Stolen Time

Prof. Boice has something very illuminating (if embarrassing to admit) about how professors (like me) talk themselves out of having "enough" time to write.*  (Breathe.)  He says--and I'm trying to paraphrase here, following his instructions to allow writing to become something ordinary--that they procrastinate because they make writing too high a priority and thus convince themselves that it is only something that they can do in long, uninterrupted blocks.  It is for this reason (ironically enough) that they are always "too busy" to write: not because they don't have the time, but because the feeling of busyness is itself a direct consequence of having made writing such a high priority.

In Prof. Boice's words: "The individual who constantly feels pressured about the noncompletion of an important task will describe himself or herself as busy."  Thus, although it is common for professors (like me) to have "small blocks of potentially open time during most workdays" (like now, in the twenty minutes or so I have before class), "their spare time typically gets spent in nonproductive tasks because busy professors tend to believe that high priority tasks like writing cannot be carried out competently in small blocks of time."  Indeed.

So what to do?  Interestingly, Prof. Boice suggests, it does not help such busy procrastinators to attempt to "dramatically reset priorities" by telling themselves how important writing is (they already believe that).  Rather, it is more helpful to make writing a relatively moderate or low priority task, "treated as something that should be done, albeit grudgingly, in brief sessions amidst more important tasks" (like teaching, or walking the dog).  In addition to producing more writing, such prioritizing (again, ironically) also helps make writing more pleasant because it helps counteract the tendency to write in long, uninterrupted blocks--i.e. binge.

Is it okay if I still find this advice somewhat unsettling, comforting as it (potentially) may be?

*Robert Boice, "Procrastination, Busyness and Bingeing," Behavior Research and Therapy 27 (1989): 605-11.


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