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07/29/2015

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Marcus Arvan

Interesting post, Trevor!

Here's a quick biographical note that coheres very well with (I think) your discussion. I was a terrible procrastinator in graduate school. In retrospect, I see that it was largely a matter of how *few* things I had on my schedule (e.g. write a dissertation). In contrast, ever since I got out of grad school, I've had so many things to do that I *can't* procrastinate. If I procrastinate, I will miss deadlines (grading exams in a timely manner, finishing an R&R for a journal, etc.) that I cannot afford to miss. Consequently, I literally don't procrastinate anymore (on the contrary, it sometimes seem as though all I do is work!).

I would also like suggest another alternative to your proposal--what I will call Structured Non-Procrastination. (2) and (3) are central parts of your schema. (2) says one should order things in terms of importance, and, when you find yourself procrastinating on higher-up items, tackle lower-down items. One problem with this, I've found, is that it can lead a person to systematically ignore more important things for less important things (always tackling lower-down things on the list, never getting to the important ones).

Here's how I get around this problem. I require myself to do a little of *all* of my projects just about every day--higher-up and lower-down projects. I may spend an hour revising a paper, an hour grading five exams, a couple of hours writing a new paper, a couple of hours preparing lectures, and so on. I find this works incredibly well for me because it ensures that I am constantly chipping away at everything, rather than constantly putting some things on the "backburner" as your structured procrastination proposal advocates.

I'm not suggesting, by the way, that my way is better than your way. I'm merely suggesting that it might be a better alternative for people like those I mentioned (those who might have trouble ever getting to the higher-up things of greater importance)!

Trevor Hedberg

Thanks for the comment, Marcus. As a spoiler for the follow-up post where I'll address those three problems, I will propose a modification to items (2) and (3) in the schema to deal with the items at the top of the list. It will be different from what you've suggested, though whether it is a better strategy will probably vary from person to person. In my own case, I don't think I could handle trying to make progress on a multitude of things in a single day. I find the cognitive cost of switching gears, so to speak, is too high for me, and it eliminates my ability to achieve a state of flow. (For those unfamiliar with the concept, flow is a concept in positive psychology referring to a state of energized focus and increased immersion in a particular activity; it might well be the topic of another post in this series at some point.) Generally, when I'm revising a paper, that's usually the only major thing I work on for several days. When I'm grading a stack of exams, I'll wait until I have a 2-3 day window and grade all of them during that time. To accommodate these work habits, I have to tackle the items at the top of the list in a different way.

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