It's that dreaded exam marking time of year again. In universities all over the country, academics can be heard pacing around their offices and muttering things like "Come on! Just one more script, then you can have a break." to themselves. I don't know what it is about marking, but it's one of the most severe procrastination generators that I'm faced with in my daily life.
There are a number of things that make almost anything more attractive than the prospect of marking scripts:
- There are so many of them. I don't have as many as some of my colleagues, but even so the 'unmarked' pile seems to get bigger rather than smaller as you progress.
- My handwriting is pretty bad, but trying to decipher the scrawl of stressed students who are trying to write as much as possible in three hours makes your eyes go funny.
- If you're marking one question, you see more or less the same essay with minor variations over and over again.
- It's really important that you get it right.
The last one is the real kicker: the students have (mostly) worked really hard, and you want to be fair and give their efforts the attention they deserve.
While I was marking1, I came up with a 'procrastination index' to apply to unpleasant tasks. The idea is that you think of the everyday task that — under normal circumstances — would be the very last thing that you would want to do. Mine was cleaning the oven of burnt-on fish pie. Then you compare the current task and see if you would rather do this baseline task or your current one. I decided that I would rather clean the oven twice than mark scripts, so the procrastination index was +200. Fortunately, I was in the office, so I didn't have the opportunity to take that way out. I just had to grit my teeth and slap myself every time my mind or body strayed to any task not related to marking. Roll on the end of the pile...
1 I'm sure that some of you will have spotted that this was a form of procrastination in itself.