Ph.D. students have one goal: finish your dissertation. While this may seem like an easy task, it is one that is difficult and takes many years to complete. A dissertation in economics is made up of 3 chapters (usually 3 separate papers). Why does it take some grad students 7 years, 8 years or more to complete their dissertation.
An Economist article may shed some light on why people procrastinate. The authors find that people are most likely to procrastinate when they have abstract tasks to accomplish (e.g., finish dissertation) compared to when they have concrete tasks (e.g., turn in problem set 3).
This may be one reason why organizational tools work. David Allen’s Getting Things Done forces individuals to break down their abstract task (e.g., finish dissertation) into concrete, short term tasks (e.g., find valid data set to analyze research question, clean data, decide on regression specification).
As someone who will complete their dissertation in the standard 5 years, I believe that breaking down abstract goals into smaller, more concrete tasks has certainly helped me finish the dissertation.