Why do now something you can do a day after tomorrow?

“Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.” – Victor Kaim

With this year being the year of “do”, I thought it would be great to discuss the one thing that always stands in the way of getting things done. After the email announcing I was selected as one of the SAYAS bloggers for 2019, my excitement fuelled my creativity and inspiration; so many ideas and thoughts. I even immediately started writing this piece in December even if it was due after the beginning of the year. This was unlike me because I, like many fellow postgraduate students, suffer from the procrastination “bug”, almost like a flu bug. What better way to start the year than discussing the one thing that stands between deadlines and us, throughout our postgraduate careers?

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Procrastination, as defined in the dictionary, is: “the action of delaying or postponing something”. However, the reasons (or shall I say excuses?) of why we procrastinate vary among individuals. My favourite so far has to be: “I work best under pressure”. I even go as far as to justify that diamonds are created under pressure and look how beautiful crystals they are. With that said all the work done under pressure should result in something great, right? We all know we just don’t want to do the work until the deadline is 48 hours away, even then I still take my chances. I am a serious victim of my own procrastination tactics; but luckily for me, if I procrastinate enough tasks, I get to a point where I do older tasks to avoid doing the new ones.

On the aftermath of procrastination though, consequences exist, even if deadlines are met eventually. I lost my uncle two years ago, and sometimes I cannot help but feel like if I did not procrastinate so much during my first year of MSc then maybe he would have gotten the chance to see all of my hard work and possibly make it to my graduation. I remember how he would regularly call to check up on me and see how my research was going. He had no idea what it is that I was doing but it is the thought that really counted most of the time.

Being from Limpopo, I decided to take my work home with me hoping I would get something done. The four weeks I spent at home I did no work whatsoever, the family was so excited to have me back home that they kept me busy all the time. A part of me felt refreshed to not be doing any physics so I did not complain much. I decided to come back early this year to get an early head start and catch up with all the work not done in December. Truth be told, I am still trying to get back to the work mode. I keep postponing the day I will sit down and start working again.

I have always wanted to start a “procrastinators anonymous” group but true to its nature, it never materialised. Guess why? It could have been done later. First, it was during the week so we had to wait until Monday to start it properly. When Monday came, it would not work because it was the middle of the month. A new month started and I realised that it would be better to start the group properly at the beginning of the year. Now that we are finally in the New Year, do you want to guess if the group has started?! Well to answer the question, I started this blog mid-December but here I am today, a day before the deadline, finishing it.

Being the research student that I am, I decided I would procrastinate some more and Google tips on how to deal with procrastination, I found a nice blog written by Regan Collins . I personally do not agree with all of them, (I shared my thoughts on each tip below it) but I hope they will help you.

  • Get Organized

I completely agree with this tip. In order for you to get anything done, you should know what needs to be done. The best way to go about this would be to make a list of everything that needs to be done with the deadline date next to it. Place it somewhere you can see it every day so it can haunt you until you get everything done. Crossing things off a list is the best feeling ever.

  • Set Simple Achievable Goals

A simple achievable goal is something as small as choosing to wake up every day at 6 am, doing yoga every evening or jogging for the fit and active ones. If you can get the little things done, this is enough motivation to move on to the next task.

  • Create a Timeline/Schedule & Get Rid of Distractions

The only problem I have with this tip is that when you busy making a timeline, your plan does not include all the distractions who show up out of nowhere and disturb your plans – colleagues, classmates, family, social media, Netflix. I normally get frustrated and just give up on the day completely.

  • Set a Deadline

Since I work best under pressure, I have found that setting deadlines before the actual deadline helps me get things done quicker. Internal deadlines are not always met, but they can work as cushions to the final ones.

  • Time Yourself

While this is good advice, I use the motto “continue working until you get drained”. I take advantage of every opportunity I get that I find myself working.

  • Take a Break

Breaks are very important but they can also ruin everything. The ABC of working is: “Apply Butt to Chair”, standing up from your chair to take a break is you breaking that simple rule.

  • Use Incentives

Now, this I completely agree with. The best way to motivate me to work is through a nice bottle of wine. The idea is to drink the wine when I am done with the work but unfortunately, for me, I believe I’m more creative while sipping on a glass of wine. However, I completely agree with the incentives idea. There is no right or wrong incentive – find what makes you happy.

  • Get the Hard Stuff Done First

I completely disagree with this tip. I feel like if I start with all the easy stuff, I will be motivated to continue working because I have done so much already. I believe that I am more motivated after completing the easy stuff then I can move on.

  • Tell Someone About Your Goals

This is a great tip as well but I already disappoint myself enough when I do not get things done. I cannot have another person disappointed in me.

