Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Procrastinating 101: 12-year-olds Get It, So Can We

A little over a year ago, I took my first crack at decoding Dr. Piers Steel's "procrastination equation," in a blog post entitled "Procrastinating 101:  Greek to Me."  As you can probably gather from its moniker, my piece laid bare the heavy lifting required by me to penetrate Dr. Steel's formula, in the format in which it had most often been presented to the lay audience prior to the recent publication of his book on the subject. 

In Chapter 2 of The Procrastination Equation:  How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, Dr. Steel takes another stab at outlining the procrastination model embodied in his equation.  The chapter--"The Procrastination Equation:  The Result of Eight Hundred Studies Plus One"--is kind of like the title cut on an album, the guts of our Tuesday Procrastinating 101 grapplings with this major contribution to the procrastination literature.  

This eponymous section opens with scenarios describing three procrastinators, Eddie, Valerie and Tom, followed by a quiz to help us determine which of the three we most resemble.  Eddie, it turns out, is plagued by low "Expectancy;" Valerie, by low "Value;" and Tom, by issues of sensitivity to "Time."  (By Dr. Steel's reckoning, at least as captured in this quiz, I am closest in character to Tom, with his time issues, though my scores in all three areas fall shy of the numbers needed to identify me as a particular type of procrastinator.)

And guess what, kids?  Expectancy, Value and Time just happen to be the central components of, yup, the Procrastination Equation.  In order to see "how each of these pieces fits together with the others to form the overall formula," Dr. Steel admits, "there will be math."  But, he admonishes the math-phobes among us (I'm not one) not to 
balk. . . .[because a] version of this principle was illustrated within just two glossy pages of Yes!  The Science Magazine for Kids.  If twelve-year-olds can get it, so will you. 

The gauntlet thus laid down, Dr. Steel goes on to present the particulars of his procrastination explanation.  He begins with an explication of the basic expected utility theory of economics--Expectancy x Value--which is held to predict decision-making.  That is to say, when we are confronted with a choice, we take into account the relative certainty of reward associated with each alternative, as well as the value of each.  But, Dr. Steel adds, this theory is inadequate to explain our responses to all choices.
For starters, the theory is considered an expression of rational decision making, meaning that it doesn't leave room for any form of irrational behavior.  No matter what you do, from eating an ice cream cone to getting hooked on heroin, it is all reasonable from an economist's perspective.  Consequently, their theory also excludes the possibility of procrastination--irrational delays--and since I am currently writing a book on the topic and you are currently reading one, let's consider this a weakness.  The economic model of human nature isn't so much incorrect as just incomplete.  Consistently, we do respond to incentives (i.e., value) to the extent we believe (i.e., expect) that they are obtainable, but that isn't the entire picture.  There is a third factor--time.
Dr. Steel shows us how behavioral economists have borrowed from behaviorism in psychology, tweaking the general formula to take time into account.


Since the product of Expectancy x Value is divided by Delay, the greater the delay [until the reward is received], the less your motivation.

But, he goes on, some of us are more sensitive to delay than others--i.e., more impulsive.  The formula is therefore enhanced by the addition of impulsiveness, in this way:


According to Dr. Steel, who, as we learned last week, has applied meta analysis to the examination of results of hundreds of procrastination studies ("eight hundred studies plus one," says the chapter's title), the resulting "Procrastination Equation accounts for every major finding for procrastion."  

As the deadline for any task gets pushed further into the future, Delay increases and our motivation to tackle the task decreases.  Impulsiveness multiplies the effects of Delay, and so impulsive peope feel the effects of time far less acutely, at least at first.  Consequences have to be on their doorstep before they start paying attention to them--unless they are particularly large.  And what makes consequences large?  Expectancy and Value.  The bigger the payoff and the greater the likelihood of receiving it, the sooner it will capture your attention.

In order to show the reader how the procrastination equation plays out in the real world, Dr. Steel describes the actions of college students, whom he labels "prototypical procrastinator[s]."  Colleges are full of procrastinators, he says, because most students are young, and therefore more impulsive; and because

colleges have created a perfect storm of delay by merging two separate systems that contribute to procrastination, each devastating in its own right. 

