Feb 28, 2016

Is it Procrastination or a Productive Pause?

Got a paper to write, stack of papers to grade, or class to plan? Scrolling through Instagram, Twitter, and random sites? Procrastination at its best. But is it really all that bad? Sure procrastination can stall your progress, but sometimes what looks like procrastination is really a productive pause.

Productive pause – is that simply word play? Maybe, but keeping a task in mind while fooling around on other activities is sometimes helpful. It’s incubation time, a chance to reflect on the paper, talk, or whatever, to be mindful. I don’t think we’re usually aware of this. We often procrastinate on stuff that we’re not quite sure how to begin. My writing flows – once I finally begin. I think this pause is helpful, if it doesn’t last too long.

Intentionally pausing, waiting to begin, can be useful. For example, a student may learn of an unexpected/forgotten exam. Panicked, he or she might immediately begin making flash cards. Intentionally pausing, even for a few hours, can prevent impulsive and potentially wasteful activity. If the student pauses to think about the content of the exam he or she might realize that flash cards aren’t the way to go (as is often the case) or even that work for other classes is more important. Often what seems important changes over time, sometimes even over the course of a day. Waiting is not always such a bad idea.

I'm a big fan of pausing before beginning a project and taking time to let ideas ferment. It gives me a moment to breathe and think. Of course there’s a dangerous flipside. Sometimes we pause in ways that feel productive because we are getting things done. The problem is that we may be getting the wrong things done. Ever get obsessed with your to-do list? I find that playing with my to-do list – trying out new apps, reorganizing, and such, can eat up a ton of time. I’m drawn to fiddling with my list when I’m overwhelmed and stressed – those times when I really need to act rather than pause. How do you know if your pause is productive or simply procrastination? I don’t really have the answer other than to be mindful. Periodically stop and quiz yourself: What are you getting out of the pause?

Sometimes procrastination is a sign. Putting off something might mean that it isn't right for you. If you find yourself having extreme difficulty working on a task, consider why. Are you truly invested in it? How can you use this knowledge in the future?