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Love Physics/Maths but procrastinating too much?

  1. Jun 4, 2012 #1
    Hi everyone,

    I'm a rising junior in a decent university in my country and I'm doing reasonably well in my classes and would like to grad school.

    Feeling that I have the competence to learn a bit more, I've always wanted to go beyond the standard syllabus and also train myself as a good problem solver.
    owever, every time set up a plan for myself to work on some problem solving book or self-study with a textbook, I almost inevitably procrastinate every day and end up doing nothing and wasting time for an extended period of time.
    (For instance creating this thread has been a way of procrastinating and escaping my original plan of reading Shankar.)

    I believe I'm genuinely interested in both Maths and Physics.
    For instance I had an Honors Lin. Alg. II course this semester and the professor occasionally assigned some bonus questions. (considerably harder than the "hard" questions in Friedberg.)
    I gave a lot of thought to those questions (for a few days or so), and was absolutely thrilled when I actually made progress bit-by-bit everyday and finally reached the stage where I completely solved the problem.
    The same goes with Physics and I believe these are good indicators that I'm actually interested the subjects.

    The fact that I'm incapable of doing anything according to plans set by myself (without any external pressure) strikes me (as opposed to my excitement to work on something that I didn't plan ahead), as I think it severely limits my abilities, and will cause eventually cause my trouble in grad school, where self-motivation is of high importance.
    Does anyone have any thought on this, or any personal experience how to overcome this?

    Thanks a lot.
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 4, 2012 #2
    It's a habit. I would procrastinate a lot, but I limited by a lot these past few months. What I did is find a study habit that works for me. I like to study anywhere from 30-45 minutes and then take a 10-15 minute break by either looking over some notes I took from reading, problem solving, or just eating a small snack. After ~1 - 1.5 hours I take a longer 30 minute break where I just do whatever. I study until I feel I have done enough for the day.

    This may or may not work for you, but my point is try to find a habit that makes you productive.
  4. Jun 4, 2012 #3
    Thanks for the reply.

    It seems that my issue is a bit different.
    Once I get started on studying, I can study for extensive periods of time.
    The issue is most of the times I just can't get started. It seems like opening the book, getting my notes and stick to my plan is the hardest thing I could ever do. (I know this sounds really stupid, but somehow I just can't do it..)

    It's somewhat like diamond turning into graphite...I like being in the state of doing physics but the activation energy is just way too high..
    Am I just creating troubles for myself, or is this a legitimate problem?
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2012
  5. Jun 4, 2012 #4
    For me, it's all about having a non-distracting work environment. If I need to do math homework, then I turn off my laptop, get set up somewhere that is quiet, comfortable, has minimal distractions, and start working.

    I am seriously considering going to the library to study everyday after school this next year (the public library, not my school's library) just so that I'm in an environment where I can do literally nothing to procrastinate. I would just sit down at a table with my books.... and work.

    You need to find what you usually are doing while you procrastinate. For me, it is usually spending hours upon hours on the internet or on my xbox, so the best way for me to fix that is to get myself to turn them off. (This gets tricky if you need a computer, but it sounds like you're just trying to study using books, so there would be no need for a computer). Find ways to stop whatever it is you do while you procrastinate, because it is ultimately less important than studying.

    Making a schedule could help out too. Be realistic with it though, and possibly start off studying in smaller increments until you are able to focus on studying for longer periods of time.

    Good luck! My guess is that, if you really are passionate about math and physics, then you will find a way to be more productive with your time.
  6. Jun 6, 2012 #5
    I agree with antifreeze, part of your learning plan needs to include going somewhere without distractions, if you're able to. I also set up a specific, realistic goal for myself. Rather than saying that each day I'll study for some amount of time and get tons of work done and have fun with the problems, I noted that there are 27 lessons left in the math book I'm studying. So if I do at LEAST one section each day, which are each pretty short, I can get the book done in less than a month. This makes it exciting that I can theoretically get it done in a few weeks if I were to double up every now and then.

    Of course, you'll probably have to split everything up very differently depending on the book/topic/difficulty, but I think the trick is to make sure your goal is small so that you KNOW you can accomplish it for that one day.
  7. Jun 7, 2012 #6
    Maybe try working outside of a 'schedule'. I get the most self-studying done when I just let my curiosity take me places. Yesterday I spent several hours rationalizing why the parallelogram with 2 non-parallel sides being the vectors a and b, is just the det(a,b). Today, I making a program that draws a line of best fit, given random points. My point is, maybe let your academic studying take care of a strict studying regime, and let your curiosity do what's fun today, and don't worry if its something different tomorrow.
  8. Jun 7, 2012 #7
    You sound so much like me, its scary. Rising junior, math and physics major, doing reasonably well, planning on going to grad school and also want to get a fair amount of self-studying done over the summer (including reading parts of Shankar). It's been more than 3 weeks now since my break started and I've done next to nothing yet. I don't think this kind of problem is a real problem. You just need to figure out whats stopping you from making progress and fix that. For instance, I think my problems right now are that I can't find a proper study room and the fact that I've been waking up too late.