These systems include the essay--a task of low value because of its nearly universal unpleasantness--and "the capriciousness of grading"--which results in low expectancy.  Add to this the due date, often nearly a semester away, and you have high delay. 

The second procrastination-promoting system is the setting where the essay must be produced--the college dorm.   Steel refers to dorms as "infernos of procrastination because the enticements--the alternatives to studying--are white hot."

Dr. Steel shares results of his own studies of procrastinating students in a self-paced computerized course at the University of Minnesota's General College.  There he found that procrastinators "tended to be the lowest performers in the course and were more likely to drop out, confirming that they were worse off for putting off."  These delayers were not "intrinsically lazy;" nor was anxiety causing their difficulty in starting work in the course.  
The real reasons for inaction were . . . impulsiveness, hating the work, proximity to temptation, and failing to plan.  And most significantly [for Dr. Steel and his readers, if not for the procrastinators], each of these findings directly follows from the Procrastination Equation.

A couple of things trouble me as I leave this chapter.  Perhaps they will be resolved over the course of the next several weeks, which I will be spending digesting Dr. Steel's eminently readable volume.

The first is the extent to which procrastination research appears to rely on studies of college students.  If, as Dr. Steel asserts,
college students . . . spend, on average, a third of their days putting work off. . . . [and  p]rocrastination is by far students' top problem, with over 70 percent reporting that it causes frequent disruption and fewer than 4 percent indicating that it is rarely a problem 
might it be that procrastination under those conditions is a different kind of animal from that which plagues adults at other points in our lives?  Maybe procrastination in college could be seen as developmental, like other behaviors that most of us mature out of.  (Binge drinking?  Shyness?  Unfocused career goals?)  Maybe procrastination later in life represents a kind of arrested development?

The other thing I am wrestling with is the question of what it means when we put off some items on a list which is so large as to defy completion by normal human means.  Clearly, such conditions are problematic, but are they properly labeled procrastination?  When is what looks like procrastination really a kind of prioritization?  And to what extent are individuals in control of what gets added to these "impossible dreams" of lists?  

This begins to sound like the kinds of questions that ended each episode of the parody show Soap--like "Will Jessica discover Chester's affair...? Will Benson discover Chester's affair? Will Benson care?" The Soap narrator concluded with the trademark line, "These questions—and many others—will be answered in the next episode of Soap."  I trust that Dr. Steel will enlighten us further as we go along--if not about Chester's love life, then about these niggling concerns with respect to procrastination.

Done for the Week: By Tempests Tossed

More irregular time this past week.  Family difficulties.  National holidays.  Unforeseen work emergencies.

This obstacle course required me to continue working on agility, while I got the following things done:

Done for the Week:  May 23 - 29, 2011
  1. Continued training for triathlon; biked once, swam once, ran twice
  2. Ran twice with my training partner 
  3. Finished A Weekend to Change Your Life, by Joan Anderson; Recovering From the Loss of a Parent, by Katherine Fair Donnelly
  4. Attended search committee meeting
  5. Did extra babysitting for my grandson
  6. Held jobs action
  7. Met for debriefing
  8. Completed major annual project for my organization
  9. Called my mother
  10. Continued to work my two part-time jobs 
  11. Went to see Jane Eyre with my daughter
  12. Published 4 blog posts 
  13. Wrote 1 gratitude journal entry
  14. Got my husband and son to the gym with me once
  15. Meditated 4 times
  16. Kept my new garden flowers alive, and planted more
  17. Contacted contractor to schedule bathroom electrical work
  18. Had lunch date with my husband
  19. Caught up on laundry
  20. Watched two playoff basketball games with my sons and husband
  21. Went out driving with learning teenager several times 
  22. Finished long-distance support of my mother, during my sister's vacation
  23. Participated in driving my newly re-employed son to his job
  24. Continued planning for trip to Seattle this week with my husband
Last week's focus goal was to "hang on, and continue to meditate, and breathe while I do both." I did manage to hang on.  And apparently to breathe, since I'm sitting here writing this.  I meditated more days than I didn't, but only just.  When I stuck to my mid-day meditation "routine," I succeeded.  When the day got away from me, and I allowed its middle to be trodden by others' agendas--four of seven days last week--not so much.  I made time to meditate (prior to falling asleep) on only one of the four disrupted days.  

