Professor Destressor eNews |
Combining productive work lives and balanced personal lives
Our goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and productive life while making a difference.
In this issue, you'll find:
- Procrastination Anxiety
- Professor Destressor coaching
- Up and coming workshops
1. Procrastination Anxiety
A cartoon in my local paper pictures two boys on their way to
the first day of school. One summarizes the feeling: ?It was a
nice summer but I could?ve used a couple of extra innings.? Has
the summer flown by for you? Have you gotten all those projects
at home and at work done that you planned before the semester
ended? No. Well, you must be a normal academic because we all
overplan our summers and then face that sinking feeling as the
calendar turns over to August, ?What have done with my summer?
Why did I procrastinate getting more done??
The spring edition of Professor Destressor eNews gave tips to
prevent some of this occurrence but in spite of implementing
those suggestions you still might be in a panic about the
semester starting, the summer ending and not much to show for
it. Here are some reasons why you might be having the
end-of-summer panic and what to do to combat them in the
fading light of the summer.
- Overestimating what we can get done in a short time
like a summer.
My coaching mentor, Dr. Ben Dean says ?Curiously, people
overestimate what they can get done in the short time
weeks and months- and underestimate what they can get done
in a longer period, say five years. My experience is that
the reason is that there the persistence of pursuing
subgoals creates a synergy in big projects so that the
energy, information and resources cumulate faster towards
the end like a geometric progression.
- Underestimating time required for a task.
Here is a trick for more accurate time management estimates
for the completion of tasks.
- Familiar task when you know exactly how long the task takes:
Known time X 1.25 = real time
- Slightly familiar easy task: Estimated time x 1.50 = real time
- Unfamiliar task with time estimated by others:
their time x 1.75 = real time
- New task with no experts to consult for time estimates:
Guessed time x 2 = real time.
So if you know it takes you 2 hours to write a draft of a
results section in a scientific article, allow 2 ˝ hours
for the task. This estimate will be closer to the real time.
- Stuff happens.
Your teenager had an appendectomy; the air conditioning
went out in the middle of a heat wave; your mother-in-law
came for a weekend and stayed all summer; your computer
crashed. Interruptions throw off your productivity. You can
get on track now if you follow these suggestions.
Maladaptive Approaches to Procrastination Anxiety
In spite of all of the above interfering with your ability
to complete what you wanted to complete, you can use two
approaches to beat procrastination anxiety: adaptive and
Here are some maladaptive approaches that create insanity
in your life and their remedies in case you have already
used some of these maladaptive strategies.
- Worry a lot about tasks you have to do but don'’t do
any of them.
This can be a very satisfying strategy on the
short term because you will feel like you are doing something
about your plight and that you are keeping your projects in the
forefront of your mind. You can convince yourself that
you are working hard this summer because you are thinking
a lot about working.
Instead: worry effectively.
This requires a worry chair
and a worry log book. The chair should not be a chair you
normally sit in such as your desk chair. A good
alternative is a dining room chair other than you usually
sit in. Think of the chair as an adult “time out.” Every
time you begin to worry, run to the chair and write down
all your worries in the log book. Then return to whatever
you were doing. If you wake up in the middle of the night
and start worrying, go to the chair. If you are at your
office scrolling through emails, go to the guest chair,
the one you use for students who visit you. The advantage
of this program is that you will empty all the worries out
of your head onto the paper. You will get bored with
worrying and begin an adaptive strategy of planning how to
spend your time towards greater productivity.
- Avoid thinking about the tasks you wish you could get
done this summer.
This is also a satisfying strategy on the
short term because there is built in physiological relief for
avoiding anything that raises anxiety. Avoidance techniques
include checking email, checking the weather on TV, calling
a friend, cleaning something that isn’t one of your projects,
picking a fight with your kids, and my favorite, starting
another more interesting project.
A related strategy is escape.
In this strategy every time
you begin to work on your project or think about it and you
feel anxious, you escape to another activity such as the
one you might use for avoidance. Avoidance and escape
strategies seem similar but in avoidance, you never arouse
the anxiety at all while in escape, you arouse it and then
escape from it. These strategies work on the short term but
they eventually catch up with you when your guard is down,
say in the middle of the night or at the amusement park with
the kids, your stomach goes into knots and you break out in
Instead: try a small burst of activity towards your project
followed by a planned escape. You will feel more in control
because although you are still escaping, you are consciously
choosing when and how.
- Acting out the anxiety.
In this technique, you might be worrying, avoiding or
escaping but what others see is your anxiety. How do they
know? Because you are drinking a lot of alcohol, eating
quarts of ice cream at one sitting, yelling a lot, and doing
other misbehaviors that distract from the issue at hand,
feeling anxious about your lack of productivity and progress.
This strategy is the most maladaptive because it risks your
health and your relationships.
Instead: when your body feels anxious, notice it and do
something adaptive such as effective worrying, short burst
of productive activity or some of the adaptive techniques
Adaptive Approaches to Procrastination Anxiety
There are two groups of these healthier, more productive
- The action strategies.
