March 4, 2012 7:20 PM   Subscribe

What do you do when you have been procrastinating, have a deadline to meet, and completely and totally lack motivation to do anything at all?

I'm in my last semester of law school, and I have a very heavy workload. I have several things I need to do for tomorrow. I have been putting them off all weekend. I will do my reading for class early tomorrow morning which is fine; I've been doing all my reading in the hour before class all semester. It's not ideal, but it gets done.

I also have two assignments to turn in, that will take 2-4 hours each, and they absolutely must be completed before I go to bed tonight. It's 7pm here, and I have been sitting in front of my computer procrastinating since I woke up this morning. They are easy assignments and I'm not worried about doing them poorly; this is not a perfectionism thing. I am tired and burnt out, I have too much work overall, but I just don't care anymore and I don't want to do my work, so I'm just not. doing. it.

I don't think I'm depressed but my anxiety is really really high. I'm in therapy and on anti-depressants, which were recently reduced because the FDA revised the max dose. I haven't seen my therapist for two weeks (scheduling problems), but I see her tomorrow.

Right now, I can't figure out how to get through tonight, and get my damn work done. This thread - particularly the set a timer idea - has been helpful in the past, but right now I can't even get up the motivation to set a timer and do five minutes of work.
posted by Why hello, I am a sock puppet to Human Relations (17 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
Oh yeah, this. (Why do you think I'm reading Metafilter right now?)

Well, there's no way to do the work but to sit down and do it. My tips:

1. UNPLUG THE INTERNET. Seriously, turn that shit off.

2. Try to feel the fear. You are almost done with law school, so you're exhausted, and you don't feel the grades and performance pressure like you used to. Fear isn't going to be a great motivator for you, unfortunately. But you should feel SOME.

3. Do the part you enjoy first. There IS some stuff in here that you enjoy--whether it's the writing of a tricky part of an argument, or the research. Something.

4. Jump up and down and yell and get all that anxiety out of your body and expressed and get your body alive. We're procrastinating because we're shut down and maybe a little unhappy and just not feeling right. Get down on the floor and stretch out, at least.

5. Also I find that plowing through a huge amount of food at my desk helps.

Annnnnd now I'm going back to work. Hey, sometimes a buddy helps! COME ON, DO IT WITH ME! I'm going to work for another 30 minutes right now!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:38 PM on March 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Give yourself permission to do something you find relaxing for at least fifteen minutes and as long as a half-hour.

Eat some food if you haven't recently. Bonus points for protein.

Choose some instrumental music that suits your mood (lyrics are distracting for me, anyway) and put it on with headphones. An album that's about 45-60 minutes long works well.

If you don't have an internet-blocker like Freedom installed already, go and find one. Set it for the same amount of time as the length of the album.

Tell yourself that when the album is over, you can take a break and do the relaxing thing again for another 15-30 minutes.

Repeat until you're finished.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:39 PM on March 4, 2012

Similar to above advice, but I find a mindless TV show that I watch in ten-minute chunks after 20 minutes of work. So in an hour I actually only do 40 minutes of work, but it keeps me going much longer to think "I only have to do this for 20 minutes and then I can watch Frasier" instead of "uuurrghaghagdgghghgh I have to work for ALL THE HOURS".

Sitcoms are good because they pack a lot of jokes and plot into ten minutes, so you feel like you're getting a longer break.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:44 PM on March 4, 2012 [5 favorites]

I have a rush-through-it-and-do-the-bare-minimum method that sort of works for me in situations like this. If you think it will take 2-4 hours to do a decent job, take thirty minutes to do the absolute bare minimum. Do that for each of the assignments, and you're done in an hour. Having broken the ice that way, you can spend a little time improving them, but it takes off a load of worry to have something minimally turn-in-able.
posted by jayder at 7:44 PM on March 4, 2012 [9 favorites]

If the things you have to do before tomorrow are big, break them down into less-frightening chunks and do the chunks one at a time. One foot in front of the other - you're going to be fine.
posted by gingerest at 7:47 PM on March 4, 2012

I feel your pain. Here's what I've done in the past.

1. Unplug from internet. *DO NOT RETURN TO THIS THREAD*
2. Drink some water.
3. Pick the easiest of the two assignments and write one sentence down. Just one. Anything you want.
4. Go on a 15 minute walk/jog. Or pushups. Get the blood flowing.
5. Take a 15 minute shower--cold, preferably.
6. Write for 30 minutes. If it helps, start out angry, casual, careless. Use as informal a voice as you want. Be as flippant as you want. Just write and eventually the meaningful content will come through.

Repeat steps 2 - 6 as needed, until you have enough words to edit down into something that is decent. Do as much editing as you can tonight, and if you can guarantee you'll wake up in time, plan on polishing in the morning.
posted by Cortes at 7:51 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've often found the secret is to just get rolling, to subdivide the seemingly insurmountable task into various smaller and easier to accomplish things that gradually build into momentum to tackle the larger bit? Is there some very, very small part of your assignments that you CAN get yourself into doing?

