Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Procrastinator

Dream sequence

The candle on the center of the bistro table tosses shadows across the crisp linens. The host tips the delicate goose neck of the decanter, filling my glass with a deep and distinguished red Bordeaux.

“What are you celebrating this evening?” he asks.

I raise my drink in a solitary toast.

“I finally turned the isotope analyzer on.”

The equipment seems straightforward and user-friendly, so why the long wait? There were lots of reasons. Some of them good. I’ll wait until my teaching responsibilities conclude for the term, until the lab clears out a bit and there is more working space, until I receive an updated manual, until I am back from the long weekend, and so on. To be fair, I did need some coaching to get things going since I am exploring new territory and am working with new lab equipment and processes. On top of that, I am not a tinkerer. I can build a mean IKEA bookshelf, but I don’t know the proper names and types of tools or how to improvise and create MacGyver-style contraptions that will automate my PhD. And although taking accountability for a component of the lab is an exciting responsibility, it is also intimidating.

I am an average procrastinator, according to the procrastination survey at Procrastination and Science (n.d.). This is not a surprise and may actually be a bit too gentle of a description. I like to avoid discomfort and tend to put off tasks that involve perceived risk, like the possibility of making a costly mistake or compromising my personal safety. At times, the fear of messing up can be paralyzing, preventing me from making progress or decisions. Ironically, the act of procrastinating often causes more stress than the actual task, as I agonize over the decision I plan to make tomorrow instead of taking action and just getting it over with.

Inspired by a graduate student workshop on procrastination, I established an Eisenhower Matrix – a living task list that I periodically update with upcoming deadlines and milestones complete with categorizations of importance and urgency. It is a useful place to start when I am feeling disorganized or overwhelmed. A quick review allows me to ground myself and clearly define the minimum amount of work that needs to be done, the nice-to-haves that would enhance my work, and the activities that can be dropped from my plate with little consequence.

So what about writing posts for this blog? Shouldn’t I be doing something else right now? Although in general, maintaining a blog is an extra indulgence and isn’t urgent, my goal of posting a few times a month comes with a small sense of self-imposed urgency. Particularly if I want to build a following and keep readers interested. And spending time reflecting on my student experience definitely isn’t time wasted. I wish that I started engaging in regular self-reflection earlier as a way to learn and continuously improve as a student, professional, and individual. So like other self-care activities, taking time to write outside of my research project will continue to reside in the non-urgent, but important, quadrant of my matrix as I continue to balance my daily demands with a few fun extras.

Resources:
Learn more about the Eisenhower Matrix:
Eisenhower (2017) http://www.eisenhower.me/. Accessed on May 18, 2017.

Learn more about procrastination:
Procrastination and Science (n.d.). https://procrastinus.com/. Accessed on May 18, 2017.

© SF Jones, 2017

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