Nike said it best; “Just do it!” What usually interferes
with the ability of smart college professors just strapping
on their running shoes and “doing it” is being overwhelmed
by the largeness of the project. The key is to break the
project down to small manageable bites 15 minutes in
length. This requires writing down the steps which itself
can be a 15 minutes task. Then you cross off each 15 minute
step as you complete it.
As the end of August approaches and you have only a week or
two left until the start of the semester to get those summer
projects done pick three projects to evaluate their status.
Pick either the ones that bring the most rewards or the
ones whose completion will help you avoid pain like the
wrath of the department chair who hasn’t received your end
of the year report or the anxiety of your students dealing
with a badly written confusing syllabus all semester. Write
down the steps for each project on small sticky notes and
group the notes either in a notebook or on a poster board,
one page or section of the poster board for each project.
Have a calendar meeting with yourself and stick the notes
into the fifteen minute slots on your paper calendar or if
you manage time electronically, you can cut and paste a
similar system in your PDA. When you finish the 15 minute
tasks stick the note back on the master list in the notebook
or poster board so that can watch your progress and later
brag to the other cool kids at school what you did with
your summer vacation. Every time you feel anxious, write
and do. Write the sticky notes, complete some of the 15
minutes tasks, whittle away at the large tasks, and watch
- The priority strategies.
Can you really get that massive piece of research done in
the next two weeks? Of course not! Here is what to do to
lower your procrastination anxiety. Do an anxiety lowering
binge. Write as many subgoals of the big project on stickies,
pick the ones that would most lower your anxiety and divide
them into 15 minute tasks. Complete a couple of them and
sit still. Check whether your anxiety has gone down. If it
rises again, repeat the process until you begin to feels
less anxious. Don’t engage in any maladaptive strategies
like escaping, avoiding, or acting out which might relieve
the anxiety on the short term and drive it deeper on the
longer term. Once you finish a binge, completing a bunch of
your subgoals, you will see progress. Then sit still and
tell yourself what a smart and wonderful person you are and
how you were very ambitious about your summer plans and how
many of these lovely projects can spill over into the school
year or hang over for next summer because you are writing
stickies, worrying effectively, and doing 15 minute bursts
of productive activity. If you feel like working longer on
the steps, do two steps in 30 minutes but still make the
stickies about steps that take only 15 minutes each. When
you feel anxious, binge on another batch of 15 goals, then
sit still, accept the limits of your human frailties that
make you overestimate what you can get done in the summer.
Then keep making more stickies and make appointments to
work on them in your calendar.
When haunted by thoughts like, “I didn’t get anything done
this summer,” consult your lists of completed steps and
reward yourself with a treat.
If none of these things work, get an accountability buddy to
help each other report on tasks done. You don’t have to
meet email or voice mail will do. Cheer each other on; do
not spend your time grousing about how hard life is or how
stupid you feel for not completing more projects. Remind
each other to precede even when the steps are small and the
progress slow. Accept your limitations but keep breaking
the projects into 15 minute units.
If you can’t find a buddy, hire a coach to keep you
accountable and help you problem solve what is standing in
your way of finishing some projects. Maybe you can’t think
of the subgoals. Maybe you don’t know how to schedule. A
professional coach can teach you some tricks, help you
accept your limitations, and cheer your success.
Once you pound out some of the goals of your projects,
continue to work on them during 15 minute intervals as
soon as the semester starts. Working with smaller goals
and smaller units of time will lead to more being done
over the academic year than waiting for the right time
to do large junk of your projects.
When procrastination anxiety plagues you, act and
accept your way to progress and success.
2. Professor Destressor Workshops and Coaching
About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a
psychologist and an independent educator. She is
professor of psychology at the College of Notre Dame of
Maryland and offers services as a professional coach,
speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach
professionals who want improvement in:
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life,
give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching
- work-life balance,
- strategic career management,
- time management,
- increasing productivity.
Susan provides keynotes and seminars to colleges,
universities and professional organizations on the
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session
because she knows that workshops don’t work… unless the
participants apply their learnings.
- work-life balance and stress management,
- faculty development,
- time management,
- leadership strategies for academics,
- relationships skills at home and at work,
- change strategies.
Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar
needs at Susan@ProfessorDestressor.com or at 410-465-5892.
3. Up and coming workshops
I am accepting speaking invitations for faculty
work/life balance and leadership workshops for
summer and fall of 2008. Contact me if your group
needs a speaker on any of the topics listed above.
Title: "“Leadership Skills for Academic Leaders”
Date: October 8, 2007
Place: Johns Hopkins University
Title: "Intentional Living: Time Management Strategies for
Date: October 11, 2007
Place: University of Virginia
Title: "Staying Sane in Insane Places: Managing Diverse
Faculty Responsibilities with Clarity, Balance and Ease””
Date: November 9, 2007
Place: Eastern Illinois University
Title: "“Living Purposely in a Distracting World: A
Blueprint for Work-Life Balance for Busy Professionals””
Date: November 15-18, 2007
Place: Lilly International
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