Productive Procrastination

“Action expresses priorities.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi


And no.

I firmly believe in something I like to call “productive procrastination.”

Thanks to Emilie Ogez on Flickr for making this photo available for reuse!

Productive procrastination is about priorities.  It’s also about mindfully multi-tasking. And it can be done.

Productive procrastination is when I clean the shower while writing an article in my head, instead of actually writing the article on the computer. I sort ideas out as I spray and scrub; I consider the key point I want to make while I polish the shower handle.  I “clean” my thinking as I clean the window. I prepare. I pre-write.  It’s better than sitting in front of the blank computer screen contemplating where to begin. (Or surfing Craigslist for stuff I really don’t need.)

Productive procrastination is when I make cookies instead of grade papers. While I am mixing the dry ingredients with the wet, I think about the assignment criteria and what kind of feedback I want to provide to help my students move forward.  I prepare. I pre-write. It’s better than sitting with a stack of papers, wondering where to start, wondering what to say.

Productive procrastination is NOT going to a movie instead of planning the next departmental retreat. It is NOT zoning out in front of HGTV, plotting what color I should paint the bathroom for optimal light, instead of  … all the other things on my to-do list that I need to do.

Is productive procrastination a cop out? An excuse?

Nope! Not if I am actually being mindful. Not if my brain is actually working on something it needs to work on, while I am working on something I don’t. In other words, to a great extent I disagree with this guy.

The key word? “Productive.” When it’s no longer productive, then I need to get to the work that does need to be done; then my to-do list beckons.

What forms of productive procrastination do you participate in? And, ask yourself this: are they really productive?


Installment #7: What My Toddler Has Taught Me About Adult Learning

Sometimes we just need help.

Adult learners balance precariously on very thin beams. Our attentions are divided among our professional obligations, our kids, our parents, our bills, our pets, our partners, our lawns that need mowing and our laundry that needs washing. And oh, did I mention that essay to write, that study group to attend, that book to read, that research to do? Yeah – all that LEARNING that needs to happen?

Oh, and what about sleep?

And darnnit — as hard as it is to admit — sometimes we need help! As Mac has told me very clearly these days, when he is in the midst of striving for independence and perfection (hmmm – sound familiar?), help is the last thing he wants from me. He wants to do it (whatever “it” is) himself; he wants to be a super-hero; get it all done and done well; and get credit for it all.  He wants to be self-sufficient and strong, just like we do.

I'm glad dad is here to hang on to!

But indeed, sometimes we just need help. So when you need it, ask for it!

  • Ask your partner to make dinner a few nights a week.
  • Ask a co-worker to let you sit and read quietly on your lunch break 3 days a week.
  • Ask your boss for a day off.
  • Ask your instructor for help interpreting an assignment.
  • Ask a trusted study partner to proofread your paper for you.
  • Ask your kids to clean the bathroom (and thank them gloriously when they do).
  • Ask a librarian to help you with a literature search.
  • ASK!


#1 – Learning Can Happen When We Challenge our Perspectives

#2 – Learning is Developmental

#3 – We Learn by Direct Experience

#4 – We Learn by Observing Others, Even If Others Are Not Experts

#5 – The Importance Of Books In Learning

#6 – Selecting the Right Learning Tools

Installment #6: What My Toddler Has Taught Me About Adult Learning

After a brief hiatus from PrattleNog, I am back to share the most recent lesson that my toddler Mac has taught me about adult learning: We often need to select the right tools to help us learn.

Mac has discovered the importance of a box full of learning tools — the tape measure helps him determine how long or wide something is; the wrench helps him know if something is secured tightly; and the hammer? Well, as Mac warns us every time he picks up his little toy hammer, “I’m going to be a little loud now.” I like to believe that somewhere in there the hammer is helping him learn about force (for better or worse, though nothing has been broken . . . yet).

Measure twice, cut once. Right? Wait! Measure once, cut twice?

One learning tool that we suggest to our PLA students is the Mind Map.  Mind Maps help you organize your ideas visually and map them out, which can then help you figure out how to organize them in writing or for a presentation — or just organize them in your own head!

I think ideas floating around in our heads are often like a bunch of jumbled clothes in a basket of laundry; you have to sort them to make sense of what is there and how they work together (or don’t!).  In PLA, students use Mind Maps to brainstorm their existing knowledge about a topic to get an organized inventory of what they know and to determine how to structure an essay accordingly.

Mind Maps — and other kinds of learning tools — can help us sort, organize, and identify what we’re learning. They can help us articulate our knowledge and experience to others. Like Mac’s wrench, they can help us ensure that an idea we’re trying to convey to ourselves or others is secured tightly.  And, like Mac’s hammer, they may help us articulate these ideas with “force.”

