Procrastination and being aware of it

My second @OpenUniversity assessment was handed in this week; looking at Viable Systems Model (VSM) by Stafford Beer and Strategic Options Development and Analysis (SODA) by Ackermann and Eden. I will do some 101 posts on these in due time to match Systems Dynamics 1 and Systems Dynamics 2.

I found this TMA significantly harder to complete than the first one – it was tantamount to wading through mud at times. I thought it would make an interesting blog post to self-analyse what caused that.

Course content and learning

First things first – I cannot point the finger at the content – neither VSM nor SODA are more ‘difficult’ in terms of ‘learning’ than System Dynamics. Each method in this module is different, and each has its strengths and weaknesses, but fundamentally, none of them seem more difficult to understand than the others. The module writers have done a great job of explaining the concepts.

Personally, I find the cybernetics-inspired methods more relatable than the social sciences variants. Interestingly, however,  this didn’t manifest in the actual assessment. I actually found the most difficult question to answer was related to VSM as opposed to SODA. So I cannot pin the ‘difficulty’ on my personal preference. Clearly I need to look elsewhere.

Perfectionism and procrastination

I was pretty pleased with the mark and comments I was given in the first assessment. I had no expectations and it came as a pleasant boost.

It did however have an odd side effect once I got into the meat of the second part of the module; I started worrying about ‘maintaining’ that grade, and putting myself under pressure to meet or exceed it. This actually ended up leading to a significant period of procrastination; I was literally finding anything to do apart from my course for a couple of weeks – gardening, cleaning, reading. It was a complete avoidance tactic – which makes zero sense if you think that I am looking to try and keep up the grade average.

Obviously I gave my instant gratification monkey a boot in the backside eventually and sorted it out, but it was a weird response to the situation when considered analytically. 

Wait what? Whats a instant gratification monkey? Check out Tim Urbans’s great TED talk below…

Novelty and time

Let’s be honest here – distance learning and post-grad is hard work. It requires significant personal drive to keep yourself motivated and pushing forward. Universities expect you to motivate yourself far more than school or undergraduate work, and part-time distance learning exacerbates that.

The first assessment was a novelty. I haven’t done university work in over a decade and this was new, and exciting. I was proving to myself that my research skills hadn’t atrophied and that I still ‘had it.’

The second assessment had lost some of its sheen. All those things that I used to enjoy doing in the evening after a hard day at work or cleaning the house seem much more appealing than burying my head in a book or working out diagrams. You need significant personal discipline to fight the siren call of doing the ‘fun’ things. Oh…a new movie has come out (I need to see that!), that book that’s been on my Kindle for 4 months (totally need to read that!), all five series of Misfits is on NowTV (obligatory…)

Lessons learned

I don’t think this tendency will go away just because I am a more aware of it, but I can at least recognise the signs now. This means I have choose to give in to it, or to push through it. The only way to beat my instant gratification monkey is to force myself to confront and argue with it – but man is it hard work!

I would say to anyone thinking about post-grad distance learning – Good luck, be aware and know what you are taking on!

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