As a graduate student I switch between many tasks during each week. My activities consist of attending classes, doing homework, grading, working on my research and studying for exams. However I notice that from time to time I tend to procrastinate and this happens mostly when I have to switch from one task to another or when I feel that a task is difficult and I am not yet sure of how to handle it. It also may occur when I work at home in Sundays or when unexpected lab meetings interrupt me from my schedule.

My situation is not that I do not feel productive, but some hours per week can be lost due to this issue (which is an important thing).

In general the main idea of my problem is: I tend to procrastinate when switching tasks.

To protect me from distractions I have installed browser plug-ins that do not allow me viewing distracting websites more than 5 minutes per day. I also try to keep track of how much time I spend on each task and have established a relatively stable weekly program.

However I believe I could benefit from better time management advices to handle procrastination...

What are your suggestions ?

p.s. Sometimes what also takes time, is communicating with family and friends. I am an international student and I dont want to lose touch with my people. Although I have a relatively steady pattern of communication with them (usually within weekends) nostalgia beats me wanting more discussion.

----EDIT---- Most answers seem to suggest micromanagement time approaches. However I believe that micromanagement tends to take a lot of time too. How can you reduce effectively the time it takes to make a schedule for a specific day ?

  • 2
    @obelix Exactly! Switching tasks is hard, and the best opportunity to procrastinate. If this question is really a duplicate, I find it much better than the "original"
    – Ajasja
    Oct 17, 2016 at 8:31
  • See also [Productivity.SE] Stack Exchange
    – gerrit
    Oct 17, 2016 at 8:34
  • Instead of editing the closed question, please start a new post with only the new question that you added below.
    – henning
    Oct 17, 2016 at 14:30

2 Answers 2


Suggestions (overlapping rather than mutually exclusive; different techniques may work to different extents for different people):

Keep really detailed to-do lists. Break tasks into small pieces ahead of time in as much detail as you can envision them. Cross things off one by one so that you don't either a) get lost between tasks, or b) run into a vague item, e.g. 'do report', and drift off to the Internet because you don't have enough to go on in order to get started. Optional: buying an oversized permanent marker so that crossing things off the list strikes you as decisive and worth celebrating.

Build some rest-time into your schedule. If you know you'll need 30 minutes to decompress after teaching that class, put that on your schedule. Otherwise you'll be trying to force yourself to work and it will probably not go well.

Carrot and stick. This is one of the two things that helps me out a lot. I bought a delicious cookie but it has a Post-It Note on it saying that I'm not giving it to myself until I've updated my CV, finished that abstract, and gotten caught up on responding to my undergrads' emails to me. I earn a day off every week unless I'm feeling extremely behind.

Compile distracting ideas into a 'later list'. This is the other. I'm not a major procrastinator, but when I'm being creative and productive, I'm often hit by unhelpful urges from elsewhere in my brain. If I pursue these instantly, then they sidetrack me and I lose a lot of time to YouTube/Wikipedia/Google Images/etc. But I don't want to forget about them, either. So I write them down on a sheet of paper, and then put it aside for later. Example might look like:

Reread hilarious email that [friend] sent me about his cat.
Search for [TV show from childhood] on YouTube.
Friends having baby. Look up that pattern for a knitted DNA model.
Check email.
Redesign personal letterhead.
Check email.
Look for [long-lost magazine issue] on eBay.
Did they ever find [missing kid from the 1990s]? Ask Google.
Browse Academia SE.
Check email.
Track down [friend]'s blog and see if his wife has given birth yet.
Get caught up on [webcomic I forgot about for a while].
Check email.
Text goofy note about silly dream to [friend].
Can't remember what the word 'palimpsest' means - look it up.
Add a bunch of books to GoodReads.
Check email.
Check email.
Okay, really, what are tangerines, botanically speaking? Ask Wikipedia.
Track down email address for [friend of friend].
Check email.
Look up video instructions on how to replace a zipper.
See if I can get [Windows 98 strategy game] to run on my laptop.
Order book by [colleague] to poke through.
Check email.
Revive dead LiveJournal account and see if anyone's still around.

