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Doing What You Don’t Need to Do

October 9, 2009

I once counted the number of Cheetos in a bag and divided the cheese pieces by shape, creating a mathematical representation of the contents instead of grading student papers. I hate starting to read papers. Once I’m doing it, I’m okay, but, boy, the starting is hard! Oh, yeah, I ate the Cheetos too—with wine.
• Teacher response to procrastination question, 2007

Here are some categories of procrastination I developed when I was supposed to be grading papers. I suppose this is an example of creative procrastination since I was involved in doing something related to teaching. It didn’t get the papers graded, though. I still had to do that when I finished this list!

• Putting off the inevitable—these are things that you know you are going to have to do eventually, like homework (unless you’re planning to waste your money and fail). Procrastination prolongs the pain. It ‘s like carrying around a huge backpack full of rocks. The work is always there on your back and it won’t go away until you do it. T.S. Eliot said that time you enjoyed wasting is not wasted time. With procrastination, the time and energy that go into avoidance can make you miserable. Often when I add up the time I “worked” on something, I realize that the actual time I spent doing it wasn’t all that much. Most of the time I spent on the task was spent groaning and moaning and griping and whining about having to do it.

• Putting off something until it’s too late to do it, even though time and energy were spent worrying about it and avoiding doing it. Guilt is inevitable once the deadline is missed or the promise is broken.

• Putting off things that can be done later or not done at all. Like dusting or making the bed. Like cooking supper when there are apples and bread and peanut butter. Actually, I advise putting off things that don’t really need to be done, especially when you are in school. You will need to decide which things you can live without doing. For me, it was dusting.

• Putting off things you wouldn’t mind doing, but don’t know how to begin, like homework. Here are some things that students have told me they do instead of homework:

I fold other people’s laundry instead of doing homework.

I watch CSI and profile the unsub to solve the case before they do.

I make late night nacho runs.

I brainstorm ways not to do my assignments.

I twist my hair to see how tight it gets.

I watch TV with reckless abandon.

I lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling.

I search for my perfect wedding ring.

I stare into space and imagine what could happen if I don’t get my work done. Usually this involves kung fu and a cheesy chase scene.

Girls. I’m absolutely crazy about girls. If a girl calls me up to get a cup of coffee or see a movie, I’m out the door.

I actually ran two miles when I had papers due.

If I’m really desperate, I start making lists of weird things, like my favorite foods or all the different kinds of green. . . . .

I go outside and swing these three golf clubs I have on the porch. They are a 9 iron, a 5 iron, and a 3 wood.

I check the fridge. I go to the kitchen and just make certain that there is still no food in the fridge. It’s as if, when I have a big project to complete, I grow an enormous fear that some strange man has broken into my apartment and filled my fridge with food without my consent.

I compile more birthdates into my own birthdate database. . .other tedious data—love it. . .any reality tv while working on my data!

I change batteries in flashlights. You never know when there will be an earthquake or tsunami and you’ll need your flashlights.

As for me, I often put off grading papers, especially when I’ve looked them over and they don’t seem interesting or I’ve already spotted several that haven’t been proofread. Good papers are fun to read. I look forward to them. Bad papers are agony. I would rather dust than grade them.

I’m working on a list of characteristics of good and bad papers, and here’s my first hint: Have an interesting title, something that makes the teacher want to read further. A stack of papers all entitled “My Educational Philosophy” makes me want to go to sleep or go dust the bookcases.

I asked my husband what he does when he’s supposed to be doing something else, but he told me that he’ll tell me later.

What are you doing that you don’t need to do?

VIRGO (Aug. 23 to Sept. 22: You like to be organized. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are—you just wish you could be. Today’s a good day to stack magazines and papers in neat piles. • Horoscope by Francis Drake, p. 9C, Medford (OR) Mail Tribune, February 10, 2006

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