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Hope the tips above were helpful and will be useful. For 2019, let’s vaccinate against the procrastination “bug”. Let’s use our time wisely and get those proposals submitted before the due date, those progress reports submitted a week early and if you are in the same situation as me, now would be a good time to start writing that thesis. I am always shocked at how much work I can get done when I wake up with the willpower to work.

Don’t have one yet? Here’s how I found my dream…

Unlike many people who know their future careers by the time they complete their matric year (or even before), I was unfortunately not one of those people. There are many of us out there who apply to go to varsity but are not quite sure about what career path we want to follow. I am Joyful Elma Mdhluli, an aspiring Nuclear Solid-Sate Physicist and academic with a Master’s degree in Nuclear Solid-State Physics. This is my story of how I found myself enrolled as a PhD student in Physics at the University of the Witwatersrand today, although if you asked me a few years ago, I had a completely different destination in mind.

When I was in high school, I was certain that I wanted to become an engineer but that dream was short-lived when I had to apply for University. The reality of my marks did not entertain that aspiration. I found myself applying for a double degree in Nuclear Physics with Mechanical engineering, where I would first need to complete a BSc in Nuclear Physics before moving to engineering studies. At that time, this seemed like the best option to get me to my engineering dream. To cut the long story short, I matriculated with a few distinctions and got accepted to Wits.

hell to heaven photo
Road from Hell to Heaven (Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/apojapo/14018860298

I still remember the day I enrolled for a general BSc like it was yesterday. I found myself sitting at the Head of School of Physics office trying to enrol for the Nuclear Physics course when he convinced me that a general BSc majoring in Physics would be a better option for me. Being the scared (and definitely not as well informed) little girl, all I wanted was to register in the university and start my academic journey. I followed his advice and enrolled for a general BSc. Now I will not lie and say that the undergraduate programme was a walk in the park; I went from getting straight A’s in Maths in high school to barely passing the monster course called Maths Major. However, not everything in my life was like a scene from a horror movie, Physics Major seemed to be like a Romantic comedy. Like all romantic movies, in the beginning, I loathed Physics but over the undergraduate years, I came to fall in love with it completely.

After completing my undergraduate degree in record time (still not quite sure how that happened), I enrolled for an Honours course majoring in Physics. I thought that the three years of undergrad was hell until I started with Honours, the three years of undergrad does not prepare you for the flames that you will encounter in Honours. After surviving that one year of hell on earth, I enrolled for a Master’s degree in Physics after one of the professors in the School of Physics asked me to join their team. After four years of torture, I had finally made it to heaven. I didn’t have to attend lectures, wake up early in the morning and study for tests and exams.

My first eight months of Masters were the best months of my life since I started school but the highlight of my first year had to be my first time in an aeroplane, and not only that but all the way to Europe. My Master’s degree involved collaborating with colleagues from the University of Madrid.

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some “touristy things” while in Madrid

My supervisor had previously collaborated with them on a similar project as mine and since I was continuing on the project, I had the opportunity to go work in their facilities too. Spain was amazing, I did physics and tourist things what more could I ask for? This was the greatest thing anyone had ever done for me and I could not be more grateful to my supervisor.

Just when I thought it could not get any better, I found myself travelling all over Europe for the next year and a half of my Master’s degree attending conferences and visiting other institutions for experiments. I found myself flying to Russia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Portugal. I even had the pleasure of meeting the Swiss ambassador H.E. Mrs Helene Budliger Artieda; I should say, she is a very wonderful woman.

This had to be best thing that could have happened to me, right? But no, it did not stop there. I completed my MSc in 2017 and I was beyond ecstatic to find out that I passed with distinction. I mean can you believe it? A whole distinction, I once upon a time hated physics in high school and now here I am getting a distinction for my Master’s degree. After getting my results, I immediately knew that this was my dream. Physics was where I belonged and so I enrolled to do my PhD with the same supervisor from my MSc.

Certainly, the journey to where I am right now was not easy but now that I am here now, I choose to focus on the good than the bad experiences. Here I am now into my second year of PhD; it is not a walk in the park but it is a walk that I am definitely willing and excited to take.

My University years thus far has taught me a lot.

I have learnt that not everything will go according to how I plan it.

I have learned that failing is part of the process of learning, the lesson is to get back up and put more effort than the first time.

I have learned that without friends and family nothing can be done (for me, especially my mother for all the support sacrifices she made to get me the best education).

It is ok to not know what you want to become. Keep an open mind to new opportunities, if we all knew what our destinies were then there would be no point to life. Life is a journey we need to explore, we discover something new about ourselves daily. If you already know what you want to be but struggling to get there, do not give up just yet. Everything takes times and moves at its own pace. Do not compare yourself to everyone else, you are a limited edition and your journey is yours alone.