Posts Tagged ‘time management’

Chronic Procrastination

Friday, April 1st, 2011

Psychologist Joseph Ferrari gives a one-minute summary of his research on chronic procrastination. He finds that procrastination is not about time management, so telling someone, “Just do it” won’t work. At the same time, it’s not about creating conditions of pressure to force ourselves to work.

He sees chronic procrastination as a “maladaptive” condition of people who seek to please. Afraid that their work may not be universally liked, they don’t do it at all.

I’ll need more than one minute to weigh the evidence for his claim. Still, the practice of distilling your research into 60 seconds is good practice.

Why Wait?

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Procrastination seems so central to human behavior that it's hard to believe the word did not enter the English language until the sixteenth century. It's comforting to know that even during a period when workers had few options forĀ  distraction, they still found a way to put off what they should be doing.

The study of procrastination has become a topic of scholarly research. In a review of the field, New Yorker business writer James Surowiecki outlines some of the leading explanations for why we shirk our duties:

  • Inability to defer immediate rewards for long-term success
  • Fear of failure leads to excessive planning
  • Miscalculation of how much time a task will take
  • Sense of being overwhelmed by a large, vague task

Knowing the cause of procrastination suggests some options for overcoming it. Most of the strategies involve limiting choices and imposing constraints. A popular software program allows Windows and Mac users to block internet access for a specified period. You can break down a task into more manageable, defined chunks.

Finally, you can subject yourself to negative reinforcement. Some folks trying to lose weight will make a bet with friends. For every pound lost, the friend will donate to a favorite charity. But for every pound gained, the dieter must donate to a despised charity. When it comes to tackling academic tasks, which tend to be self-directed and open-ended, this kind of skewing the consequences can help us stay on track.


Monday, June 28th, 2010

Since grad school, I've been a fan of the bibliographic software EndNote. In the late 1990s, I had pretty much abandoned the card catalog for finding references, but I had yet to discover the rich, full-text databases that would later emerge. So I didn't mind cutting and pasting authors' names and other publication information into the EndNote fields.

Nowadays, most researchers conduct literature reviews exclusively on-line. If an article's full-text does not appear on the web, I find myself questioning whether I really need that citation. Over the years, EndNote has added more web functionality with the ability to import fields and link to PDFs and URLs. Still, it remains a separate, proprietary system that sits on my hard drive.

I'm trying a new program called Zotero. It is a way of organizing citations directly within your browser. Because it's integrated into the very frame in which you search for sources, it captures text easily and seamlessly. Citations can be tagged like blog posts and organized into collections. With some more setting up, you can access the bibliographies from a remote computer. And it's free! I know there are a lot of competing software out there, but Zotero seems to have been designed by researchers for other researchers.

E-Mail Jail

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Chris Shanahan, one of our faculty members, gave a seminar this week on how to break out of e-mail jail. At first I thought the title referred to how tightly Outlook tethers us to our computers, but at the session I learned that some colleagues reside in a more literal jail. Their accounts are so full that they cannot receive mail. One audience member counted 3,000 messages in her inbox!

Chris's presentation borrowed from 12-step programs to approach the problem. He advised breaking the task into more manageable chunks and committing to clearing out the inbox by the end of everyday. This goal may be unrealistic, but by aiming for an ideal, you're likely to settle for something better than the status quo.

As a long-time Mac user, I tend to blame part of the problem on Microsoft's clunky design. At least in Outlook 2003, the interface makes efficiency a challenge. What's the difference between "Personal Folders," my mailbox folders, and favorite folders? For some reason, I have a "Calendar" and a separate "Calendar in Personal Folders." And these don't share a screen with my inbox.

It's like what economists have learned about motivating workers to invest in retirement plans. If you make it automatic, people will do it. But if you set up barriers to efficiency, most people will stay disorganized.