I'll just use my workday as an example. Maybe I don't feel like digging into the pile of client emails and important work stuff that just HAS to be answered and requires thought. But I can go through and read and delete all the less important crap (newsletters, sales at my favorite websites, etc.) because that's not so taxing. Then maybe I can go through my remaining mails--the pile is smaller now, obviously--and find all the ones I just need to read, not acknowledge or put thought into. That chops it down further. Then, okay, it's a smaller, more manageable pile. Then I find the stuff that *has* to be answered today, that's critical or timely or otherwise needs acting on, like now, and I do those. Then we're down to serious emails that do require some thought, but it's 3-4 messages rather than, say, 20, which makes it feel more manageable and gives me that sense of momentum, that I'm plowing through it and things are going to get done.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:52 PM on March 4, 2012

People will hate this answer (sorry!) but it's what I did in college and it worked for me: I went and I bought a pack of cigarettes and I smoked. If I had to be up all night I might go through a whole pack, this was extremely rare though.

The taste and experience of smoking were super unpleasant for me, especially the taste of ashes that just lingered. But it gave my fingers and mouth something to do while thinking about what to type, and the nicotine seemed to have a lubricating effect on the machinery of thought. Not sure how much of that was placebo.

I only did this a few times, and I never smoked just to smoke (ugh), but it was something I used to get through a couple nasty spots.
posted by kavasa at 7:54 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Red Bull/similar things (with lots of caffeine and sugar) sometimes help, or getting 'awake' by jumping around and getting pumped up to loud music, taking a brisk walk in the cold, etc. In fact, if you do nothing else, go out and take a short, very brisk walk right now (just go! now! drop everything-- just go!). But the best is meditating (just standard stuff like grounding, letting go of stress by destroying symbolic roses, imagining various cleansing colors, etc). Don't think about the time you don't have and wasting it, and even if you've never meditated before,

This is part one, part two, and part three. I don't know if this is 'the best', but it's what I got from a 30-sec google search. Here's Open Focus, or a version of it, which I know to work (though I haven't used this video).

The thing you're looking for is a state of pure wakefulness and alert calm; this can be engineered naturally (that is, through a combination of exercise and meditation). Really, two things are needed: to be 100% awake and to be 100% unable to do anything but work (that is, cutting out distractions-- sometimes I lock myself in the bathroom with a book to do my reading, for example). If you don't get too distracted, try listening to really energizing, enjoyable music as you write or lightly multi-task in some other way. Another alternative is to do the assignment 'wrong' or 'badly' on purpose: like, intentionally mess up and goof off and don't take it seriously at all, but just get started. Handing it something is always better than nothing. But I still would place my bets on a combo of brisk cold walk (or cold shower if you can't leave), Red Bull and most importantly, meditation.
posted by reenka at 7:55 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Accept that you might do a mediocre job, but it's better than not doing it.

Go to sleep now and wake up so that you have 6 hours to complete both.

Don't think you have to start writing from the beginning.

You can do it!
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 8:27 PM on March 4, 2012

My vote would be go to bed now and get up at 4 am. Then you know that you're on deadline and you'll just do it.

Also, try cleaning off your desk and closing files you don't need open on your computer. I can convince myself this is still a form of procrastinating, but eventually I have a clean desk, with just the handout I need for the task, and a computer with only a blank word file open. The next phase of "procrastination" becomes adding page numbers or the header. Before I know it, I'm working.
posted by slidell at 9:07 PM on March 4, 2012

When I have a big project I need to do it stresses me the hell out. I hate this kind of stress, and find the only way to make it go away is to not have to do the assignment anymore. The only way to get rid of the assignment is to do it. Instead of being afraid to start, try to look forward to being done and not having to do it any more.

It also helps if you can bend the assignment around into something that is fun and interesting. Need to write a paper about the amish? Spend 3 page talking about the load baring design of their traditional wagon wheels, or I guess since your in law school talk about the crazy parties they go to during rumspringa. If you can have fun with it, it doesnt seem like so much work.
posted by KeSetAffinityThread at 9:40 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I repeat AIN'T NOTHING TO IT BUT TO DO IT, and channel my inner Hufflepuff. Tonks didn't become one of the youngest Aurors simply by being fly, after all.
posted by spunweb at 12:47 AM on March 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

Break it down into components, so you aren't so overwhelmed. Give yourself a reward for each component completed, literally, go to Amazon and get something from your wishlist for each success.
posted by theora55 at 12:12 PM on March 5, 2012

Did you get them done? Tell us how it went and what you did.
posted by jayder at 12:37 PM on March 5, 2012

Simiar to spunweb, my college mantra was IT DON'T GET DONE TILL YOU DO IT.
posted by Wild_Eep at 1:40 PM on March 5, 2012

I've got to say that Freedom (magical-turns-off-the-internet-program) works. It works, it works, it works. I turn on Freedom, make a list of exactly what I need to do (in stupidly small chunks) then go for a walk, make a cup of tea and get to business. Usually turning on Freedom is the equivalent to having a parent say, "No, you may not go to the party unless your homework is done."
posted by blue_bicycle at 3:13 PM on March 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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