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Agony Aunt Week 3: Dissertation deadlines and how to stop avoiding work / motivate yourself to learn

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Question 1

I've always been the worst at meeting deadlines and most of my work has been handed in late or seconds before the deadline. I don't start work until a few days before it's due and am a master procrastinator. This hasn't been a problem through the preclinical years as there weren't that many big deadlines that mattered and I could always rely on doing a string of all-nighters before an exam to just about pass, but it's becoming an issue in third year. I've already been late for a few smaller deadlines and now I have a massive dissertation to write. I can definitely see myself starting it days before it's due.


Firstly I want to say you are definitely not alone! I completely understand where you are coming from as preclinical years are very different to the iBSc year and it certainly requires some adaptation. It is very easy to lose motivation during lockdown so please don’t beat yourself up about it, as most of your peers will feel the same even if they may not voice it. The format of third year is certainly a learning experience for many, however I know you can get through it and this will help you for the rest of your MBBS. You will find that even after this year it is very hard to cram-revise, as the course becomes more demanding and it is actually easier to keep up with content and work as you go along.

I have found one of the best things you can do to help you stay accountable for your own work is to work with your peers. If you write down a list of goals for the month / week and exchange these with your peers, you can track each other's progress and it will actually help everyone. Alongside this you can try to work together with your friends over videocall so that you can check on each other and make sure you’re getting your work done. If deadlines motivate you then create mini deadlines for yourself with all the work you have to complete and ask your family/friends to check what you have completed at each deadline.

One thing I find with myself is that my morning routine impacts the outcome of my day. If I wake up, have a shower and go for a walk I then feel much more inclined and motivated to work afterwards. Perhaps you can try scheduling in a refreshing morning routine to improve how you feel and boost your motivation levels.

Something that you may need to consider is the reason you are putting off the work. If you are trying to avoid content that you dislike or that is hard to grasp then an efficient way of getting through this and keeping engaged is to pause and test yourself continuously. This is active recall, it is a very high yield study method, that allows you to remember things in the long term so that when it comes to revision everything is much easier to go through.

In terms of coursework deadlines and your dissertation this year, it is much easier to write this in smaller chunks and then put everything together at the end. One thing you can do is set up meetings with your supervisor once or twice a week so that you can update them on your progress. This will hopefully naturally motivate you to do more work each week before your meeting and make it much easier for you to compile everything before your deadline. If you set a timeline for completion of your dissertation with your friends who are also writing dissertations then this may become easier and keep you motivated, as you are all in the same boat and can reach these targets together.

With the circumstances of this year it can be particularly hard to distinguish your working environment from your relaxing environment. It is therefore important that you can have a set study space optimised for your work and you can put away all distractions to enable you to do so. Planning out your day each morning so that you know when to start working or setting some goals for your day may also prove useful so that you are more efficient when you work. You can even reward yourself with something at the end of the day (a nice meal, a relaxing bath etc) to keep you motivated to finish your work. It is important to remember to relax - when you are relaxing you do not need to worry about your work that is due, rather take time out and do something for yourself whether that is bingeing some netflix or going for a walk. Even those who seem to be on top of everything take days off where they don’t do anything, so there is nothing wrong with procrastinating as long as you can balance this out with working.

I hope this has helped you feel a bit better about your situation, remember to start small - incorporate periods of working into your day until it becomes more routine! These times are very challenging for everyone so make sure you set realistic goals for yourself so you can improve sustainably. Please do not hesitate to reach out again for anything!

Question 2

I know I've got a problem and it's always at the back of my mind, but only comes to the front a few days before the exam. I don't ever learn and it always seems like there's time for me to watch a few videos or binge a series. Sometimes I clean my room or volunteer to cook for the entire household just to avoid work. I've tried making lists, using a planner and even the Cold Turkey website blocker but can't force myself to do anything! When I mention this to my friends they sympathise with me but everyone else seems to be able to actually do the work in the end whereas I don't get to that point. Help!


I’m really sorry you're feeling this way and I want to say first of all that you are not alone. Though it can be intimidating watching others and feeling as if they are doing so much more than you, it is important to realise that they too are probably facing difficulties with their own work. No one is perfect - everyone has periods of time where they procrastinate and find it harder to learn and the global pandemic has only exacerbated these problems.

The biggest help for me in the past is to find someone who can check up on and motivate me. This can be a two-way thing - both of you can keep in touch with each other throughout the day and even share a revision timetable if it helps! Being held accountable by someone else can really help prevent long periods of procrastination as you know that they will ask how you are doing and you will want to say that you have accomplished something. I did this when preparing for admissions tests before Medical School, and each day I would look at my timetable and then my friend’s and we would arrange our breaks so that we could text or call each other to ask how we were doing and also arrange times to study together.

Perhaps consider the reasons why you are avoiding work - do you feel like the content isn’t stimulating enough? Are you finding zoom calls draining? Think about when you did feel more on top of it and how you were feeling at this time. What were you doing differently? Finding ways to make revision more interesting - such as watching Youtube videos or chatting about SBAs with friends (on zoom for example!) - will definitely help you as you may be less inclined to procrastinate if you are excited and intrigued by what you are learning about. Some things may be repetitive, so finding new ways to go over the content will allow you to learn it better. It is tough at the moment with everything online: Zoom calls are draining and so you must ensure that you do take a break from the screen - even if it is only 10 minutes - just to walk around, perhaps have some fresh air and look at something else that is not your laptop, phone, TV or tablet.

I think it is also really important to realise that we are living in really difficult times at the moment and it is still vital to have a break (and binge watch a series from time to time). Avoiding work when you are just not feeling up to it is better than sitting down for hours on end and not getting through anything - you need to make sure you have breaks. Scheduling breaks into the day should help - you can timetable watching an episode or two, or making dinner for everyone. Not everyone is revising 24/7 - you need to take time for yourself and prioritise your mental wellbeing. When it comes to work, mindset is everything: if you wake up and are tired and unmotivated, your mood will immediately affect the way you work. Consider planning something exciting for when you finish your work, for example, watching a movie with your family - this will give you something to work towards and you can let them know what you plan to do before you see them so that they can check in and ask you how you are progressing throughout the day.

I hope that this helps a little, and that you find some new ways to learn that make it more interesting for you. It can be so difficult when you are stuck in a rut of demotivation and then all you do is procrastinate and feel guilty about it. Getting out of the rut is difficult, but take it step by step, and soon you will get back into the swing of things - you need to have the confidence that you will do it.

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