I have started reading Martha Beck's The Joy Diet:  10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life , and find that her first "menu item," the one she wants us to begin with, is meditation--though she coyly refers to it as "Nothing."  It seems that most of the nonfiction books I pick up these days, in my relatively undisciplined search for peace, wisdom, self-correction, and amusement, involve meditation in one way or another.  All roads, it would seem, lead to Om.  Either meditation is saturating our culture, or, as The Secret's Rhonda Byrne would have us believe, I am drawing these personally needed messages to me.  But in any case, the importance of meditating is being hammered home to me again and again.  So I will keep on striving to "do nothing," for at least twenty minutes of every day.

And here's a test.  The morning is waning.  I am working on yesterday's post, so that I can progress to today's.  I am trying to get ready to leave town in two days.  I have already missed an important meeting so that I could attend a more important yoga class (I missed both classes last week, in favor of meetings and other work obligations).  And I am due at work in less than an hour.  But it is mid day, my meditating witching hour.  And so I am going to put aside blogging, so that I can do nothing.  For twenty minutes. . .

And now, I've meditated, lunched, and worked.  And I'm ba-aack.

Last week's most important accomplishment, I believe, was holding the jobs action I conceived and helped to plan; and meeting to debrief afterwards.  And for the same reasons that the previous week's most important accomplishment was planning said action:  the potential significance of changes we intend to effect in how jobs are being allocated in our city; and my own desire to graduate from being seen primarily as a techie with secretarial skills in an organization in which I contribute ideas, knowledge and skills outside that narrow realm. The action represented a significant step in our bid to learn more about the barriers to employment, so that we can take effective action to overcome them.

As of Thursday, I will be on vacation until next Tuesday.  I will resume posting on Wednesday, June 8.  Until then, I will focus on meditating, and on relaxing.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Blogging on Borrowed Time

Way too much late-night blogging lately. 

Blame it on the NBA, and my family's practice of watching games together.  Blame it on the project I tried to dodge but got sucked into at the eleventh hour.  Blame it on some overlapping extra duty in my extended family.  On ramping up triathlon training.  On the season from hell in Wisconsin politics with no end in sight.  On the devil making me do it.   On. . .

Right now, I should be in bed, unwinding toward sleep in these last minutes of May 26th.  I will need the restorative power of slumber before tackling another crowded day tomorrow.  

But I'm thinking about the pattern that's forming, taking me away earlier and earlier in the day, for more hours, and filling my evenings with multitasking.  And I want it to change.

Or at least I think I do.  Because if I really want it to change, wouldn't I just change it?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Procrastination, On the Receiving End

Debt's not the only thing that gets kicked down the road
Today has flown by, and I have only a few minutes of consciousness left to attend to this post.  What most needs to be "put to bed" tonight is me.

What's keeping me up?  The procrastination of others.  Which has come back on me.

A large annual project, which I have handled for my community organization for the last couple of years--last year on a totally volunteer basis--is way past its bed time.  

Several months ago, I informed people that I would not be available to shepherd this major undertaking this year.  I was assured that others could, and would take care of it.  They couldn't.  And they didn't.

Not only did the team of individuals not have the requisite skills to handle it, but they didn't even know what those skills were.

So they didn't ask what needed to be done, or figure out what needed to be done.  And when they finally called me, in desperation, to pull it all together, we were looking at the deadline in the rearview mirror.  

I spent the better part of this evening, after working much of the day, retrieving vital files from email trash, and attempting to reconstruct the data needed to complete the work.  I will probably pull this one out of the fire (enough metaphors in the mix?), but it won't be pretty.

For those of us who are prone to putting things off, it is probably a fortuitous corrective that we ourselves occasionally end up holding the procrastination bag.  And the procrastinators who put us in that position are, by rights, entitled to our compassion--along with the irritation we can't completely suppress.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Procrastinating 101: Do You See Yourself in This Picture?

Chapter 1 of Dr. Piers Steel's new book, The Procrastination Equation, our featured resource on Procrastinating 101 for the next several weeks, busts a myth many of us hold to about why we procrastinate.

