Procrastination, to the Nth Power

Procrastination, to the Nth Power

For those of you who follow me @profgears, you probably have already seen the demotivator to your left [photo credit]. It’s probably my favorite demotivational poster. In fact, if a certain DrWife is reading this, that would be a very nice new office gift. But I digress…

As part of Deadline Theme Week here at Engineer Blogs, I thought I would talk about how I deal with procrastination, deadlines, perfectionism, and biting off more than you can chew (the Big Four). All four of these things work in tandem for me and it’s basically the only way I know how to get stuff done.

I always bite off more than I can chew. Whether it is agreeing to service within the university, professional societies, or self-pressure, I always have stuff to do. And, like most people, I get distracted by the slightest….

… sorry, student just distracted me (actually true!). So I end up with a lot of things to juggle at once. As a faculty member, I have proposals to write, a grad student to mentor, lectures to prepare, and academic service to perform. Also, I still need to finish papers from OldEuropeU (only 2 to go, the other 3 were submitted!). And then there’s conferences to attend with posters to make and presentations to give. This is where the Big Four start working in tandem.

Miss Outlier started us off with a great post on long term deadlines and how she deals with them. I have a completely different philosophy when it comes to Gantt charts, milestones, and long term deadlines. One of the ways I deal with biting off more than I can chew and long term deadlines is to pile on more pressure by adding short term deadlines into the mix. I know, sounds illogical right? Not to me. I constantly take the super long deadline and target research goals 6-12 months out by basically saying “in X months, I want to achieve this.” Except, if I built a little chart with a star saying “get this done in 6 months”, I’d never do it. However, if I put in a conference abstract saying (speculatively) “We will achieve this…”, I have just given myself a hard deadline to meet. Overall, it adds more work (biting off more than I chew…) but it takes your long deadline (thesis, for instance) and now gives you something to get done now. The same thing works if you can work on a part of your research for a class project.

So I’ve just taken a lot of work, added some more work, but in the process added a hard deadline that I must meet. It also matters to me that the deadline is to an external entity, rather than internal. I break promises to myself all the time. But, if I promise someone else something, I’m going to try my hardest to make sure I meet my obligation. The problem with this is I eventually get so behind in work that everything is last minute. Lately, this hasn’t been so bad (which is very nice) but normally I’m daisy-chaining deadline to deadline to get things done. Because I’ve procrastinated on one topic, everything else gets pushed back. This adds the the pressure/basketcase nature I deal with constantly.

The last part of the equation is being a perfectionist, just like Cherish. In some things, I am a huge perfectionist. Figures for papers/publications/thesis, formatting, and slide appearances for presentations are all things that must be perfect! See, for instance, my posts on templates. There’s nothing that bothers me more about my work than a figure that just doesn’t look quite right. But with being a perfectionist, there’s something else that I must adhere to: a single-minded purpose to get it done. You see, in addition to being nuts about figures and formatting, I absolutely must get everything done. No exceptions. So even when all deadlines are looming, and I have tons to do, many of it self-inflicted, the main perfectionist in me says “Get it done. No matter what.” At those times, I tend to make diamonds while turning into a basketcase.

1 comment

Ha! You sound just like me. I break promises to myself all the time and use external pressure/incentives to push myself. And I am absolutely most productive and creative at the verge of getting a nervous breakdown from all the pressure; it’s actually quite the rush, much more so than doing thing at a more leisurely pace (like normal, organized people).

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