Friday, December 9, 2005


Nothing moves me to procrastinate like the prospect of grading dozens of essays. But I've been making great efforts toward getting-things-done instead of putting-things-off. And having just graded 53 essays in a day-and-a-half (yes, I didn't do much else), I can recommend one strategy that's done more than any other to help me get around grading-induced procrastination. Here it is, in all its complexity:

Work for 45 minutes.
Take a break for 15 minutes.
Repeat as necessary.
My 45/15 rule is a variation on a strategy that I saw mentioned by doctoral student Zach Pousman in a MetaFilter thread a few months back on being productive in college. Zach cited PhinisheD, a website for people working on dissertations and theses, and described a 40/20 rule he found there:
Do your work in 40 minute blocks with a twenty minute rest between each. This is a set. Then, if you've got 3 hours between classes or in the afternoon, do 3 sets of work as above. Though you'll only work two hours, you'll get so much more done! Swear.
I didn't like the idea of losing a third of each hour, so I changed things a bit. My 45/15 rule has made grading much more do-able work, by removing the Sisyphean feeling that has always set in when I realize how many papers I still have to grade (20 done, and 33 still to go! O endlessness!). Now I know that in 45 minutes I can take a break.

45/15 also helps by appealing to my left-brained penchant for routine, giving a shape to the blurry hours. Of course, now that I've graded all these papers, I have no routine, and will have to wait until Wednesday, when my first finals come in, to start grading again. Four days with no routine! But I think I can manage.

[If any of my students are reading this post: the essays for the most part were really, really strong. You can get your essay back on Monday or at your final exam.]

comments: 2

Berit said...

This is a strategy I've seen for "homemakers" when it came to my attention in around the year 2000. To gain control of an out-of control house, you work in 15 minute bursts (cycling through rooms) with the 4th being your break. Interestingly, you are first supposed to simply load clutter into a bag before you actually use those times to "clean". I won't mention the name or website of the fine woman who presents this method (do want to avoid plugging anything here); my point is simply to reflect on how the human mind/nature balks so easily and makes an impossible task out of anything that takes more than 15 minutes! Is it some evolutionary trick that we feel the need to swallow everything in one bite like a snake?

That said, my own procrastination and poor time management are firmly established.

Michael Leddy said...

Would that be FlyLady?

(By the way, Berit, I’m not keen on self-promotional comments, when people go from blog to blog to plug their own stuff. But linking to something relevant is great.)