    I've also planned to do a fair amount of self-studying over breaks in the past and I always fail to even come close to the goals I set and it would be a shame if this summer goes similarly. I might as well write my goals down for this summer:

    1. A fair amount of Complex Analysis (applied not proof-based, the 2 chapters from Hassani's book).
    2. Some Real Analysis (first few chapters of Pugh) and basic topology.
    3. Brush up the incomplete and non-unified knowledge of QM Griffiths gave me through Shankar.
    4. Learn about some advanced topics like Lie Groups.

    Doable or too much? Note that I'm not doing anything else like research.
    Last edited: Jun 7, 2012
  9. Jun 7, 2012 #8
    Assuming you are on summer break...
    1. Go to the library or somewhere that isn't your house to study.
    2. Leave your phone at home and your computer (if you want to take notes on a computer do it on the library computer so you are less tempted to surf but preferably take notes on paper if you don't trust yourself avoiding facebook and such).
    3. Don't study all day - it is the summer and you should at least spend some of the day enjoying yourself so you arne't burned out for the coming semester.

    There is no point trying to break the habit... just go to a place where it is impossible to do anything else than study devoid of distractions.
  10. Jun 9, 2012 #9
    I've had similar problems. I think having a study/homework buddy helps a lot, although it might be harder to find one if you're studying outside a class. The other thing is that when you start facing consequences for not studying, you'll shape up fast. I never had the discipline to do practice problems in easy classes like basic calc, but I spent ten hours prepping for one exam last trimester because I wanted to be sure I could handle it.
  11. Jun 9, 2012 #10
    lol i still have this problem. I mean I am replying here while I am supposed to be revising my phd thesis. ;)

    anyway, since I fought with this problem while I worked professionally as an engineer, I will say it is just something that you come to terms with and eventually work out your own stratgies to get things done.

    that said, holidays are important since they allow the brain to relax and recharge. if you are not rested, how can you put the effort in?

    also try to make the most of what is being taught in your problem sets and try not to get a head. by focusing on what is in front of you and mastering the relationships that you are supposed to be working on you will be surprised how much better you will become in your studies.
  12. Jul 18, 2012 #11
    I used to find myself like that. And I don't exactly know how I've gotten over it. I think part of it has to do with how hungry you are for it. I don't think anyone can give any meaningful help, it falls down to YOU. Procrastination stems from the fact that one would rather do something else. It all falls down to motivation. Your brain tends to be more motivated by doing other activities (or no activity). What ends up happening is that people let the time to tick so that external motivation can set in (time pressure).
  13. Jul 18, 2012 #12


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    One tip for avoiding procrastination is to have a bit of stress and pressure to get things done.

    When you are in a situation of no stress, it does tend to become harder to get things done. Some stress is actually a good thing and if people can handle a lot of stress, then it's a lot better for them to be under a lot of pressure than be in a situation of little or no stress.

    Find a way to give yourself enough stress and pressure and you will perform better.

    If you don't need stress to perform or some kind of external pressure then that's great, but a lot of people do and its the kind of thing where otherwise busy people at a job who do a lot that plan to do things on their time off don't, because the stress, pressure, and necessary incentive is not there.

    Think of it this way: you give the average person everything they want. They don't have to work, worry about bills or anything like that. They have been in a system of school and normal employment: they work because they need to pay the bills. Let's consider that for the moment we have a person who works just to pay the bills, have a few hobbies, and so on.

    Now the person gets everything they want and suddenly is put into a tailspin: they have all this free time and they have no idea what to do with it. They don't have to work or worry about anything, and they are completely lost.

    Sure they might spend a brief bit of time indulging in some luxuries like travelling, new cars, and so on, but that all becomes passe after a while.

    If they are the type that needs external motivation, or more importantly is used to it, then they will collapse when it comes time to motivating themselves because they simply aren't used to it and don't want to do it because there is no pressure, stress, or intrinsic incentive.

    Aside from getting some pressure and stress, my advice is to have some kind of collaborative effort with someone.

    For example if you have the opportunity to get a program from a professor on the holidays where he can spare say less than an hour by email correspondence over two weeks, get him to assign you some tasks and then get him to ask you what your progress is like.

    Motivation works best when the intrinsic property of the motivation is a shared one and not a personal one. If it's all about what you want to learn without any other external component, then you will burn out. This is why we have external systems of motivation because most people really don't know what to do when you give them the absolute freedom to do what they want in a constructive manner.
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