Considering the research on the relationship between perfectionism and procrastination, Dr. Steel finds little support for the widely held notion that our impossibly high standards make us late--in starting, in progressing, and in finishing things.  The perfectionist identity is worn as a badge by some of us, seeking to console ourselves for our perpetual dawdling.  Apparently, it is most often a sham.

Instead, we are going to have to grapple with the reality that it is poor impulse control--that scourge of the school child afflicted with ADHD, who is, in turn, the scourge of the classroom teacher--that is generally the culprit.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  And of Dr. Steel's  elegant organizational structure.

Like any good academic, Steel starts from a definition of his subject.  Procrastination, he says, is "not just any delay but an irrational one."

I especially enjoyed reading that procrastination
isn't a question of laziness, although the two are easily confused.  Unlike the truly slothful, procrastinators want to do what they need to do--and usually do get around to it, but not without a lot of struggle.
And that
dillydallying is in part hereditary, . . . we are hardwired to delay.
I also warmed to this acknowledgement that delay can be sensible in some cases, as when, for example, there is a good chance of the task being changed or preempted:
The obsessive who completes every task at the first opportunity can be just as dysfunctional as the procrastinator who leaves everything to the last moment.  Neither one is scheduling time intelligently.
And to this, identifying the need for flexibility in the face of changing circumstances and shifting priorities:
Not everything can happen at once; it is in your choice of what to do now and what to delay that procrastination happens, not in delay itself.

As an aid to our understanding, Dr. Steel rides the self-assessment wave, like so many others writing about procrastination (and other bad habits and mental missteps that send us running to the self-help aisle).  He refers us to his website for the full test, but includes in this first chapter the Reader's Digest version of the instrument he uses to measure "irrational delay." 

My score?  31--which makes me an "average procrastinator."  (Which makes me think of the line from The Fantasticks I adopted as my adolescent mantra:  "Please, God, don't let me be normal!")  Just barely, though.  One more point, and I would have made the top 10-25%.

Steel goes on to describe a typical procrastination scenario--so well, in fact, that it made me start to sweat.  He urges his readers to put the following three questions to ourselves concerning our most recent "bout of procrastination":

·       Did you know the task was going to take so long? 
·       Did you realize that the consequences of being late were so dire? 
·       Could you have expected the last-minute emergency?

According to Steel, 
The honest answers are likely yes, yup, and definitely. . .
(My most recent "bout" of procrastination involved putting off the completion of this blog post.  My honest answers?  Yes, not really, and okay, you got me.)

But, as in the ancient commercial for Clairol, it can be difficult for "the casual observer" to answer the question "Does she or doesn't she?"--in this case, referring not to dyeing one's hair, but to procrastinating.  And here it is not "her hairdresser," but "only the procrastinator" who "knows for sure."  Because it is "purposeful decision" which distinguishes a) that which we wisely postpone in favor of what matters more to us, from b) irrational, and thus procrastinating failure to get down to business.

As he winds up this first full chapter, Dr. Steel sketches in his "portrait of a procrastinator," relying on research findings.  He tells us that:

·       about 95 percent of people admit to procrastinating
·       about a quarter of these indicat[e] it is a chronic, defining characteristic
·       writers seem especially prone
·       procrastinators are more likely to be unemployed or working part-time
·       procrastinators can be of either sex, [but the male] has a slight edge
·       [procrastinators] are more likely to be single than married but also more likely to be separated than divorced
·       older people procrastinate less

His "psychological profile" of the garden-variety procrastinator, however, is where the rubber really meets the road in this chapter.  That "I'm a perfectionist, therefore I procrastinate" thing?  Busted.

Based on tens of thousands of participants--it's actually the best-researched topic in the entire procrastination field--perfectionism produces a negligible amount of procrastination.

And Dr. Steel's own research leads to the same conclusion:
neat, orderly, and efficient perfectionists don't tend to dillydally.  [the scientific term, apparently]
He says the proclivity of those perfectionists who do procrastinate to seek professional help has fed the belief that the two traits are related.  

But what's really going on, for most procrastinators, is that our inability to delay gratification makes us respond to task anxiety by procrastinating.  Us 
impulsive people find it difficult to plan work ahead of time and even after [we] start, [we] are easily distracted.  Procrastination inevitably follows.

