Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Jolly Librarian Celebrates Poetry Month: Good Poems, American Places

Each Friday during Poetry Month, I’ve recommended a poet or a book of poetry that I’ve recently found. My last recommendation for this month is Good Poems, American Places selected by Garrison Keillor.  This anthology is part of The Writer’s Almanac on NPR as were two previous anthologies, Good Poems and Good Poems for Hard Times.

This collection celebrates the land and culture of America from big cities to small towns and from farmers to Hollywood stars. Keillor knows how to choose engaging poems, those that stay with you after reading. I fully expect my copy of this book to be as marked and post-it tabbed as the other two.

Here are two of my current favorites:

“Earl”

Kryptonite”

This is one of those great books you can open up to almost any page and be captivated by the poem there. If after reading just a few of these works, you’re not rapidly adding poets to your “to-read” list, I will be very surprised.

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The Jolly Librarian Ponders Mistakes and Failures

Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. Albert Einstein

Today, a colleague and I attended a campus function where there was food: hamburgers, popcorn, and cookies. As we walked back to the library, my colleague suddenly looked crestfallen. “I ate so many cookies,” she announced. “I’m a failure.”

“You’re not a failure,” I replied. “You just suffered a setback. And you have plenty of time to turn today around.” But I could tell that in her mind, she really was a failure, at least for this day.

This “all or nothing” thinking is also prevalent among students and gets in the way of their success and happiness. For example, let’s take Student A, who thinks to be successful in college, she must have a 4.0. But the pursuit of this one perfect number has kept her stressed and prevented her from reaching what should be her major goal: earning a degree. She refuses to take courses that might be too hard, drops others when they show the first sign of difficulty, and, while people who started classes with her have long moved on, is still trying to finish up basic requirements. There’s nothing wrong with having high standards, but when those standards prevent you from achieving what you want in life, then they need to be re-examined.

There are several other problems with this type of thinking:

  • When we must have perfection, then we tend to work on things that are too easy or we already know–because they are only types of things where we have a chance of being perfect.
  • Similarly, when we demand perfection, to keep from blaming ourselves, we too easily try to blame others.
  • If the only two options are all or nothing, then chances are that most of the time we’re going to have to pick nothing. Therefore, a slip-up at lunch means a failure at a diet. A poor test score means I’m dumb and should drop the course instead of l should learn how to study more effectively.

As Einstein points out, mistakes are a natural part of learning new things. And college should be about learning new things. And so should life.

Library Life Listers: “Don’t Want to Waste a Minute More, Dear”

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
― C.S. Lewis

It was a time of moving forward, a time of moving backward, and a time of standing still for the Life Listers, in other words, an ordinary week. With Allison’s return, we were assured progress would be made. Still, as you’ll see in some of our reports; for others, the week brought disappointments. Please feel free to send suggestions when you see us wandering in the life list abyss. We can use all the help we can get. Well, some of us, anyway.

Here are the updates for this week:

Pam:

PERFORMING

  • Booked the SC July 12th date as a trio.
  • Have a tentative upcoming gig at Station Inn in Nashville. Date TBA
  • Have felt much discouragement about not putting a committed band in place so as to move forward with an agency. It has taken the wind completely out of my sails to move forward with booking anything. Must work on my all-or-nothing attitude. This is a big obstacle for me. Any suggestions?

WALKING

  • No consistency of late with my walking. Feel the need. Staying a bit strong from the yard/garden work. Must find more consistency. Any suggestions?

READING

  • FINISHED The History of Everything. FINISHED Nevada Barr’s 13 ½ during drive home and back at Easter.

WEIGHT 128

I’m thinning down week by week. Very discouraged that I partook of Easter cakes, etc. It all began with someone giving us 1 dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. It, like alcohol to an alcoholic, was my demise. I am now eating sugar every day. Very disappointed in myself. Any suggestions?

