What Do You Do When You Ought to Be Doing Something Else?

October 7, 2009

What do you do when you ought to be doing something else? I often ask people this question—even strangers in the grocery checkout line—because I’m working on the world’s longest poem about procrastination (a bit of it will appear tomorrow—it will be done someday, I’m sure). I believe that thinking about what you do when you’re putting off doing something else can give you insights into what you really want to do. It can also reveal the things that you truly want to do, but are afraid of attempting. However, when it comes to school, procrastination can also mean that you don’t really know what to do or don’t understand how to do it.

For students, procrastination is sometimes related to uncertainty. Often students don’t start on homework or projects or papers or studying for a test or whatever it is that they need to do because they don’t quite understand the task or because it seems so overwhelming they don’t know where to start. Why bother to get going if what you do will probably be wrong or if you’re clueless as to what the requirements mean? In fact, lack of understanding is one of the top three reasons people give for not doing their homework. The other reasons in the top three? No time and no place to work that’s free of distractions.

Give it a try. Make a list of the things you do when you’re supposed to be doing something else and see what your list tells you.

Need an example? When I was working on my doctorate and needed to get started writing my dissertation, I reorganized my closet and did lots of other unpleasant little chores I’d been putting off. What did I learn from thinking about why I was putting it off? I learned that sometimes you have to get started before you really know where you’re going, and I learned that I would never finish my dissertation if I didn’t work on it every day even when I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about (a dissertation is like a REALLY long research paper with no deadlines because finishing it is up to you). When I quit dusting and scrubbing and mending and organizing and began working daily on the writing chore, things began to come together and I was able to finish.

Look at the things you’re putting off and see if you need to actively seek clarification of what you need to do. And don’t procrastinate about asking!

Procrastination is my sin,
It brings me naught but sorrow,
I know that I should stop it,
In fact, I will – tomorrow.

Seriously. What do you do when you ought to be doing something else? What have you been putting off doing?

There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is in having lots to do and not doing it.
• Mary Wilson


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