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Kicking procrastination - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Kicking procrastination [Jan. 24th, 2007|01:10 am]
Arvind Narayanan
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[Current Mood |satisfiedsatisfied]

After a looooong time, I'm sort of on top of my todo list. (At least research wise. My car needs fixing and has been in that state for like a month.) This also coincided with a return to my wake-up-at-5:30-am-and-work-like-a-maniac madness starting today. I think I'm going to turn into one of those organized people! (shudder)

There was a point in my life when pathological procrastination essentially threatened to destroy me; looking back, things were so bad it was almost like I had bipolar issues (I'm not saying that I did, and I'm definitely not trying to offer an excuse; merely trying to qualify how bad things were.) I'm not sure if a person who does not experience pathological procrastination can understand how bad it really is, and I'm not going to attempt an explanation here.

Slowly, year by year, things have gotten better. Then I hit 25 and things suddenly became a lot better. My behavior changed in other, related ways as well -- I used to ride my bike recklessly and seriously injure myself with some regularity; I no longer do that. Maybe it was just psychological, or maybe there's really something to the insurance companies' stance that on your 25th birthday you magically become less of a risk taker and more of an organized person!

I know brilliant people with procrastination issues. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to rationalize it instead of facing it and seeking help or trying to correct oneself. Some even go to the extent of writing long essays constructing elaborate theories of procrastination and inventing supposed techniques for maximizing productivity through procrastination. As someone who's been there, I feel this makes good reading material but is really self-destructive behavior. My life, at least, has improved a lot in every way as I learnt to manage my problematic tendencies.

In my limited experience, habitual (especially pathological) procrastination tends to go hand in hand with perfectionism and poor communication skill. We all face frequent situations where an email like "I'm sorry, I couldn't complete the work, I'll try to get it to you by tomorrow" or "I'm sorry, I couldn't complete the work, here's an incomplete draft" is appropriate. Yet a pathological procrastinator is likely to do nothing at all. This is almost always worse than the alternative, because the other person typically assumes in reponse to no communication that the procrastinator did no work at all. I've been on both sides of this scenario, several times, and I'm slowly learning to be a better communicator. I also know people who are fantastically good at communicating, and it is a great pleasure to collaborate with them.

Just the other day I overcame my natural tendencies to sit on a draft that I thought was horribly incomplete, and was surprised to find that it actually exceeded expectations. Being open about the incomplete status of work is especially suitable in academia, where one isn't trying to maintain some kind of image, but merely trying to maximize overall productivity.

I didn't actually intend to write this post, but merely had the urge so say something at the end of an unusually productive day, and it turned into this :)

From: fixious
2007-01-24 10:58 am (UTC)
I guess I'll just wait till the magical age of maturity to cure myself. :P
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-01-24 12:01 pm (UTC)
Or you could stop procrastinating right now -- starting tomorrow :-P

What's your userpic?
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From: fixious
2007-01-24 12:51 pm (UTC)
Yeah, small price to pay to rescue my self-esteem from below the point of no return, I suppose.

The pic is a doodle.
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[User Picture]From: sunson
2007-01-24 04:59 pm (UTC)
You won't believe how extremely 'affected' by procrastination I am. I've had like tonnes of tiny (like 20 minute) tasks lying around for weeks with managers shouting at me and even a lot of things coming to a screeching halt. Somehow it became so pathological that until the last moment arrived I would not get to doing it and until then, its digg and lj and what not. Horrible.

But off late I've become a lot better after honestly trying to 'fix' this problem of mine. You might find this 'building a smart todo list' howto simple, logical and sensible. I spend like 2 minutes of my time before each 20 minute task in preparing the todo list but it helps me avoid procrastination.

good luck!

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[User Picture]From: aredridel
2007-01-24 05:54 pm (UTC)
Wow. Nothing like mirroring my own experience. I hit 25, too, and suddenly things seemed to come into focus. Of course, I finally wrangled some of my personal shit into a manageable pile and it all helped a lot.

I still put stuff off, but usually by doing other tasks now, so I'm falling into overworked, rather than procrastinating. I just put off the less pleasant tasks a lot.

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[User Picture]From: floopilot
2007-01-24 06:59 pm (UTC)
Wow - I never thought of the communication connection before! I mean, it's pretty obvious that perfectionism leads to procrastination. But it's insightful of you to note that the both in turn lead to bad communication habits ... note to self: stop choosing no-communication in favor of perfectionism .. i can see why it would make a difference.
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[User Picture]From: smriti
2007-01-25 02:38 am (UTC)
I never thought of the communication connection
Ditto... made me think of a few people I know who do this (me, of late), and it's easy to see the pattern once it's defined. Interesting. *goes off to procrastinate and read Graham's essay*

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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2007-01-25 02:44 am (UTC)
Hey, that reminds me that I need to get the Carnatic thing I was talking about organized.. in particular I need to find more people to get a quorum. Can you tell me some more people I can spam please?
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[User Picture]From: rfc9000
2007-01-24 10:01 pm (UTC)
could relate to your post a lot! marking it in my memories..

My day cannot run without periodically checking bloglines, IMs, irrespective of the criticality or proximity of deadlines. I really hope I get cured soon!
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[User Picture]From: prasun
2007-01-28 04:35 am (UTC)
My day cannot run without periodically checking bloglines, IMs, irrespective of the criticality or proximity of deadlines.

That's me! I used to feel guilty that I found time to read my lj friends page eve on super-critical release days!
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