ORGANIC FARMING

  • Aghast to discover that a POSSUM (I know it was this because I have let a little family live in my garage for several years…they’re not hurting anything, and the cats don’t mind them at all) ATE ALL THE LEAVES OFF MY NEWLY PLANTED PEPPER PLANTS!  Thus, I bought a new little fence to put around the garden of peppers.
  • Have not seen a peep out of any of the seeds I have planted – I believe I was a bit over zealous to get them in the ground (and my mother says they many drown). Also, the tomato plants (including the one for “Jolly”) is NOT looking to good…The ground, I have discovered from native Nashvillian farmers, is too cold. I have, therefore, bought a whole new batch of little plants to put out as soon as it warms up! 
  • I am happy to report that my ONIONS are growing beautifully, as are the radishes, cabbages and cauliflower! The rain has really made them big!

WRITE 1 LETTER A WEEK

 L I am again a failure in this aspect. I have slipped terribly. Any suggestions? Dr. Weed?

KEEP HOUSE ORGANIZED

  • I’m not sure if a tornado did, in fact, come through my office. It appears so. The house is holding up, otherwise (this does not count the fact that I have not seen my kitchen table in the past 2 weeks…)

COOK NEW RECIPE each week

  • No

PIANO

  • Haven’t struck a key. Still plan to…

HIKING

  • Plan to book a day this month to visit Percy Werner Park and walk trails with a friend. We’re narrowing down the date.

 CLAWHAMMER BANJO 

Need to set goal on song list. I have not learning any new songs. Ashamed. Any suggestions?

New additions to my Life List:

  • Travel to Machu Piccu
  • Perform in Rome
  • Visit Greece and see the Parthenon
  • Visit the Great Pyramids
  • Hike to Base Camp at Mt. Everest

 Allison:

an excellent (flute) performance at my little brother’s wedding in May We’ve had two or three productive rehearsals. “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” is nearing performance-quality; the two pop pieces we’re playing are coming together, too. Last rehearsal, we made a final decision about which arrangement of “Canon in D” to use. Also, not every morning, but on several occasions lately I’ve risen earlier to play long tones and scales before starting the rest of my day. This is oddly relaxing, and I think it’s improving my tone quality as well.

 Margaret Faye said I should say something about playing the fife while stuck in traffic. This wasn’t on my life list : ) but it did happen. I started collecting wooden flutes when I was about 13, and my favourite one is a walnut folk fife. I’ve picked out several songs by ear lately; this is significant because for most of my life I’d assumed I was no good at playing by ear. I think I tripled or quadrupled my meager repertoire when I found myself stuck in a terrible traffic jam last week.

 translate the book of Esther

Wrapped up chapter 2 on Sunday! I’m on schedule.

 work toward solving the problem of homelessness in Nashville Bought a copy of The Contributor. I also stopped to speak to a Contributor vendor one day while I was out walking. I didn’t have any cash with me, but I think that a (very small) step toward “solving the problem of homelessness” is the choice to accept and welcome all people socially, rather than looking away and pretending not to notice someone else’s difficult situation.

 write some things I’m proud of

A friend of mine wants to try NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, which takes place in November) but typically has a busy November, so she’s getting a group together for a novel-writing June, and she invited me along. I’ve no plans to write a novel, but I think I’ll use June to edit the piece I need to finish up. So, I joined the “June NaNoWriMo” group.

 become more fluent in Spanish

Still frequenting the Spanish-speaking church and attempting to make small talk in Spanish, before and after. I’ve sent a few emails and texts in Spanish to Spanish-speaking friends. Listened to a couple more episodes of Coffee Break Spanish.

 give my best to the ESL classes I help teach We didn’t meet on Easter Sunday, but we did the week before. Thanks to Sally, who gave me an old copy of a Word Detective book, we had two fun short stories to work through, reviewing nouns and verbs as we went along! The activity was right at the ability level of most students. (Sally, thanks again!)

 Pam adds things to her life list all the time, so I think (at least for this week) I will, too : ) I’ve started reading Les Miserables, with the goal of getting as far as I can before seeing the TPAC production at the end of May. Last night I finished Book 1!