So think about this: What are the learning tools in your toolbox?

Previous installments of What My Toddler Has Taught Me About Adult Learning:

#1 – Learning Can Happen When We Challenge our Perspectives

#2 – Learning is Developmental

#3 – We Learn by Direct Experience

#4 – We Learn by Observing Others, Even If Others Are Not Experts

#5 – The Importance Of Books In Learning

What Can You Do Differently?

Thanks to Leo Reynolds for making this image available!

Thanks to Leo Reynolds for making this image available!

When adults come to or come back to college, I think many advisors and friends ask them this question:

So what will you give up?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this because I am working with a group of students this term who have been asked this very question and are trying to figure it all out.

Having entered my doctoral program as an adult (I was 34, had a full-time job, family and community responsibilities and activities, and 2 cats and 1 dog, though at that time no kid), I asked myself the same question:

What will I need to give up in order to fit this educational work into my already busy life?

At some point, after experimenting with my schedule and, in fact, being sad about giving things up that I didn’t want to give up, I realized that the answer was nothing.


How great is that?

I truly believe that you don’t need to give up anything. What you DO need to do is think about what you can do differently.

My top three examples:

1) Instead of spending several nights a week trying to cook an interesting and healthy dinner for my family (something I truly enjoy doing), I decided that I could do this differently. So instead, I did this only on Sunday nights, and the rest of the week we improvised and pieced together meals. My husband still says: “A 2 burrito day is a good day indeed.” Tortillas, rice, beans, and some salsa can go a long way toward a quick and healthy meal.

2) I wanted to spend time with my husband and friends, but at first, I kept to my old schedule and then devoted all weekend to school work. After a while, I realized that wasn’t working so well, so instead of sacrificing an entire weekend to my studies, I got up 2 hours early every weekday morning to do school-related work before going to my job. By the end of the day I was tired anyway, so I spent that time with family and friends to refresh and reconnect (and go to bed early). I gave most of one weekend day to school work, but then allowed myself one full weekend day without. I still had plenty of time for family and friends and activities I wanted to do, and I managed to get my school work done as well. I figured out how to do “school time” differently.

3) Integration, to me, seems key. Instead of trying to separate tasks into time slots, I tried to integrate things. Instead of eating lunch at my desk, I walked or did yoga during my lunch time to integrate exercise into my work day. I also integrated my learning into my work — it was, after all, related. If I had a learning project to do, or a work project to do, I intentionally found a way to make them “learning/work” projects. Though I am not fond of metaphors that promote violence, I always tried to kill 2-3 birds with one stone (sorry, birds!). In my mind, this is different than multi-tasking; integrating is bringing disparate things together and finding connections. (It also made learning that much more meaningful — as I wrote about here.)

Do any of you have examples of doing things differently so you can, in fact, do it all? If so, I’d love to hear them!

Eat The Chocolate

It’s that time of the year — there are 3 weeks left before the end of the term and the official end of this school year, commencement is right around the corner (yay!), folks are feeling frenzied trying to get their assignments in and figuring out their next steps, and a sense of summer has hit us hard here in Portland.

Alas, we’re not quite there yet …

To cope with all of this real or perceived stress, let me offer the following video clip. You probably feel a lot like Lucy these days (I know I do). But I think she has the right idea — one way or another, work through that which is coming at you fast and furiously.

Highlighting: What Really Matters

rabbitI don’t like to use highlighters when I read and study because I usually find the bright ink on a page distracting. When I use them, and then when I go back to review my notes, I will often only look at what I highlighted, as if the words that I didn’t highlight weren’t worth reviewing and reconsidering, as if the words that I did highlight were the only words on that page that were worth highlighting. And this is, in fact, rarely the case, and it bothers me that those other words and ideas can become as easily forgotten as the Velveteen Rabbit.

I do have a few exceptions to this rule, however, and one of them is when I find words that capture why I do what I do and what I am passionate about.

For example, I highlighted the following quote (in a soft blue crayon – not bright highlighter ink, if you must know) from the very beginning of Larry Daloz’s book Mentor for this very reason:

“A good education tends to our deepest longings, enriches them, nourishes the questions from which grow the tentative answers that, in turn, sow fresh questions about what really matters” (p. 4).

This quote represents the whole deal about Learning to Inquire that I like so much. I hope that you’ll agree with me that it was well worth highlighting, and I’d also like to let you know that it’s certainly not the only thing on page 4 that is worthy of our consideration. As far as I’m concerned, there are no Velveteen Rabbits in Daloz’s toy box at all!