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On My Mind: “I probably should be doing something else, but I have to do this first!”

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I was catching up on the TAGteach list recently and discovered this thrilling news.

Carly Fleming wrote:

I just came across a website and blog by a professor of philosophy at Stanford, about what he calls “Structured Procrastination.” I am a HUGE procrastinator and also a perfectionist (which is mostly what his blog is about). I came across an entry talking about to-do lists that had so many elements of TAGteach in it that I had to share. Some of the ideas he used were:

  1. Breaking things down into small attainable goals
  2. "TAG points" of 5 words or less (although some of his were a little longer)
  3. Physically checking off an item on the list (similar to getting a TAG or pulling a bead on the tagulator)

I hope someone finds this as interesting as I did. Carly

Well, some other TAG teachers loved this and, as someone with a life-long history of biting off more than I can chew, I loved it, too. I posted:

check now or later on blackboard

I thought this was hilarious. I keep two “jobs” lists. The one with the big MUST-DO difficult assignments is on my office wall, where I never look at it again. The simpler one, definitely a Structured Procrastinator list, is on my Google Calendar. Google actually lets me check items off, AND draw an impressive line through them, AND STILL leave the items up on the list (which, as the professor points out, is quite reinforcing). I also keep a household chores and marketing list over the kitchen sink.

I haven't gotten so far as the professor did, reinforcing himself for every step involved in getting up in the morning, but for years I did keep a list by my bed to write on in the evening. The list heading was "Well at least I..." followed by whatever I did manage to accomplish during the day. Wash my hair, say.

So how did I procrastinate today? The biggest MUST-DO item for today, a Saturday, was completing the PowerPoint version of the APDT speech I would be giving on the other side of the US in about ten days. The biggest household chores of the day were going to the electrician to discuss a kitchen-exhaust-fan problem and going to the body shop for an estimate on the world's smallest ding that I had put on my new car. So I jumped in the car to do those household errands first. Both places were closed on Saturday. Does that count, or not? I don't know.

So THEN I wrote a thousand-word set of training tips for teaching humans, something I had promised to Guide Dogs for the Blind when I visited them in Oregon, let's see, eight months ago. That took me the rest of the day. Did I get anything done on the PowerPoint? Not so you’d notice. But I can strike out “Guide Dogs piece” on my Calendar task list. Hurray!

Well at least I did that!

So now I’m back to work on the APDT PowerPoint, right? Well, no, because first I need to do this Letter for you!

By the way, every year when the Nobel Prize winners are announced, another scientific group announces the Ig Nobel Prizes. Sarah Tweedle brought us some great news on the TAGteach list recently:

Our procrastinating philosophy professor WON an Ig Nobel Prize! Sarah posted:

I thought you might appreciate this year's Ig Nobel Prize for Literature:
“LITERATURE PRIZE: John Perry of Stanford University, USA, for his Theory of Structured Procrastination, which says: ‘To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important.’”

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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

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