Emily:

I decided to take a week off of life listing to see what sort of impact it would have on my life. When I needed to bake a cake, I chose a tried and true recipe. I didn’t cook a meal, not once. I avoided the French/French. I did not drive across the country, nor did I think about driving across the country. There were no picnics. I read no classics (Tina Fey’s “Bossypants” makes for wonderful tripe). I planted no vegetables and — when the opportunity to buy twenty blue bottles arose — I said, “Eh…now I know where I can get them.” Do I feel less fulfilled than I did last week? Not at all. What does this mean for life listing? It means it’s merely a hobby, thus I can mark life list item number 19 “Get a Hobby” off my list.

The Jolly Librarian:

Writing: Took a chapter to WG last week. Two people liked it. Two picked it apart for accuracy, which I thought was a little unfair, since it’s a novel about the afterlife.

Socializing: Went to an Easter party. Socialized mainly with two five-year-old girls. Planned a pizza party for my student workers. Since only one came at a time, it turned out to be just eating pizza in the back room. I am truly beginning to doubt my ability to socialize.

Cooking: Made a pseudo-trifle for above-mentioned party. It was not a hit.

Exercising: Went to the gym for 5 out of 7 days.

Reading: Am now reading a series of books on goal setting and change in hopes that I can help students who have such a hard time with making plans and fulfilling them. If they also help me, it will be an added bonus.

I have helped Emily achieve one of her goals by watching 3 of the 4 disks of Mad Men. Unfortunately, since she doesn’t remember what happened in each disk, she’s afraid to disclose something I might not have seen. So we’re not doing as well as we could. But tomorrow, I’ll have disk 4, and she’ll be able to talk freely.

Learn French: I’ve been listening to my French tapes each morning, and last week super student worker wrote out sentences in French on scrap paper for me to translate.

Sally

My leg is continuing to get stronger.  Cannot stand up yet to pedal up hills, but I am get there.  What hurts the worst is going downstairs.  I did help deliver books by bike last Thursday to Glenview Elementary School with Ride for Reading.  That felt good to be helping promote literacy again.

I continue to tell everyone about TEL and MERLOT and of course the Gale library database app called Access My Library.  (I am looking forward to the App forum at TBR in Dickson on Friday.)

Some new things learned:

  1. The 21st anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope was on Mon, April 25.

The Hubble Space Telescope was deployed today in 1990. It’s easy to forget that though today Hubble inspires near-universal praise and adulation, during its development, massive cost overruns led many critics to bash the project. The revelation that Hubble was launched with a flawed mirror made NASA and Hubble a national punch line. Yet, following the successful repair mission in 1993, images captured by Hubble left even the harshest detractors astonished. Hubble is currently scheduled to remain in service until 2014 when it will be replaced by its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope.

  1. Typewriters are no longer made. According to an April 26 article in the Daily Mail, “Godrej and Boyce — the last company left in the world that was still manufacturing typewriters — has shut down its production plant in Mumbai, India, with just a few hundred machines left in stock.” In case you’re in the market for a brand new typewriter, be aware that the majority of the remaining typewriters are Arabic-language models.

I am still working on the Cycling for Libraries pre-conference idea for next year’s TLA conference in Knoxville.  Books and bikes go together quite nicely.  (Except, on rainy, stormy days like today.)

Life Lessons from the Library: Good Intentions, Bad Results

Twice a year, I throw a pizza party for the library student workers, and twice a year, I am reminded of why I don’t throw parties for a living. I would go broke. And I apparently don’t learn from past mistakes.

Each time, I look at the pizza menu and count up how many people will participate. That is my first mistake. I always count all the student workers, although on any given week, all of them don’t come to work, and all of them won’t be able to come on whatever day I choose. Still, I decide it would be sad if we ran out of food. Then I look at the type of pizzas, and once again, I overestimate the different types that people want and the types they won’t eat. It’s not enough to get pepperoni for the meat eaters and cheese for the vegetarians. No, by the time I’ve finished, I have at least five or six combinations to please every palate.

