The Pros and Cons of Procrastination, Taking the Time for Critical Reflection
Yes, you read that correctly. I intend to discuss the pros or positive aspects of procrastination as well as the cons or negative ones. My focus here is on scholarly research and writing, and most scholars, at least in my experience, work incredibly long hours teaching, marking, researching, writing and presenting the knowledge they acquire. Within such an active career, a little procrastination can be a very healthy thing despite the obvious dangers of overuse.
Haste and immediacy are hallmarks of modern culture. Everything comes at the touch of a button and the consequent mentality has wrought undeniable changes in scholarly writing and publication. Among these, the old adage ‘publish or perish’ has taken on a life of its own. Publication venues are more numerous and various than ever, and university faculty are expected not only to teach and supervise, serve a number of administrative functions for their institutions, conduct their research, write it up, present it at conferences and successfully publish it in academic and scientific journals, but also to be an online presence – an intellectual personality, as it were, far beyond the class or conference room. There are marvellous opportunities for disseminating research that come with all of this, but the constant demand to produce scholarly work and produce it very quickly indeed means that putting things off for a day or two – even an hour or two in some cases – has become virtually obsolete.
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In such a demanding atmosphere, taking that extra day away from work and enjoying the sort of activities that refresh the mind and allow ideas to grow and develop has become for some an obsolete concept as well. In many cases, it is obvious that the idea of taking time to reread a document critically, reflect upon it with a little objectivity and edit it with care and precision are activities of the past as well. Yet there can be no doubt that these practices can produce scholarly analysis and prose of a much higher quality than ignoring them does, and it is, after all, the best scholarship that stands out over time among a heap of lesser work, despite the power of trends and fashions. There is, then, a persuasive argument for following your will at times and not writing or posting for a day when you really do not feel inspired and the sun is shining. Take a walk; visit a park; eat ice cream. The next day will prove more productive for it, but do take a means of jotting notes with you, because you are likely to experience a tumble of ideas about the work that has been filling for mind for so many days.
I do not encourage this sort of approach if there is no time for such creative indulgence. If a deadline is looming and a day when you simply do not feel like turning on the computer is the only day you have available, you will need to write, like it or not. If your prose does not flow perfectly, revisions can be made when you proofread your work, and another time and project will afford an opportunity for a little healthy procrastination. The unhealthy kind, however, should be strictly avoided. Sustained procrastination that leads to missed deadlines and lost hopes not only contributes to an unproductive career, but is self-sustaining; indeed, almost procreative in its own image. Doing little one day can lead to doing less the next, and confidence suffers along with productivity, so the trick is never to make procrastination a habit. A fun friend for a restful and refreshing day will render procrastination a more pleasant companion.
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