In concluding Chapter 1, Dr. Steel outlines the rest of the book, promising hope for those of us plagued by "the overfull kitchen garbage can in the morning" and "the nearly empty tube of toothpaste at night."  

I love his ending sentence:
The advice here is evidence-based, as scientifically vetted and pharmaceutically pure as it gets; it's the good stuff from behind the counter, so don't overdo it.

Next week, Chapter 2:  "The Procrastination Equation:  The Result of Eight Hundred Studies Plus One."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Done for the Week: Back to the Breath

A couple of sunny days, and increasingly balmier temperatures last week left me smiling.  Spring may come, after all--with humid summer close on its heels, no doubt.

It was a fairly productive week, in any event.

Done for the Week:  May 16 - 22, 2011
  1. Continued training for triathlon; biked once, swam once, ran twice
  2. Ran twice with my training partner 
  3. Finished Espresso Tales, by Alexander McCall Smith
  4. Attended Issues Night meeting
  5. Attended special jobs meeting
  6. Convened meeting to plan jobs action
  7. Called my mother
  8. Continued to work my two part-time jobs 
  9. Met with website client
  10. Published 5 blog posts 
  11. Wrote 3 gratitude journal entries 
  12. Weathered my husband's end-of-semester collapse
  13. Got my husband to the gym with me once
  14. Attended 1 yoga class
  15. Meditated 5 times
  16. Kept my new garden flowers alive, and planted more
  17. Mounted attack on garlic mustard
  18. Contacted estimator for bathroom electrical work
  19. Completed layout on three ads for annual adbook fundraiser
  20. Had lunch date with my husband
  21. Resumed reading In Pursuit of the Proper Sinner aloud with my husband
  22. Cooked twice
  23. Shopped for groceries
  24. Caught up on laundry
  25. Watched three playoff basketball games with my sons and husband
  26. Went out driving with learning teenager several times 
  27. Entered negotiations with my husband, concerning upgrading of his heavily trafficked website
  28. Self-diagnosed radial nerve injury, and began do-it-yourself healing program
  29. Began daily long-distance support of my mother, during my sister's vacation
  30. Participated in driving my newly re-employed son to his job
  31. Spent extra day with my grandson during my daughter's illness
  32. Got the lawn mower started for the first time this season (no small feat!)
  33. Paid our monthly bills
  34. Made tentative plans for family vacation in July--our first in several years to someplace other than New Orleans
Last week's focus goal was to "find a regular time to meditate, and to build a habit by meditating at that time every day." While I didn't manage every day, five times is a notable improvement over no times.  I am challenged finding a time that works every day, since my schedule changes from day to day, and from week to week.  But most days I can arrange to sit for twenty minutes around the time that I stop for lunch.  If I am having lunch out, as I did three days this week--once with a co-worker, once with my son, and once with my husband--I can meditate either before or after, keeping to a mid-day time frame.  This is more difficult on the weekends, when more people seem to be needing more of my time.  I still need to work on keeping myself on my own list, and somewhere higher than the phone solicitors and Jehovah's Witnesses.  And so, the saga continues.

Last week's most important accomplishment, I believe, was convening a meeting to plan a jobs actionThis item trumps others on a relatively lengthy list for two reasons.  One is the potential significance of changes we intend to effect in how jobs are being allocated in our city.  The second is my own desire to graduate from being seen primarily as a techie with secretarial skills in an organization in which I contribute ideas, knowledge and skills outside that narrow realm.  The action is one that I devised, which was picked up by my committee.  And we met to put it in motion the next day.  It will be gratifying to see it happen this coming week.

The week ahead will present the usual amount of scheduling twists and turns, and then some.  I'll focus on hanging on, and on continuing to meditate, and on breathing while I do both.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Have you, like me, gone through periods when your first feeling of the day is dread?  

This spring has seen a long and difficult series of assaults on my mood, from the depressing state of affairs in state government here in Wisconsin, to concern for various family members experiencing challenging transitions of all sorts, to exceptionally dreary weather, to frustrations with work, to lack of time to dig out our cluttered home front.  Too many mornings, I open my eyes and register a sense of impending disaster, or its lesser kin, wariness and harriedness.  Not a great way to wake up.

