Although the Long Night Against Procrastination began five years ago at Viadrina University in Frankfurt/Oder (one hour east of Berlin and the location of the 2014 EWCA conference), universities across the pond have also caught on. Julie Nelson Christoph, Director of the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA shares this year’s event with us.
Those of us who procrastinate have a special relationship with our procrastination, in its many varieties and causes. There’s the dreaded procrastination because of fear of the task, there’s joyous procrastination because of more enticing alternatives, and—when we’re smart—there’s what Professor John Perry calls “structured procrastination,” or putting the urge to procrastinate to good use by re-prioritizing our priority lists, so that the truly useful tasks (like major writing projects) become the distractions from the other tasks on the list (like vaguely important emails that seem pressing but have been forgotten by everyone but you).
The Long Night Against Procrastination, an event the University of Puget Sound’s Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching has celebrated every year since 2012, demonstrates the joys and challenges of procrastination. Every year, the event has been different, depending on who is planning it—and what they’re procrastinating that year! Every year, we’ve had had around 60 students who have dropped by to do concentrated work. Some years, the traffic is early in the event and other years it’s later. The study breaks, too, have varied by year, from childhood pleasures like coloring pages and hide-and-seek, to yoga and international versions of group calisthenics. But other parts of the event have remained constant. Every year, we’ve provided German pastries and pretzels to commemorate the German origins of the event. And we’ve participated in some kind of international exchange with Germany—through tweets, Skype calls, and (last year) hosting a month-long residency by a German graduate student from the University of Tubingen’s writing center. Every year, we’ve had mock-serious Non-Procrastination Declarations and have encouraged students to set and meet goals.
This year, I came to a realization about the relative value of those goals, though. At around midnight, the collective list of projects completed had grown, but the number of students continuing to work in the Center had waned. I was trying virtuously to check off a longer project from my to-do list: a grant report on a peer tutoring conference we recently hosted. The writing was going slowly, and with only six people (all members of the Center staff) remaining at the event, I was feeling a little down on myself and on the Long Night. Why was I still at work, I wondered, when there were so few people still there? Was it worth it? Why couldn’t I just get the stupid report finished?
Exhausted, I joined a study break session of group calisthenics that evolved into an extended and thoughtful conversation about cultural differences as manifested through exercise. By around 12:45 AM, it was clear that the grant report needed to be saved for another day.
Had those last hours of the Long Night furthered procrastination, or had we engaged in structured procrastination? In the grant report, I had been writing about accomplishing progress toward the goals of fostering writing center community and engaging in deep thinking about peer-to-peer learning. Making time for those kinds of big goals during the semester is difficult in the midst of the pressing demands of meetings, classes, and other scheduled obligations. At the Long Night, though, we all had had the chance to break out of routines and had emerged feeling mentally energized and connected to each other.
Today a friend sent a link to this online article on productivity, and it resonated. Often, the big goals we have aren’t goals that are easily checked off a to-do list, and The Long Night Against Procrastination is a place to make progress on concrete as well as more abstract goals. Checking items off a to-do list feels good, but sometimes the work that most needs to be done is the work that happens during the study breaks. I look forward to next year’s Long Night and the surprises it will bring.