In the fall, I ordered nine pizzas, and we had pizza left. Okay, that’s a mild understatement. We had pizza everywhere. So this semester, I ordered only six, and as I write, almost four hours after the party, we still have half that number  left. I’ve sent one over to the Testing Center, and stragglers will arrive to eat some more .

But it’s not just that we have pizza left. The fact that we have so much food left has made piggies out of all of us. Some of us (okay, me) have four times as much pizza as is a recommended serving size. Another librarian has been okay on pizza but gorged on the cookies. It’s not a pretty sight. And now at 3 p.m., we all feel full and sluggish, and more than a little disgusted with ourselves.

There are several possible lessons to be learned from this experience:

  1. Buy the student workers a small gift each, and don’t bring fattening food into the library.
  2. Make a note on my calendar that the next time I order, go with my gut feeling about what will be enough pizza, and then subtract 2.
  3. Some of the library staff (okay me) have absolutely no willpower.

Still, maybe the real lesson learned here is that the road to hell may or may not be paved with good intentions. But the road to diet hell is at least partially paved with pizza.

Monday Motivator: Work Up a Sweat!

My colleague Emily sent me a research article with the bad news that eating less, not exercising, is the primary way to lose weight. In fact, people who exercise tend to overcompensate by eating more during the day. As both an exerciser and a big eater, I was not terribly happy to hear this, although my own life experience bears this out. Still, even if I remain chunky, there are still many good reasons to exercise.

In the book, The Winner’s Brain, psychologist Jeff Brown and neuroscientist Mark Fenske state that physical activity is ” the one brain-building exercise that study after study shows will result in better overall brain fitness.” Studies have shown that exercise not only increases academic performance in children but can also reduces age-related brain shrinkage in older people. Exercise is almost like a brain super pill.

I try to go to the gym before I come to work each  morning, and I can always tell a difference. Exercise helps calm me down when I’m stressed. I usually sleep better on the days that I exercise. And while I don’t necessarily feel smarter, I do know that I get more done on days when I’ve started the work day with a good run or walk.

So during this time, as we close in on final exams, one of the most helpful pieces of advice we can give our students and take ourselves is get out and go for a walk. Not only will you feel better, but your brain will work better too.

The Jolly Librarian Celebrates Poetry Month: Marge Piercy

Okay, let me admit this: I am a huge fan of Marge Piercy. If she ever did a reading in my town, I would be as excited as one of Lady Gaga’s little monsters. However, I have a feeling that Marge Piercy would not be comfortable with such adulation, and unlike the typical rock star, she would probably sit me down, give me a cup of tea, and tell me to go out and create a good life for myself.

So I didn’t squeal when I saw that a book of her selected and new poems, The Hunger Moon, had been published. I very sedately ordered it. And when it arrived, I simply started reading it and marking all those poems that “spoke” to me. Of course, by now, almost every poem is marked.

There is a Piercy poem to mark every occasion in my life. When asked to be the guest speaker at our college’s honor society induction, I read “To Be of Use.”   When comforting a woman, who like me, is the first person in her family to go to college, I recommend “Where Dreams Come From.”  When feeling fat and lumpy, I smile as I read “Taking a Hot Bath.” I always think of “It Ain’t Heavy, It’s My Purse” when I switch out bags for the season.  And although I’m not a gardener, I can’t help but love “Attack of the Squash People.

All right, you get the picture. I love Marge Piercy. But I’m not the only one. At the reception after the honor society program, people flocked to me to ask again who was the poet and where they could find the poem. Each April, when I send out a poem every day for poetry month, I’ve learned that the biggest reaction will be to Piercy’s poems. She can amuse, she can comfort, she can irritate. She is a poet that is hard to keep to yourself. You’ll find yourself following people around wanting to read your new favorite Piercy poem to them.