Determined not to just take this lying down (though I am, most times, literally lying down when this dark cloud passes over), I have developed the following scheme for lightening up.

First of all, though I am not a confirmed deist, I have memorized (sort of) e.e. cummings' poem "i thank you God for most this amazing. . ."  I have gotten in the habit of reciting it mentally before getting out of bed.

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
After that, I force myself to come up with the following, for the day ahead:

  • Something to look forward to, ideally something fun.
  • Something to learn.
  • Something to accomplish.
  • Someone to connect with.
  • Something to be proud of.
  • Something to be thankful for.
For today, this was my list:
  • My afternoon run by the lake
  • The recommended conservative treatment for my self-diagnosed radial nerve damage
  • Planning a local jobs monitoring action
  • My friend Sharon
  • My growing web skills
  • My three relatively healthy and loving children
It helped to chase away the early-morning funk. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Epic Foot-Dragging

Some acts of procrastination rise above the ordinary.  Not content to settle for the overdue library books and filing extensions of the rank and file of delay, their perpetrators distinguish themselves with their breathtaking deadline-shredding and their eye-popping feats of tardiness.  

Such stand-outs call out for recognition.  And so I am inventing an award befitting these off-the-charts deferments.  

Think of it as an anti-award.
including, e.g.,
The Shawn Bradley Award, for a player who's 6-10 or taller and has the highest percentage of his shots blocked (500-minute minimum);
The Shawn Kemp Award, for the most foulouts;
And the Nick Anderson Award, for most missed free throws in a game.
Or the Razzie Awards for worst film.

Or the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) Worst-dressed awards.

I'm calling it the African Queen Award for Egregious Postponement.

Why the African Queen Award?  In honor of director John Huston, who
engaged in legendary stalls before writing and directing many of his films
and famously finished editing The African Queen, for which he received two Oscar nominations (Best Screenplay and Best Director), only days before it opened. 

And because it sounds cool.

The criteria are pretty loose, and the judging eccentric, high-handed, and one-woman.  And the award will be given whenever circumstances dictate. 

For putting off really important stuff.  For a really long time.

Nominations, anyone?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Procrastination Police You Can Download

"Step away from the solitaire."
It's late, and I'm tired.  But I'm making an effort to keep up with Monday through Friday posting.

So tonight, I'm going to pass on this little nugget from my procrastination news reader.

Among the nifty tools available to thwart our inner procrastinators is an app for Mac called Obtract.  According to the review I read, Obtract detects your unproductive computer use, relying on your own definition of what's unproductive (Maybe you really need to be constantly checking Facebook for work?).  When Obtract catches you digitally "procrastinating," it covers your screen with a maze you must solve in order to "buy" the time necessary to engage in said unproductive activity.  

The app can also be used by a team, allowing team members to monitor each other's unproductive time, and to buy unproductive time from each other.

Since I got sucked into the solitaire vortex earlier this evening, while intending to relax from a strenuous day, I decided this would be a perfect time to try out this new app.  I downloaded it for free, but encountered some difficulty setting it up.  I have not yet figured out how to tell it what I consider unproductive.  

Not waiting for instruction, the application determined that blogging was unproductive.  It told me that I had become "too distracted to continue this activity. . ." and should "complete the maze for 5 more minutes of distraction."  So I guess we know what it thinks about the value of this blog!  I had to kill the darn thing, temporarily, in order to complete this apparently unfruitful post.

I'm going to take another stab at bringing Obtract to heel.  When I've got it up and running, I will post an update about its efforts to keep me in line.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Procrastinating 101: What Do Pigeons, Vermin & Members of Congress Have in Common?

Dr. Piers Steel, demonstrating a tried and true procrastination behavior--cruising the fridge--for the Edmonton Journal.

Today, we embark on a several-weeks journey with Dr. Piers Steel, author of The Procrastination Equation.  Having finished the introduction and first chapter of this recently published book, I am looking forward to the trip.

To begin with, Dr. Steel establishes his considerable credentials in the field, the most significant to me being his own past struggles with procrastination.  I don't know about you, but I feel a little less like a lab rat knowing that the researcher studying a behavior I engage in has his own experience of it.

