Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Procrastination is a Poor Substitute

As I sat at my computer this morning tinkering with email and rechecking things I had already checked, I was distantly aware of the fact that I was procrastinating. So, instead of actually getting to work (I never have a lack of specific tasks, I'm a researcher/writer/teacher!) I pulled up one of my favorite blogs and read a post about procrastination, which I will not hyperlink here for the sole purpose of avoiding the unbelievable triple irony I'm trying to expose!

Instead of getting to work, I went and read a sincerely helpful blog post about strategies for getting to work. Ahh! The move wasn't necessarily bad, but the impulse behind the move was 100% about not getting into the work I needed to do. And here's why procrastination definitely feels good for the time you're engaged in it: you feel like you're accomplishing something, even if it's something relatively trivial.

I'lll procrastinate by reading a blog post, checking email, grading a paper, or some other more enjoyable and measurable task. So I feel good for a minute because I get something done. But that feeling is very fleeting. Procrastination is a poor substitute for accomplishing a more serious objective.

What feels 10 times better is actually accomplishing something substantive on a larger ongoing project. In academia most of the work we do is long-term. It takes a while to be able to see the results of working on a journal article, conference paper, book, or teaching portfolio. But in the long run, those accomplishments are not fleeting.

So why don't we just get amazing work done constantly? Mostly because we can't feel the effects of that work as quickly as we can feel the effects of hitting "send," or finishing a blog post on procrastination. When we do those things we feel as if we've accomplished something. Writing 400 words of an 8,000-word article doesn't feel as rewarding.

That's why it's so important to break your larger tasks down into smaller tasks. Make every 750 words, or however you want to organize your work, count for something! Another strategy for countering procrastination is to set aside specific time in which procrastination is ok.

But if you're struggling with procrastination today, then I suggest you join me in pulling up Google Timer, setting it for a short amount of time, say 10 minutes, and working on something you know you should be doing. You've got to start somewhere!

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