If you are anything like me, you sometimes have trouble getting your thoughts onto paper. Perhaps you might even have a tendency to procrastinate by surfing the web or otherwise killing time on your computer. As graduate students, our two main challenges are reading impossibly large numbers of pages, and then quickly writing two page summaries and syntheses of what we just read.
One completely free tool that I have found useful in this second challenge is a website called writeordie.com. The main feature of the site is to provide a tool: you type in how many words you want to write and how long you want to write. The site then produces a blank word box for you to type in and a timer. If you stop typing for too long, the background on the screen will become increasingly red until the program sets off an alarm to grab your attention and bring you back to work. You can change the settings to have more or less friendly alarms. However you adjust the settings, by using the site you are signing up to get your writing done.
The website also has a feature called “online competitive multiplayer writing” or “Word War.” This is just like the first feature, except you sign up with a friend (or a random person) and the long distance peer pressure serves as an added incentive to do your writing.
Some of us do something similar in person: we meet for a couple of hours and work for a certain percentage of the time. For example: we will meet for 3 hours. The first 48 minutes of each hour is spent working and the last 12 minutes of each hour is spent chatting. It may sound odd, but the simple peer pressure of telling the other person what you did for the last 48 minutes forces each of us to get at least some work done. For those of us that tend to procrastinate by checking ESPN or whatever other site a significant portion of the time, 80% work done on each hour represents a good return.