Why do we Precrastinate?
Feeling swamped? Overwhelmed? Using that “to do” list to get through life? This amazing research published recently in the journalPsychological Science seems to indicate that we, humans, “overwhelmingly precrastinate”. The behavioral scientists explainprecrastination as an “irrational choice” but that it “reflects the significant trade-offs people make to keep from feeling overwhelmed”. In the specific study referenced in the NYTimes article, participants decided to do a task at the beginning of an assignment, one that could have been completed much later, to keep from having to stress-over not forgetting. In other words, people decided to complete physical tasks in order to relieve mental stress.
This hypothesis from the research group proved itself true over and over again. It struck me as also as an apt description of eduction. Listen to the language we use in teaching when trying to reform or change how people “act”. No matter the tool or the group, it comes up again and again. When we are forced to undergo cognitive dissonance, how often do we immediately get to logistics to relieve the “mental stress’?
I heard it again during my time at SREB. Teachers, schools, districts and education service districts constantly used the language “doing” LDC or MDC. Why do we focus on the “doing”? Why don't we ever really think about the work? According to this research, the physical act of “doing” a task, even when it’s much too early in the process, relieves mental stress. Precastination, a hard-wired component of our brains, is an attempt to do physical work to allow mental resources to other tasks.
I think this explains much of what happens in our schools and classrooms. How much of the “work” we do in education is about doing “tasks” that really just make us feel better about the heavy mental lifting that we never really get to? How much of our work is dedicated to “assignments” that distract us from the stuff that really matters?
Interestingly, in a separate blog post, David Allen calls this type of work “Dummy Work”. While he validates the importance of doing work that isn’t all that interesting as a way to fill time or “when our brains are fried”, I’m afraid that sometimes in Education it’s the only work we ever really do. How do we as educators strive for more meaningful work, both for ourselves and our students? I do we create environments that are more “minds-on” instead of “hands-on”?