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Stalling or procrastinating?

1 May 2022
Sagit Salmon
man on top of a mountain

How often have you stood at the bottom of a tall mountain, asking: “How do you climb this thing for heaven's sake?”.

How often have you faced a task (big or small) challenged to begin?

Have you ever struggled with getting your ‘foot in the doorway’?


In the field of learning, it’s known that learning is a process that takes time. Although you can cram the entire learning process into a short period, this is less meaningful and isn’t necessarily effective in the long run. Learning over time, we ask questions and dwell on specific issues. This is meaningful learning that stays with us in the long run.


Dr. Robert A. Bjork, who has researched learning, has referred to this type of learning ‘a positive stall’. These learning processes include breaks, during which the data sinks in and is processed. Even if we chose to play checkers during these breaks or practice yoga, learning would occur, and we will benefit from it since we continued learning and kept the process going.


The reverse and unfavorable effect of a positive stall is procrastination. It is caused when learning is annoying and stressful. In these cases, we turn our attention to something else, something we find more enjoyable or easy to deal with at the moment.

We gain relief in the short run, but what about the long run? How much longer can we delay coping with the issue?


Returning to workplace challenges, remember the tall mountain? That’s the heavy task or the unfamiliar/new issue. Remember the foot in the doorway? That’s your starting point. The door is already open, and it’s easier to enter and start. These starting points are sometimes the hardest, but things will happen on their own once we begin.


So, how do you start handling an enormous task? If we couldn’t get it done naturally, hereby are some ideas on how we can use this as a positive stall and avoid it becoming procrastination:

  • Break your tasks down into smaller tasks, focus on them, appoint each task a deadline and proceed accordingly, one small step at a time. For example, ‘writing two pages of content, preparing the presentation outline.’

  • Allocate time for each task. This way, you deal with it for a predetermined amount of time in total concentration: an hour, half an hour. Once the time is up, you take a small break doing something enjoyable (such as ordering tickets for a show), then allocate another amount of time for the next task.

  • Find partners to complete the task with you and commit your obligation to make progress so they hear. Report this progress regularly till the job is completed.

In conclusion, the difference between procrastination and a positive stall might be subtle. As someone who occasionally postpones handling tasks, I have found some cases to be positive stalls, but I admit this isn’t always the case. However, these coping strategies have proven useful and practical, so I am happy to share them with you.


This article was inspired by Dr. Nena Ariel and her research in rhetoric, literal and verbal culture, and learning sciences at Tel Aviv University.

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