Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Brain: Work on Working

I think it's entirely appropriate, and maybe a bit poetic, that I waited for a couple of weeks to write about findings on procrastination. Maybe they were just new findings for John Tierney, now blogging for the NY Times. He alerted me to them. But I don't care. It got me off the task at hand and into the mood to contemplate various aspects of my life before completing that or any other work. It seems that Piers Steel, a psychologist from the University of Calgary, has published several papers on the subject of procrastination and now has an online survey to measure how much of a procrastinator you are and help you figure out ways to stop it. Your filling it out also helps with his research. Tierney's right. There's no more alluring way to dawdle than to fill out a questionnaire. So have at it. I did.

I thought these excerpts from the site's Treatment page, presumably for those of us who have a really bad case, were helpful: "Too tired to work" was one of the main reason students use to explain their procrastination. . . . Work, especially work, that requires intensive concentration or physical exertion, becomes increasingly unpleasant when our "get-up-and-go" has "got-up-and-gone." So Steele goes on to mention the importance of sleep and exercise as well as structured goal setting, that is specific, challenging, realistic enough to really do, and with few choice points. Many of us go off the rails whenever we have choices. For example, do I search endlessly on the Internet for my old high school buddy or do I write the proposal I need to finish? Do I get a snack or organize my tax documents? etc. etc. I'm reminded of the story that Mrs. Melville chained Herman to his desk while he wrote Moby Dick. Who knows how he might have spent his time otherwise?

And the treatise on "learned industriousness:" "You may have heard that success breeds success, and this appears to be true. . . .If you start a new task, and you fail the first few times, instead of learned industriousness occurring, you might get learned helplessness. . . .When you start a new task, it is very important that you structure it so that your earlier efforts lead to success."

Uh-oh, I meant to do that. I know all these ideas are good for me. And I'm good at them too, but usually only if there's a deadline and real money involved. Need to assign this one to my brain: work on working.

Oh and, when you go to fill out your online survey (why not be distracted and amused for a few?), don't miss the Quotations page. Hilarious!

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