Professor Procrastination—The Fine Art of Cleaning the Fridge While “Grading”


by Linda Lyle

Procrastination is the art of putting off until tomorrow what you don’t want to do today by doing something less distasteful. Usually, people put things off by checking their e-mail or Facebook. When faced with a deadline, I often procrastinate by doing things that make me feel productive while not actually doing the thing I dread. Since I work part-time for one school in a brick-and-mortar environment and part-time for another online, I spend more time working in my home office than in an actual school building, so I have even more opportunities to procrastinate. You could say the key to procrastination is location, location, location.

For instance, when faced with grading week 2 of my online class, I cleaned out my refrigerator and took out the trash and washed up the mess. I had been putting off cleaning out the refrigerator for over a week because I hate doing it, but suddenly that seemed a superior idea to grading. I often get a lot of mundane house cleaning done on days that grades are due. I take a “break” from grading to wash dishes or clean out the refrigerator. This way I don’t feel guilty about doing something that just wastes time, and I get something accomplished that needed doing.

imageDon’t be fooled! I can be as distracted by Slingo and Words with Friends as anybody else, but I try to use those moments as rewards for some accomplishment, like grading 4 out of 20 essays. As the old story goes, you complete a great undertaking by completing one section at a time. For instance, when I have a set of 20 essays, I break it down into smaller groups of say 3 or 4. I force myself to sit in my chair and grade those 4, and then I am rewarded by doing something else, like playing Slingo until I run out of “energy.” More often, I choose something that allows me to get up and get a change of scenery.

On the other hand, when I had part-time or temporary assignments that required office hours and actually gave me an office, I tried to do something similar. While I can’t clean the house from the office, I can do other things like answer the e-mails that have been piling up in my in-box or just delete the ones that are outdated. I can do research for my classes or read the article/book related to work in between sets of grading. I also found it helps to put the worst thing on your To-Do List first so that everything seems like a reward after that.

Physics says that an object in motion will remain in motion or something to that effect. I have learned it is true with those teaching tasks we dread. Once you get started, the easier it is to keep going and get it done. Then, you can play a game of Slingo or clean out the refrigerator as a reward for a job well done.

  1. Kristen Z. says

    I found myself reorganizing the stuff under the kitchen sink, thoroughly cleaning the vacuum cleaner beater brush, and washing the area behind the stove. Hmm…must be final paper time!

  2. Living on the Edge says

    I’m an online adjunct- teach 3-4 courses a term. So this can equate to approx. 250 files each week for grading. There are times when I can chain myself to the home office and crank out the work in a ‘grade-a-thon’, and then days when it’s very difficult to enter through the office portal. I pass by, look in and think …oh right- I need to clean the litter pan today. And then the grading nudge just disappears 🙂

  3. Marian W. says

    I can totally relate to this! If I counted all the ‘breaks’ I took while grading, it would get ugly. I have to say that I have never been tempyed to clean out the refrigerator! Do the dishes, run the dishwasher, organize my papers, yes. Thanks for the light-hearted look at what I’m pretty sure is a “secret” we all keep.

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