My sneaky jerkbrain

I’m in the CLEAN ALL THE THINGS/GRADE ALL THE THINGS stage of this cycle (which is all too accurate. Um, hello there, Internet.).

For instance, I grade a bunch of “Learning Self-Assessment Essays” and then I get sick of it and do a load of dishes or laundry.

Because here’s a secret:  I can motivate myself to do stuff as long as I am using that stuff to avoid or put off other stuff I should be doing.

I need to do the dishes! No, I need to grade stuff! No, I need to do the dishes! No, I need to grade things!

The trick is, when I’m doing the dishes I decide that I SHOULD really be grading. And when I’m grading I SHOULD be doing the dishes. So it’s like I’m tricking my brain with the prospect of sweet, sweet rebellion and setting up a little feedback loop. As long as there is some looming unfinished task that I can beat myself up for not doing, I can feel normal and ok. Knowing this does not help. If I decided, hey, you should grade for a bit and when you get tired of it you should switch to another task and that’s okay, I’d be on the Internet avoiding everything all day (we call that…Thursday).

My brain is a jerk.

15 thoughts on “My sneaky jerkbrain

  1. Oh, gosh, yes, I never get so much cleaning done as when I’m avoiding something else (this “something else” used to be homework, then lesson-planning, and is now job applications), and vice versa. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who does this

  2. But you know, that’s totally normal! The people who can focus and complete projects sequentially are in the minority.

  3. There’s an essay up about procrastination and the science of your sneaky jerkbrain here (, and the author left a comment on it that I have set on my desktop:

    “… studies also show you don’t work better under pressure, and waiting for inspiration isn’t realistic. You get motivated after getting started, and you are worse at what you are trying to accomplish when pressed for time.”

    The upshot of it is, you have to trick the SJB somehow – I know my housework gets done when there’s a deadline – and it’s good to be aware of ways that you’re manipulating yourself.

  4. I am probably in the minority, but I definitely work better under pressure.

    It opens up aspects of creativity and fluency that are not available if I dutifully plod along ahead-of-schedule, no question.

    I’m a Myers-Briggs’ INTP though — intuiting, thinking, and perceiving are my things, and from that viewpoint/way of being in the world, if you don’t wait until close to the deadline, you may miss something great.

    The American obsession with deadlines, and the midwestern obsession that being early is a sign of courtesy (instead of the opinion some other cultures have of it: that it is rude! ha ha), are hard on folks like me — but I usually just squeak through, right on the dot.

    Then again, as a total newcomer to this site, I’ve spent several hours in the last 24 reading half of the year’s entries on this website, which has been *absolute procrastination* with no real urgency or point,
    and would be lower than number 2349 on my to-do list,
    if I had a list;
    yet, I think my “advice” to other people here (and on posts that are so old that it seems kind of silly to be responding! but it’s been fun) is actually giving ME a talking-to from my own subconscious that I sorely need to hear. So, it’s been valuable indeed.

    Many of the participants here seem to be youngish academic introverted women — probably a rare hotbed of INTP and related types? That’s nice; it’s been relaxing to be milling around your old thoughts, from 3000 or something miles away. 🙂

    However, I miss nearly all your cultural references and in-jokes. I truly feel middle-aged when I see those. But in a good way, because I’m just glad I don’t have that extra detail floating around in the tiny space of my brain that is left. 😉 I don’t see that many “popular” films etc., don’t even watch _Downton Abbey_. [E.g., big fan of The Police, saw them in concert in 1983, had a young teen crush on Sting, still had never seen the golden-briefs photo of him, before this blog today.]

  5. Um, so I am an angry cleaner. The only way I will ever (and I do mean ever) lift a finger to straighten up the house is when I am mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

    Which sucks, because sometimes I find myself wishing I had something to be angry about. You’d think I could just say, “GRR! These dust bunnies really piss me off!” But it doesn’t work that way. :/

  6. I have never been so creative with the cooking as when I am putting off writing a paper! I feel you. Also, since I’ve been putting off writing holiday cards, my side of the room has never been so organized. 🙂

  7. Doing homework to avoid doing other, more tedious homework is pretty much the entire basis of my academic career.

    1. I hadn’t heard of that professor’s work, so I followed your links. Interesting stuff!

      That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing all my life, as a perfectionist procrastinator who actually is quite efficient and effective when she works. I have been best at doing things that I considered of medium-importance, in order to avoid the high-importance ones (just as he points out) —
      but where I went wrong was that I was putting off (occasionally) things that actually really mattered to me, whereas his suggestion is to invent some things for yourself that seem even more important (but really you are deceiving yourself because they are not) and with set deadlines (but actually they are not), so you can be satisfied that you are not tackling these monster tasks, while you accomplish items lower down on the scale of importance — which ought to be, in his view, the things that actually are the most important to you:

      from the link: “At this point, the observant reader may feel that structured procrastination requires a certain amount of self-deception, since one is, in effect, constantly perpetrating a pyramid scheme on oneself. Exactly. One needs to be able to recognize and commit oneself to tasks with inflated importance and unreal deadlines, while making oneself feel that they are important and urgent. This clears the way to accomplish several apparently less urgent, but eminently achievable, tasks. And virtually all procrastinators also have excellent skills at self-deception….”