“To Be of Use” ends” with

The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

And maybe that’s why Piercy means so much to me. Her work is so real, it’s as if she knows my life.

Start with The Hunger Moon, and I bet you will soon be searching for more.

The Week Before Finals: Can You Say Stressful?

When I came in the library today, there were students everywhere. They were printing, copying, working on computers, sitting in groups, reading alone and asking questions of our staff. The solemn intensity that weighed down the room meant only one thing: it was the week before final exams.

For many students, this week is the worst. At least during finals, they are not in class except to take their exams. But the week before, they are finishing up papers and assignments. There are often last chapter or unit tests to study for. And then there are the lectures that rushed professors are trying to get in before the semester ends. This is also the week that, for procrastinating students, that future deadline comes crashing into the present.

For students, for many faculty, and for innocent bystander librarians, this can be a very stressful week. So I took a (very unscientific) poll of library workers and students who were in the library. And here are some tips from them to manage the stress:

  • Be confident. After all, you’ve already survived 90% of the semester. You’ve succeeded this far; chances are you’re going to succeed for the next two weeks.
  • Get enough sleep. Being tired leads to more stress.
  • Watch a funny show or movie. Just a thirty-minute break watching “The Big Bang Theory” can relax you and get you ready for more studying.
  • Write out a list of what has to be done. That way, you’re not trying to hold it all in your mind, which is stressful. Plus, it feels good to check things off.
  • Don’ t try to survive on soda and snacks. Get some good, nutritious meals, which make you feel better.
  • Exercise. A short run or a bout of yoga can go a long way in relieving stress.
  • Go online and watch something funny on YouTube.
  • Talk to a friend.

All of these should be temporary, of course. Spending three hours surfing the web instead of studying will not help you. But giving yourself even a few minutes to relax and recharge can make  a real difference during this period.

The Library Life Listers: Have a Little Faith in Me

One of the neat things about the life list project is to see how much people work on their goals compared to how much they think they do. Forced (and they are often forced!) to write down what they do, it’s obvious that all our life listers are progressing.

Two lessons learned here: Writing things down make you realize how much you’re doing or not doing. And success begets success.

Today’s lists (Allison has the day off, so she is not reporting. A nice benefit of her absence is that I feel more productive.):

Pam:

PERFORMING

  • Got a new job offer for a gig in SC July 12th.
  • Have a tentative upcoming gig at Station Inn in Nashville. Date TBA
  • Performed at Vol State Arts Festival on Thursday. It was taped for a hopeful new curriculum at the campus to incorporate a bluegrass degree which can be transferred to EKSU for their 4-yr bluegrass program.
  • Recorded a harmony vocal last night for a bluegrass artist, Chris Jones’ new CD to be released on Rebel.

WALKING

  • Walked over to Sylvan Park Restaurant via the greenway. Feeling stronger every day.
  • Have been working in the yard planning flowers and little garden plots everywhere. Very good to build muscles in my lower body. (In horror I discovered this morning that the bunnies ATE every green leaf off most of my new plants in the pepper garden—little green stems greeted me this morning)!

READING

  • Have started a new Bill Bryson book The History of Everything. This is the only thing I’m reading this month so far. Checked out a few other books on tape to listen to on the way to Ky. over Easter.

Reach 128 weight —

  • I’m thinning down week by week. The fruit / yogurt (vanilla silk milk, handful of raw almonds, vanilla yogurt, fresh strawberries and banana) has helped me find a structure of dietary control. I recommend this. Have really backed off sugar. I have to treat sugar almost like an alcoholic treats alcohol. It has a hold on me. It’s almost an all-or-nothing – although, I am allowing some sugar IF I have already had my fruit. I have to be careful with this.

ORGANIC FARMING– Become grower of vegetables. (The Jolly Librarian loves this goal since one of the cucumbers and tomatoes are being grown for me!)

Thus far I have planted:

  1. Cucumbers
  2. Yellow squash
  3. Pumpkins
  4. Onions
  5. Radishes
  6. Cayenne Pepper
  7. Red Giant Bell Peppers
  8. Jalapeno Peppers
  9. Tomatoes (a variety of cherry and other plants).