This book, however, was penned, not just by any old garden-variety procrastinator, reformed or otherwise, but by a man who has spent years conducting his own research into procrastination.  Furthermore, Dr. Steel has applied the technique of meta-analysis to help sort through the 
over eight hundred scientific articles on the topic from fields spanning economics to neuroscience, in languages ranging from German to Chinese. . .

Meta-analysis is a statistical method which, as Piers Steel tells us,
enabl[es] a synthesis of knowledge. . . reveal[ing] the underlying truths we seek.
Using this approach, he was able to wade through a plethora of studies in which researchers have
run laboratory experiments, read through personal diaries, twiddled with neurotransmitters, and dissected DNA. . . .[and] have monitored every setting, from airports to shopping malls; . . .wired entire classrooms to track every student's twitch and shudder; and. . .studied procrastinators from every background, including pigeons, vermin, and members of the U.S. Congress.

Based on these efforts, Steel promises surprises, a departure from the same-old same-old about procrastination, and strategies to help us procrastinators combat the problem.  

Next week, Chapter 1, "Portrait of a Procrastinator."  

Monday, May 16, 2011

Done for the Week: A Short Story of a Busy Week

This morning, the sun is out.  And that's news these days, where I come from.  

Last week, I ran outside with gloves on; my triathlon camp was relocated indoors by icy winds and rain; my newly planted flowers were in danger of perishing; and my mood went south in the face of unalleviated gray skies.

Here's what I got done, anyway:

Done for the Week:  May 9 - 15, 2011
  1. Continued training for triathlon
  2. Ran twice with my training partner 
  3. Attended semi-grueling day-long triathlon camp 
  4. Finished The Zen Path Through Depression, by Philip Martin; The Book of Good Habits, by Dirk Mathison; and A Short Guide to a Happy Life, by Anna Quindlen
  5. Attended Board meeting
  6. Attended Housing Authority board meeting
  7. Attended church's annual meeting, serving as (amateur) parliamentarian
  8. Attended church's Coming of Age service, as mentor
  9. Attended Coming of Age party 
  10. Called my mother
  11. Continued to work my two part-time jobs
  12. Published 5 blog posts (though global Blogger malfunction ate one--it may still be restored)
  13. Attended 1 yoga class
  14. Cooked twice
  15. Shopped for groceries
  16. Caught up on laundry
  17. Watched two playoff basketball games with my sons and husband
  18. Spent many hours removing glass fragments from my lawn, and garden area
  19. Began planting new flowers--forget-me-nots, columbine, pansies, hanging basket of petunias
  20. Went out driving with learning teenager several times 
  21. Saw my therapist 
  22. Took a posting "snow day," courtesy of Blogger shutdown
The most important thing I accomplished last week, in my opinion, was to attend a "semi-grueling day-long triathlon camp."  This item makes the top of my list because it represents the biggest push I've given myself recently.  And although I am flagging a bit after this difficult, and seemingly interminable winter, I know from experience that it's going to take some pushing, balanced with some rest, to get me where I'm intending to go this summer.  So I'm going to suck up the sore muscles, absorb the good information and personalized instruction, and keep going. 
Last week's focus goal was to "return to daily meditating." The alert reader will notice the utter absence of any items related to meditating on the above list.  I continue to struggle with the need for routines supportive to my goals.  Last year, as I prepared for my first triathlon, while juggling my jobs and the needs of a relatively large and complex family, I was better able to rely on digging down to some reserve of energy to help me accomplish what I needed/wanted to get done.  This year, not so much.  Even sitting to meditate, which restores me when I actually do it, is beyond my scheduling and executing capacity most days.

The condition of the world, and the continuing political maelstrom in my state, are seriously sapping me.  I am in a state of mild exhaustion, and would benefit greatly, I believe, from being able to have even one thing that I do at a regular time each day--something that could become habit, to be done more or less automatically, without spending time and effort deciding to do it, and figuring out when to do it.

To that end, my focus goal for the coming week is to find a regular time to meditate, and to build a habit by meditating at that time every day.

My work is cut out for me.   Namaste. . .