OK, I find this article on procrastination fascinating. It’s one of those discoveries that I find myself still thinking about days after the initial read. As a degenerate procrastinator, I’m always looking for strategies to save me from myself, but this article also speaks to me as a manager thinking about how to bring the best out of my employees and teams. Furthermore, it has implications for anyone in education.
The basic thoughts are:
(a.) Procrastinators complete tasks more successfully if there is a soft deadline. Recommendation: provide a clear deadline but allow some flexibility, and perhaps an incentive to completing the task at certain thresholds.
This would certainly help me. I know that false deadlines to “trick” myself don’t work. One tactic I’ve tried is a reminder app. I use Due for iOS, and it chirps reminders every day. It’s well-designed because it’s very easy to enter events, and I find I’m using it to keep certain projects in front of me. However, I often just “push” events to the next day without completing the task. Until it’s really due. Or overdue.
And, there’s the rub. I have other project management apps like Workflowy, Remember the Milk, ListJuice, Asana, and Clear to keep lists of to-do items. These all have strengths and I use them in different contexts, but each requires me to open it & see what I’m supposed to be thinking about… If I’m doing that, I’m already going through my mental to-do list, so the app hasn’t helped clear my mental “RAM drive” at all.
(b.) Procrastinators put things off because they don’t see value in doing them at that moment. We need to find an emotional value to the task to put us in the mood for completing the work.
I can definitely see this at play in my life. I have been trying to find ways to make the tasks hanging over my head seem more valuable, to increase the reward for completion. What I’m thinking about now is a two-pronged approach: address any environmental needs to improve the immediate reward (or reduce the excuses, anyway) and seek ways to increase the value of completing the task.
I don’t want to leave the TV to go file all the paperwork I need to go through. I don’t want to leave my wife in the living room so I can sort the piles backlogged in the study. Time to put on some music, drag a few extra lamps into the dark study and get it done. I’ll be glad to get into bed without pushing the reminder back one more day, and God knows my wife will be glad to see the top of the dining room table again!
(c.) Rolling deadlines are the most effective system for managing projects. If we lay out a series of target dates for each task, it builds in the flexibility previously discussed while rewarding those who “check off” certain elements.
This is key feedback for managers, but it’s also fertile territory for teachers to explore. A lot of talk around assessment these days has to do with flexible deadlines for “proving” that a student knows something. If someone flunks a test, but then learns the material later, should that grade count?
This research backs the concept that WHEN shouldn’t matter as much as IF. If a student got a bad grade, but then went home and corrected all their errors and aced the next quiz, isn’t that the same outcome as the kid who nailed it the first time? As long as kids are attaining the objectives we expect them to know and be able to do, firm deadlines seem to be an outdated concept. This research reinforces the concept by showing that folks are more likely to persist & work toward the goal if they are provided the same opportunity for success.
Flexible deadlines reinforce what’s really valuable: achieving the target. If that target is learning, why are we turning away from motivating kids to learn, if they’re just not doing it on our timeline? Multiple “deadlines” allow us to check progress, reward success, and reinforce the true objectives.