Welcome to question of the day #26

Eyetools question of the day #26

Today a departure from the regular eye related topics. I have an interest in procrastination. I have been, and sometimes still am, a procrastinator. When I worked in academia I gave lectures to students and ran workshops for staff on how to overcome procrastination using my personal experience and a raft of other people’s knowledge and advice.

Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions. For example, someone has a week to finish an important piece of work, a university essay, a management report, in fact anything that involves a deadline, but they keep postponing it until right before the deadline, despite the fact that they intended to work on it earlier. That is procrastination.

I procrastinated when I was a student. I spent so much time planning essays, dissertations and revision that I left very little time to actually do the work. One of my academic colleagues told me he liked his procrastination because it allowed him to get so much done; apart from the piece of work he really needed to do. This is productive procrastination.

I’m not going in to all the background detail as a lot it involves fairly complex psychology. The root cause can be fear of failure, stress, perfectionism, fear of success (and therefore more work), too much work to do, too many distractions and boredom. Some people use procrastination to think about a piece of work and make connections that improve the piece. These people like the thrill of working tightly up to the deadline and submit good work on time. They are known as active procrastinators and are sensation seekers. Passive procrastinators work tightly up to the deadline and often go past it and submit poor work, leading to academic failure and sometimes course withdrawal or poor work appraisals and sometimes loss of employment.

My current and occasional lapses into procrastination come from being overwhelmed by the size of a piece of work, worrying about how long it will take and how many other things I can’t do, and therefore fall behind with, while I’m completing this large piece of work. The fear stops me from making a start.

However, I have already completed Step 1 of dealing with my procrastination. I know the root cause. This step has to be completed. The cause has to be identified. Step 2 is to remove distractions. My eye likes straight lines so I remove everything that isn’t necessary to complete the work. I also shut down all social media and my email while I am working on the task. My desk is clear and my work area tidy. Step 3 is a plan. I break down the large task into many smaller tasks. For example, when writing an academic paper I prepare an outline of title, Introduction, Method, Results and Discussion. Sometimes I stop there. Even five minutes is better than nothing. Then, later I will complete the Method section as this is the easiest. Then the Results, followed by the Introduction and finally the Discussion. Momentum is important. Little but often works well. How much is little? This depends on the time you have between now and the deadline. My plan has action points and a timeline for the completion of those action points. It’s important to turn up and do something. Making even small amounts of progress means I can see progress on the screen and this spurs me on. Often, I get into the flow and produce good material and time flies. Other times, it’s more of a slog and it takes a long series of five minute blocks before anything substantial comes.

I try to set aside a power hour during the day when I don’t do anything other than work on the task. I reward myself with a coffee at the end of the hour. Some people prefer shorter periods of power. Take a break. Get plenty of good sleep.

My initial output is never perfect but I have a body of work I can further sculpt. I believe in doing my best and forgetting the rest. Good enough is enough. This leaves me time to move onto other tasks.

When I hit a low point I visualize myself submitting the work and how good I feel in doing so. Other times, I tell a friend I’m doing this work and ask then to check on me later for a progress up date. I don’t want to let them down so do the work on time.