17. Use a timer. Race yourself.  Just ten minutes can help.  Force yourself to work until the alarm goes off.  A bit of pressure can go a long way.
  18. Ask the tutor for an interesting reference/starting point.  They’re not going to tell you how to write your essay.  Neither will they hold your hand and give you a killer introduction.  However, they should be willing to discuss where you’re looking to take ideas and suggest key areas to explore based on those ideas.
  19. Brainstorm and mindmap. Go crazy…Write lists, make charts, draw pictures, you name it!  Pick key concepts, search a bit deeper, and attempt to shape a rough outline.  I often do this when preparing anything, not just coursework.
  20. Don’t research. Write blind. See how you do and put the research in after you’ve had a go.  Research can bog you down, so write what you think it best first.  Even if you scrap it all later on, it’s the fact that you’ve actually given the topic thought that helps drive you further.

Title image: original by tiffa130 (cc)  /  Bottom image: Retrofuturs (cc)