It might have been a particularly devious form of procrastination, or an excellent life hack, but I found myself answering a plaintive Quora post, from a medical student begging the world to help him overcome procrastination.
Here’s the opening paragraph:
I’m a very lazy student and have procrastinated SO much in my life, and I want to stop doing it. I’m currently entering 4th year of medicine, my grades are above average, but I could be much, much better. Tomorrow I have one of my exams, which I will fail because I’ve been avoiding any contact with the book – but I know that as soon as the situation becomes inevitable, I’ll study it. But I don’t want to do that anymore!! I want to be better than anyone else. I don’t want to be mediocre anymore.
It’s Dear Miss Lonelyhearts stuff. You can read the full post, and the 40-something responses, here.
My personal hack comes into the equation because I’ve been trying to get back to my blog for a month or more…partly because I called it out on my bio posting at Education Partners (new gig), and partly because it’s important to me as a creative and thinking outlet.
Procrastination is one of the great unseen forces of destruction in education. Very little is done to help students overcome their fears and sub-optimizing habits. Professors assign term papers week two of a term, then expect final versions six weeks later. Maybe a draft or a bibliography in between. Probably not.
Of course good teachers go much further. But no software company leader would assign a project due in six weeks and then ignore the doer of the work until the delivery date. We do incessant one-on-ones to review projects, discuss blockers, and to coach.
In fact, I’d argue that agile software development is just a peer pressure-driven life hack to help teams avoid procrastination. The opposite of agile is waterfall development, where detailed requirements are written and then engineers go off for six months and build…without any input (warning: this is a dramatic oversimplification). Sounds like school.
Here’s my response to the Quora post…and a triumphant hack to my goal of getting back to Da Blog.
Lots of long answers here…I’d like to read some of them, but maybe after I re-watch Season 4 of the Sopranos…
I taught average and above-average first-year engineering students for 11 years. I was a classic under-achiever myself, and really didn’t kick it into gear until my 2nd year of own engineering school career.
I’m still a procrastinator, to some degree (writing this response…!). Here is what matters, from my reading and thinking:
- The ‘why’:
- Putting off studying is probably a safety mechanism. If you bomb the exam, you failed not because you weren’t capable but because you didn’t try as hard as you might have. So we procrastinate so we don’t have to take 100% responsibility for ‘failure.’
- I believe in the trigger/habit/reward cycle that Duhigg and others have written about . You have an ingrained reward, now, for your habit of watching anime etc. What is it? Is it the thrill of NOT studying? The escape and immersion of an enjoyable drama? This sounds kind of simple, but it actually requires a considerable amount of self-knowledge and introspection – that perhaps only comes with maturity and age.
Chances are you have one iDevice – an iPhone and/or an iPad. Apple has sold $1B of them.
What’s on the last page of your iDevice? Probably Apple’s own failed apps: Watch, Maps, Tips, Weather – even Music for many of us.
Some of Apple’s apps may be good enough…Reminders, for instance.
What does this mean? Do we have to solve everything? To be successful.
I’d read the NYT Mag piece he references…and was impressed and hopeful…but hadn’t read much else. His survey is worth a read…although it won’t fill you with excitement for the future.
This moment is a compelling bookend…when we were really getting underway with Waypoint the changes to the SAT promised an increasing focus on writing instruction.
That didn’t happen, at least as far as I could see…Maybe more test prep / tutoring sorts of writing instruction. But writing embedded in the curriculum, authentic writing assignments, continue to depend on the kindness of dedicated teachers. That is, the people who value writing are committed to it, whether Comp instructor, English teacher, or Physics prof.
Your stuff doesn’t work
Maps, fingerprint, battery.
Not insanely great.