10. Egg Plant

11. Many variety of Flower seeds

12. Still to plant: Okra and Watermelon and Poppies! Very excited!!

Write 1 letter per week – I feel sad this has something I’ve procrastinated with; however, I have pushed myself through procrastination and at least emailed some old friends this week as well as have bought Easter cards to send. I’m trying to do better. The letter writing is SO important. I MUST hang onto the passion of doing it! I recommend it to all.

Keep house cleaned weekly

  • Felt so anxious about being behind in every area of business outside of my work here that I awoke at 1:45 the other morning and could not sleep. With the onslaught of mental chaos, my house once again reflected the same, and so in complete anxiousness I slung myself out of bed and CLEANED MY HOUSE FOR 3 HOURS!! I awoke feeling like a new person and could breathe again. I cannot believe the association of calmness that comes from keeping one’s house in order.

COOK NEW RECIPE each week

  • No….baked a pizza. Just can’t bring myself to take the time. I keep forgetting to plan ahead.

PIANO

  • Learn to play piano (haven’t practiced since dropping my class). Still a goal for my life list, though.

HIKING

  • Plan to book a day this month to visit Percy Werner Park and walk trails with a friend

 CLAWHAMMER BANJO 

Had the nerve to perform on stage with it at the Vol State program. As well, am signed up to ‘teach’ it if the class makes the roster…. (Let’s hope the class doesn’t) J

New additions to my Life List:

  • Travel to Machu Piccu
  • Perform in Rome
  • Visit Greece and see the Parthenon
  • Visit the Great Pyramids
  • Hike to Base Camp at Mt. Everest

Emily:

Learn French: I bought a Groupon for 25 bucks that entitles me to two months of French lessons. Since I will likely a) never activate the account or b) activate the account and never sign in I’ve determined that the Life List guilt that led me to buy this Groupon may lead to a financial burden. (The Jolly Librarian does not take any responsibility for this guilt.) Or, I suppose, there’s always the possibility that I’ll pick up French in two months.

See Pam perform live at Station Inn and/or Bluebird Café: Waiting for the date and time.

Acquire and watch Mad Men Season 4: Done. (The Jolly Librarian has only finished the second disk. Already, some interesting conversations have occurred.)

New item:

Start cooking through Pie cookbook Charles gave me.

Sally:

My leg is feeling better each day.  I still cannot stand up to pedal uphill, and I am still very slow but I’m getting faster. 

Something new that I learned is that there are 4 R’s to sustainable living:  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Refuse.  Which means you should refuse to use anything disposable, especially plastic.  Plastic basically stays around forever.  There is a “Single-Use Plastic Emergency Response (S.U.P.E.R.) Hero Pledge you can take at: www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org

I continue to tell everyone I meet about TEL and MERLOT.  This morning on the bus I told a West End Middle School teacher about MERLOT.  I even gave Dr. Weed’s granddaughters TEL bookmarks for the new K-5 kids TEL interface.  A bit of exciting news is that my poster session for the MERLOT conference this summer on MERLOT’s content builder has now been accepted.

The Cycling for Libraries pre-conference idea for next year’s TLA Conference is still being worked on. 

I bought a book at the book sale this week about how to cash in on your passion.  My passion is being an environmental cycling librarian!

Jolly Librarian:

While not on my original list, I had made a goal to keep up with all health tests since losing a friend to cancer this year. This week was dental. I had three fillings this morning and five crowns to go. It is not pretty or fun. But I figure if I want to have a chance to be an elderly person with teeth, I need to pursue this.

Writing: Kept up with writing goals this week and have something to read tonight.

Socializing: Hosted a retirement party for Dr. Weed in the library yesterday. It was a success, although not due to my hosting skills. I will do better if I socialize as a guest rather than a host. Also, I went out to eat with some friends on Sunday. Shared a bite of grilled cheese sandwich “Lady and the Tramp” style with friend Lowell Ann (who is five).

