August 21, 2014

If procrastination is "a common pulse of humanity," then what can we do to stop it?

In "Getting over Procrastination," NY Times writer Maria Konnikova discusses Piers Steel's research The Procrastination Equation, Steel explains that "procrastination leads to lower over-all well-being, worse health, and lower salaries."
on procrastination, reporting Steel's finding that procrastination is "a common pulse of humanity," and that it affects 99% of college students in one way or another and translates to significant monetary losses in the work world.  In his book,

So if procrastination is so bad for us, why do we do it?  According to Konnikova, Steel's research indicates the answer lies on "the flip side of impulsivity."  Those of us who are not good at self-regulating or delaying rewards until after we have engaged in unpleasant tasks will often be the same people who struggle the most with procrastination.

But I wonder -- most academics have been able to delay rewards while they suffered and struggled to achieve their goals.  Most of you were not the kind of child who never did your homework, for example.

Yet academics struggle with procrastination, especially on projects that have no external deadlines.  So, for example, a faculty member may write a report for the dean, but neglect her own manuscript.  After all, that can wait until tomorrow and the dean can't.

In a way, academics have learned to put their needs last.  And writing up your own research is much more unpleasant than whipping up a report.  Besides, you have no choice with the report.

Procrastination is a more insidious problem for those who have seemingly endless time to complete their project.  Unfortunately, however, the time until completion is not endless.  You either finish your dissertation or leave, at some point. You either publish enough (and fulfill other requirements) to get tenure, or you're out.  And there is a specific date for that.  Seemingly very far in the future.  Not.

If you are a chronic procrastinator, Konnikova's entire article is well worth a look, as is Steel's book. The article also includes a link to an online procrastination test and several other tools that may help you assess your tendencies to put off that which is the most important, or, in Stephen Covey terms, those tasks that are "important but not urgent."

Be sure to watch this blog for a follow-up article, where I'll offer some practical suggestions on how you can tame the procrastination beast.

Do you procrastinate, especially on your own important writing that has no specific deadline?  If so, what strategies have worked for you at interrupting procrastination's common but destructive pulse? Is the supposedly non-existent deadline actually creeping up on you?