  • 3
    Voted up because this is the first time I have seen the idea of making a list of distracting ideas to come back to later. Great idea! Oct 17, 2016 at 9:56
  • 2
    To add to your final suggestion, I've also found it useful to install a browser extension such as Pocket, Evernote etc. which saves articles etc. to read later. The best are those which allow you to right-click an intriguing-looking link and save it for later without actually having to open it. Some of them also download it to your phone so you can read it on the bus home.
    – Luna
    Oct 17, 2016 at 14:45
  • @Quizzical Creature: Thanks! I'm probably not the only person to have thought of this approach, but it saved my rear-end through an intense undergrad degree. To say nothing of grad school. Though I haven't yet figured out whether I think idly about tangerines only while I have many more relevant things to do.
    – trikeprof
    Oct 17, 2016 at 17:41
  • @Luna: Ooh, Pocket looks super useful and this is the first I've heard of it, as far as I can recall. Thanks for pointing it out!
    – trikeprof
    Oct 17, 2016 at 17:42

To offer an implementation of several of TrikeProfs points: I use a Bullet Journal for organization, which helped me a lot with a set of similar problems.

What is a Bullet Jounal?

A Bullet Journal is a combination of ToDo-list and a calender that you write from scratch. For each day you create a list that contains bullets, which can be task you want to finish, appointments/events to attend and can also serve as a notebook foe stuff you learned during that day.

[✓] Read paper x                        completed task
[>] Write summary of paper x            moved task 
[ ] Feed the cat                        unfinished task
( ) 12:30 Lunch with co-workers         appointment
( ) 14:00 Lab meeting                   appointment
 •  A Bullet Journal might help         note
    me to organize my workload.

There are rules for handling bullets: If you finished a task, you tick it off and are done with it. If you did not finish a task on that day, you have to move it to another day. If the task is no longer relevant, you have to strike it out. If you adhere to this rules, at least in theory, no task can be forgotten. Once it hits the journal, you are stuck with it.

On the other hand, these rules are more of a proposition and it is quite common for everyone to change them to fit theirs style of work. I added weekly overviews to keep a closer look on my appointments and a monthly wrap-up of everything I have learned and want to keep in mind.

A more detailed explanation can be found on the website. They have a really nice video.

Why this works for me

Most of these points translate to the suggestions TrikeProf made:

  • Writing down what I want achieve forces me to have a goal.
  • Ticking off a bullet (1) gives me a warm fuzzy feeling and (2) means I can forget about it and focus on the next task.
  • I can take notes that I will find again.
  • If I really do not want to forget something, I add it to the journal.

Make it work for you

As said, for me this works quite well, but that is due to a period of learning. It takes work, but in my opinion it is worth it. Some things to keep in mind for successful journaling:

  • Write down what you want get done today: I think this is crucial for your specific problem.

  • Do not overload your days: If you put too much stuff into one day you might get frustrated. This works for me because finishing tasks is fun. Carrying then with you is not.

  • Create the right bullets: Break down big task into several bullets. This is especially helpful for overwhelmingly big tasks, as it allows you to handle them bit by bit. [ ] Read paper x is more intimidating and offer less reward than:

    [ ] Read introduction of paper x
    [ ] Read methods chapter of paper x
    [ ] Read conclusion of paper x
    [ ] Write a short summary of paper x

    Which you can handle one by.

    Another aspect of this is to write bullets which have a fixed and easy to identify end point. While

    [ ] Improve runtime of program

    can never truly be finished

    [ ] Fix runtime problem in function foobar

    can either be finished or marked as "unsolvable".

  • Rephrase bullets: If you can not get a task done, rephrase it or split it up (see above).

    [ ] Research topic y
    [ ] Look for papers on topic y
    [ ] Skim and categorize papers on topic y
    ... add more as you go along


You might want to be cautious to take advice from me on procrastination. I should really prepare the talk I am giving tomorrow instead of writing stuff on stackexchange. But it helps me to not forget so many tasks. I promise :)

I am not sure if this is necessary here, but: I am in no way associated with the creator of Bullet Journal whatsoever.