Doing Research as a Procrastinator

by Kristin Hoffmann, University of Western Ontario

I procrastinate.

I procrastinate with my research, and in many other aspects of my work. For example, I started writing this post at 1:43pm the day before it was due. At the same time, I needed to work on a mostly-unfinished presentation for a 40-minute workshop that I was delivering the next morning, and I hadn’t yet started compiling the data for a report that was due to colleagues at the end of the week.

I get things done, but I often do them at the last minute.

I used to berate myself all the time, and feel very, very bad about my tendency to procrastinate. Then I heard a podcast with Mary Lamia, author of What Motivates Getting Things Done: Procrastination, Emotions and Success, and now I’m starting to re-frame my procrastination in way that is helpful, not shameful:

I’m motivated by deadlines.

Here is Mary Lamia’s definition of procrastinators:

“People who are primarily motivated to complete tasks when their emotions are activated by an imminent deadline. They are deadline driven.”

The idea is that our emotions are what motivate us to get things done. For some people, the emotions that motivate them come from having a task to do and wanting to complete it. For people who procrastinate, the emotions that motivate us come from deadlines.

Other characteristics of people who procrastinate include:

• Being energized and getting increased focus as a deadline gets closer,
• Feeling like they lack motivation and concentration when they try to get something done ahead of time,
• Having ideas percolating in the background, which come together as the deadline approaches.

I can see all of these in myself, and it’s been quite a revelation for me in thinking about my approach to research. In the last six months, a colleague and I have taken a research project from idea to ethics application to data gathering to analysis—thanks, in large part, to the motivation brought on deadlines. I’ve had other research ideas and papers in various stages, but I haven’t touched any of them for months; they haven’t had deadlines.

I’ve often talked with other researchers about the benefit of having external deadlines, such as conference presentations or submission deadlines. I’m realizing that my particular challenge is to figure out how to reproduce the emotional motivation of deadlines when an external due date doesn’t exist. I don’t need to feel bad about procrastinating, I just need to accept that I’m motivated by deadlines.

References and Further Reading

Lamia, Mary. What Motivates Getting Things Done: Procrastination, Emotions and Success. Rowman & Littlefield. 2017.

Blog posts by Mary Lamia at Psychology Today:
• Getting Things Done, Procrastinating or Not, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201703/getting-things-done-procrastinating-or-not
• The Secret Life of Procrastinators and the Stigma of Delay, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201708/the-secret-life-procrastinators-and-the-stigma
• How Procrastinators Get Things Done, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201709/how-procrastinators-get-things-done
• Why You Should Hire a Procrastinator https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201712/why-you-should-hire-procrastinator

Podcasts:
• CBC Tapestry, Procrastination 101, aired November 26, 2017, available at http://www.cbc.ca/radio/tapestry/procrastination-101-1.4416658
• Success.com, Ep. 85: What Type of Procrastinator Are You?, aired October 17, 2017, available at https://www.success.com/podcast/ep-85-what-type-of-procrastinator-are-you

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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