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Academic Coaching & Writing

III. Overcome Procrastination

Sep 19, 2012 by Dr Sally

Procrastination affects many people in many ways. In academia, procrastination in scholarly writing can have career-ending consequences.

In his book, Procrastination and Blocking: A Novel, Practical Approach (1996), Dr. Robert Boice expanded on more than two decades of observing and researching procrastination and writer’s block in academic writers. In fact, two-thirds of the newly hired faculty Boice studied over the years exhibited characteristics of procrastination and blocking, which he refers to as PB. Only about 10 percent of new faculty were “quick starters,” those who work efficaciously.

Boice describes procrastination as “opting for short-term relief through acts that are easy and immediately rewarding, while generally avoiding the thought (and the anxiety) of doing more difficult, delayable, important things” (p. xix). Blocking is “getting stuck at a difficult transition point . . . usually because of paralyzing anxiety and uncertainty, often because the task will be evaluated publicly or because the taskmaster is distasteful” (p. xix). Because PBers are often in denial and fail to recognize they have a problem, Boice identified four characteristics in the patterns of work typical of PBers. They are: (1) busyness and rushing, (2) a “product orientation” focusing on outcome, (3) anxiety, and (4) unrealistic beliefs that work will get done, somehow.

Boice developed an intervention program by observing the work habits of quick starters. His research showed that such individuals perform well in three areas: (1) task management, working in brief daily sessions, and balancing teaching preparation and writing; (2) self-management, moderating their emotions and working without rushing or anxiety; and (3) social management, seeking to collaborate and delegate some of the work to others.

Boice then posed this question: How do I teach these work skills to PBers? He designed a program that sought to create and maintain momentum for academic writing, beginning with treating the blocking, because procrastination and blocking go hand in hand. To overcome blocking, Boice coached his subjects to

  • engage in free writing;
  • find an appropriate location, free from interruptions;
  • schedule writing time every day, not to exceed 90 minutes at a time, with regular breaks and a definite stopping point;
  • stick to a schedule with a system of contingency management, a reward contingent on meeting the day’s goals;
  • turn self-defeating statements into positive statements to reduce anxiety; and
  • learn to use feedback productively.

Boice’s research shows that PBing, once learned, is a difficult habit to break. A study that tracked new faculty through a six-year probationary period found that the differences between PBers and “regular writers” were strong in the beginning and, importantly, remained so. In other words, PBers did not catch up later (p. 67).

Some of the persistence of PBing stems from the perceived benefits of delaying work. These include the excitement and euphoria of working in binges under deadline, a sense of self-control by putting off complying with another’s demands, and the relief of putting off difficult tasks.

Traditional ways of helping PBers in academic settings are ineffective. Release time did not improve scholarly productivity for PBers, nor did efforts to make PBers aware of their work habits. Within a month or two, PBers abandoned attempts at self-management.

Only after Boice began actively coaching PBers to “emulate the skills of efficacy seen in quick starters” did he see “dramatic improvements.” He wrote: “First, PBers given coaching and practice became more objective, useful observers of their own PBing than when they had been practicing recollective thinking aloud on their own. Second … the results of PBing … were generally reversed in a year or two of regular practice” (p. 81).

If you experience difficulty overcoming procrastination and blocking, look for support to help you learn new patterns.


Boice, R. (1996). Procrastination and blocking: A novel, practical approach. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Think about a time when you procrastinated on an important writing task or when you felt blocked. Knowing what you do now, what would you do differently?
  2. What have you learned about yourself that you can use to develop better self-management strategies?

  • Ali says:

    Dec 26, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    about blocking..dont push yourself when you cant just dont fall into disappointment and lying to yourself andlooking for do something that release from improving yourself.hold on where you are and try when you are happier and have more enery

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