Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Working-Procrastination Continuum

My work habits have definitely changed a little bit since I started grad school, shifting towards the better end of what I see as a continuum between working and procrastinating that goes something like this:

Flow: You're working and not even thinking about not working. You might not notice that you're getting hungry or stiff, and when it's time to stop, you wish you could go on. If you do take a break, you spend it wanting to get back to work.

Work is Work: You're working pretty steadily, but it's rough going. You take breaks when you can, and think a lot about how much longer you have to go, or how much more you need to do.

Pretending to Work: You're sort of doing some work, but you stop every few minutes to check email or play solitaire or stare into space. You're trying to get settled down and do some work, but not much is being accomplished.

Trying to Get to Work: You have a definite plan to start working, but you're trying to pry yourself out of bed/away from the TV/off the Internet. There might be a couple of things you need to do first, like clean off your desk or get a glass of water, but you're not quite doing those things yet. But you will soon - honest!

Procrastinating: There's something you could, maybe should, be working on, but you figure you can work on it later, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. You definitely plan to do it, there's no doubt about that, but not right now.

Pretending to Procrastinate: You claim that you're going to do something, but if you look into yourself, there is no plan at all for getting it done. You might be in a sort of passive rebellion against doing it. There is no time that it could occur to you to work on it that you would actually then go and actually work on it. It is not possible that the conditions under which you would do the work could occur. Some change in attitude (perhaps partly unconscious) would be required in order for it to happen.

Refusal/Blowing Off: You consciously have no intention of doing a particular thing, though you realize that in some sense you should. Perhaps you've given up because there is no longer enough time to get it done before it's due, and it won't be accepted late, or maybe you've just decided it's not a priority for you.

I used to spend the bulk of my working hours in the range from "Pretending to procrastinate" to "Pretending to work" range. I find that, now that I'm in school, I'm never (so far) pretending to procrastinate, and most of my work times are in the "Trying to get to work" to "Flow" range. It's hard to distinguish between procrastinating and just not working right now in my current life, since I always have work that I could be doing, and yet I don't need to work 12 or 16 hours a day either. But cutting out that "pretending to procrastinate" stage is a big deal for me, and spending more time in the various working stages is great.

I still spend a vast amount of time in the "trying to work to work" and "pretending to work" phases. I'm not sure how to get better at that.


Sally said...

It's probably at least partially motivation. Perhaps your current amount of work is in some sense enough and you will push yourself into the work is work and flow categories more often later when more work needs to be done.

Siro said...

This... wow... this is an amazingly eloquent ontology of all my working habits.

Seriously, this is probably one of the better posts on procrastination on the web.