Poems of Procrastination

Featured image by Alexandre Normand from San Francisco, United States – Procrastination (No Wall Uncovered VII), CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32541634

One of the things my PhD journey taught me was about my own ability to procrastinate. It started with a session the department arranged for PhD students with a performance coach from the business school. I was a bit reluctant to attend as I suppose I prejudged the coach as some Tony Robbins/Tae Bow type all teeth and smiles, high energy karate type delivery accentuate the positive glass half full stuff. However I am glad I went as the coach, who ended up being a future office mate was not what I expected.

The coach started off with this poem about why he can’t go into Uni to work on his thesis because he had all this stuff to sort out first. But in order to sort his stuff out he had to sort other stuff out, and in order to sort this other stuff out, so he could go into uni and work on his thesis, he had to sort some more stuff out, in the right order at the right time, else he could not start to sort his stuff out. And so the poem went. I can’t remember the exact words, it is probably on the net somewhere. I slightly related to this stuff sorting, except I went into uni and worked on my thesis. At the time I did not realise that the stuff I had to sort out was embedded in my thesis and this was holding me up. Only in hindsight, I realised I was procrastinating.

This embedded stuff was decisions I needed to make about what lines of inquiry to pursue and what to leave alone, what results to keep and what to drop, and so on. I am probably a bit indecisive, especially if I have the luxury of time. Under time pressure I can make decisions. Unfortunately for me, my supervisor was very indecisive and it was not until late in my PhD that this fact dawned on me. This was a source for some of my procrastination, the rest I own. Once I established this and the fact that I had to make some solid decisions, I was able to wrap up my PhD in the next 6 months.

How I did this was by hibernating over late winter and early spring and writing all day. I was lucky as my whanau would go off to work/school and this would give me all day and into the night to write. All I had to do was cook the evening meal. Initially in the first week I did a lot of procrastination before settling down to writing, such as cleaning the whare and spending a lot of time cooking. But eventually I got into a writing routine, and once that bedded in, it was much easier to make the necessary decisions to progress my thesis.

If I had the benefit of hindsight in the early years of my PhD I could have recognised some areas of procrastination. One area is the amount of time preparing for conferences. I remember spending about 5 months on 3 conferences in a row, giving pretty much the same talk. But for some reason it became a source of justification not to carry on doing other work on my thesis during that time. Another area was school holidays, ok I had to be dad during the day but I could have got some work done at night. Work was also another source, and in the end to finish I had to give up work.

During all stages of my PhD, what I needed to do was ask a couple of questions.

Is this activity progressing my PhD?

Do I need to be doing this activity?

If the answer was no to both questions then I should not be doing this activity. If the answer was no to the first question then there must be good reasons for doing this activity, such as post PhD opportunities.

However post PhD opportunities can be a trap if it delays your PhD completion. Because of this, some students refuse to work during their PhD.

I know this poem of procrastination may not be useful to everyone but I do hope it will help some of you recognise if you are procrastinating.

Mā te wā

Pete (Ngāpuhi)

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