Life Lessons from the Library: Librarians Are Not Generally Party Animals

Today, I walked to the circulation desk where three of my staff sat huddled together. They reminded me of those old documentaries of animals caged up in zoos that had developed strange nervous tics. What was wrong? Noise.

The library was hosting a reception for our vice president who is retiring this spring. I chose the time when we had the fewest students, and since the party was announced as a drop-in event around classes, I didn’t expect very many people at one time.

I was wrong. Our VP has been at our college for more than twenty years, and she is a popular person. People came pouring in from the beginning and they stayed. There was laughter. And noise. And the library staff began to have physical twitching, a sense of irritation, and a general gloominess.

Now it’s not like our group is the stereotypical librarians who only talk to tell people to be quiet and shush on a regular basis. We are a loud little group ourselves. We like to talk to students and to each other. And we have to remind ourselves to be quiet at times.

But our noise is intermittent. We talk and then we retreat back into quiet as we search databases or do research. The noise today was long-lasting and constant. For those sitting at the front desk, there were no breaks, no relief. Even our most outgoing person said that it turned her into a grump. One librarian simply disappeared into the back where no amount of calling could bring him out. Another librarian’s expression mirrored that of my friend’s cat when it was taken to the vet to be neutered.  

So, in general, librarians probably deserve their non-party animal reputation–unless the party is one where a small group of people chat and mingle. Then they can shine. But put them into a situation where they must endure constant noise from strangers, then they want to do only one thing–disappear.

So I promise my staff: no more parties in the library.

You can come out from hiding now.

Monday Motivator: Take a Step Forward

This weekend, I took an online quiz and my score put me at the Master level. Unfortunately, it was Master Procrastinator. To take the quiz yourself, click here.

I have always been a procrastinator. For as long as I can remember, the story has been the same. I get an assignment. I greet it with enthusiasm and promise that this time I will get to work on it immediately. And sometimes, I do actually start to work, but then I’m overwhelmed with the enormity of  the task. Other times, I find it boring. But in all cases, I put it off until there is no time between me and the deadline, and I work like a fiend to get it done. Usually, the task does get done, but it always fails to measure up to what I know I could have done if only I had worked more steadily.

In a new book, The Procrastination Equation, Piers Steel provides some ideas on getting things done. Some are familiar, but others take a new look at this old problem. For example, Steel notes that procrastinators are not usually perfectionists. Instead, perfectionists who happen to be procrastinators are more likely to seek help for their problem, therefore inflating the number of perfectionists to counselors.

One personality characteristic that procrastinators do share, however, is impulsivity. We tend to always pick the short-term over the long-term. That certainly is true of me. On a Sunday morning, I think that if I go ahead and write my review now, I’ll have the whole day to do whatever I want. Instead, various immediate things tempt me (reading, watching television, or doing a little shopping), and then I find myself at 10 p.m., instead of going to bed, feverishly trying to come up with an opening line.

Here are some tips from Steel that might help my fellow procrastinators:

  • Break down big tasks into smaller bits with definite deadlines.
  • Find a group of people who’ll support you and hold you to your goals.
  • Identify where things have gone wrong in the past. Come up with a plan to counter those problems.
  • “Accept that the first delay allows you to justify all the subsequent ones.”  By openly realizing this fact, you might be less willing to start the delaying process at all.
  • Use approach goals instead of avoidance goals. Think about what you want rather than what you don’t want.
  • Put temptations out of reach. (If you delay writing a paper because you’re surfing online, disconnect the Internet when working on the paper.)
  • Add “disincentives.” Make putting things off cost something–money, a fun activity, etc.
  • Build a routine around getting things done. 

For me, I’m guessing that I’ll always be something of a procrastinator. Let’s face it, I have several decades of practice that has reinforced the fault. But I’m not giving up on the idea that at some point, I’ll usually do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

So this week, look at something you’ve been putting off and take a step towards completing it.