      Unfortunately, I’m terrible at self-deception, and I would not be able to take seriously the fake tasks I wanted to view as most-important. E.g., with the “trick” of setting one’s clock/watch forward by 5 minutes so as to arrive places on time (or less late) — I just always deducted 5 minutes from the number that showed on the clock, so the fake time didn’t help me at all. If anything, adopting the habit of looking at a clock and automatically deducting 5 minutes got dangerous when I was around clocks that were set to the right time!

      Thank goodness that where I live now, one can pretty much be 15 minutes late and it’s often totally okay (depending on circumstances) – so much more relaxing than the Scandinavian timekeeping of the Midwest, ugh. 😉

      Also, by being great at getting the medium and low-importance things out of the way, I have probably led a more pedestrian and mainstream life than I would have, if I had put the maximum effort into following my heart and fancies and ‘talents’. But this was probably a safety valve for someone like me, because I’m happily unconventional, and maybe doing some solid, moderate, dull stuff well (and completely) allowed me to get along a little better in the midst of society. How else to explain a master’s degree in business, chuckle.

      I’m about to close down my computer and run crapcleaner, so I’ll lose my fake sign-in here, and swirl onwards into the interwebs, but just in case any of you young female academics are INTPs (and it’s likely that some are), I thought I’d mention that last night after I wrote my previous comment here that mentioned being an INTP and how procrastination is so much a part of that personality type,
      I looked up the search terms INTP and procrastination, and found a personality type discussion forum I’d once seen a few years ago, which had me laughing in self-recognition for about an hour afterwards. It’s so comforting to hear the funny stories and perspectives of other folks like you, especially when you are so rare in the population. I thought I’d give the link to it here.

      One thing on that site – that I haven’t read yet but am about to go read – sounds totally interesting, it’s research into INTP women and various cultures.
      “The benefit of investigating gender roles and experiences across MBTI Types, as well as across cultures, is plain: the broader and more diverse the data is, the more reliable it will be for verifying commonalities shared by each personality type.
      Luckily for INTP women, our type is rare enough overall, and even less widespread among females, that we were the subjects of a fairly robust, cross-cultural experience inventory.
      ‘[The] sense of the environment [INTP Women] needed to be their best was similar (independence, time alone, work flexibility). They clearly expressed their sense of being quite different from what their society expected and wanted from women and being identified by others and by themselves as fitting more into male patterns of thought and behavior.’
      Of course, we share several quirky features—after all, INTP is one of the “quirkier” MBTI types. Indeed, our unusual nature is one of several reasons why the researchers selected female INTP women, as the focus of their study. Most importantly, however, is our “outsider” status—according to their hypothesis, this is not only according to natural preferences, but also put upon us for a number of socio-cultural reasons….
      The words and phrases used most often to describe INTP women were entirely negative. Those used most often to describe male INTPs were mixed some positive and some negative. INTP females were depicted more negatively than women in general and than women of any other type.” link provided below

      This is so true — it’s taken me a long time to realize that many times the reactions that others have to me is not an individually-personal thing, it’s that my personality isn’t liked very much in our culture(s).

      (Also, if your personality is another one of the 16 types, this site has fora for all of them, and is worth a look, in my opinion!)

      Some INTP links from there:
      quotes – Including this one from Einstein: “I am truly a ‘lone traveler’ and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude… ”

      I wish you all well, happy mid-winter-festival-of-whatever-type-floats-your-boat!

  8. Grades are due tomorrow. I still have an entire class’s final essays to do. I am suffering because I traveled home for the holidays, and therefore instead of my options being “grade or clean!” or “grade or cook!” or “grade or research!”, now my options are “grade or spend time with family and friends I haven’t seen in months!”

    So now my sneaky jerkbrain is flailing hopelessly. This is the most difficult grading I have ever done.

  9. Actually I just employed this strategy to bang out two things I had been dreading all weekend! “Man I REALLY need to build that prop.” “Oh my god it’s almost Christmas, I need to do my cards!” So I sat down and didn’t “let” myself do the prop until I had done all my cards. The bummer part of it was that I had to then force myself to do the prop with nothing else to motivate me except my boyfriend helping me (and therefore I can’t slack since I asked him to help me and so I can’t leave him)….negative enforcement really works!
    My apartment was never so clean as when I had to write ten reviews in a sitting.

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