Stalling Techniques

By Cathy Hodson

I have been reminiscing about my college days. Back in the early 1980s, I was training to become a “Teacher of English,” in the Liberal Arts and Sciences college at the University of Illinois. As a prospective teacher, I had a writing class that also doubled as a “learning how to grade papers constructively” class. It was taught by my advisor, a genteel professor who greatly espoused the advantages of encouragement and support as the best way to convey constructive criticism to our future students.

The way the class worked was: my advisor assigned a writing topic to the class of future teachers. In the days before personal computers, we would type our papers on our manual or electric typewriters, then head to Kinko’s, a photocopying store, and generate enough copies for each of our classmates. We would go home with 20 different papers from our classmates, all on the same topic, and go through them as both readers and prospective teachers, writing (for the most part) encouraging remarks in the margins and making note of any typos or grammatical errors. When you returned the marked up copies to each of the writers, and received the many marked up copies of your paper, it was like going home with a bag of mail from friends. The comments spoke of passages that were enjoyed, or that may have missed their mark, but could be improved by doing X. You began to learn not only how to write constructive remarks, but also what the other prospective teachers valued. As you may have guessed, it wasn’t always the same thing, but the different perspectives enriched the learning process on all fronts.

One of the assignments we were given was to write about our stalling techniques. What did we do to stall before sitting down to actually compose our masterpieces?

Some told of listening to music with a soothing beverage. Others cleaned, some organized, a few cooked, researched, watched TV, you name it, it was probably mentioned. One person said he wrote best when he wasn’t writing. He would put the topic in the back of his head and ruminate about it subconsciously. Then when it was time to put it down on paper, his writing just came out of him. It was fascinating to hear how people put off the inevitable, and how differently everyone approached the writing process.

What was interesting is that there wasn’t anyone who didn’t have a stalling technique. There are people who are not procrastinators, but it seems we all have stalling techniques. The point is that we all have methods of dealing with deadlines that come too soon, projects we really don’t want to do, or just too much to do in too short a time span.

While stalling might primarily affect those afflicted with a writing deadline, it also affects those who are editors, and yes, even web editors. As we wait for department or division staffers to submit their latest content, if their stalling techniques turn into procrastination, content can come in late and a web editor may have to scurry to fill an open content spot. We are good jugglers by nature, highly organized and ready for anything.

Stalling can, however, also afflict web editors firsthand. Juggling multiple projects at one time can be a form of stalling – working on one project to put off getting to another project. If you really don’t want to work on the election area of the website, even though it has to be launched next Monday, you might work on a publication that isn’t due to be posted until after next Monday (“Need to get these photos processed”), putting off the inevitable election work until you have no choice but to get in there and just do it.

Even helping a department author (“Sure, I can show you how to add a video!”) might seem more attractive than hunkering down with the president of your company’s latest pontification.

We all have ways of putting off working on what we need to work on. Hopefully it doesn’t descend into procrastination and missed deadlines. But a mild rebellion in the form of stalling isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

What are your stalling techniques? What do you do to finally launch yourself into your assignment or project? Are your stalling techniques more pronounced when it’s a project you don’t want to work on?


One thought on “Stalling Techniques

  1. Great article, Cathy. Here are a couple of responses I received on Twitter after mentioning this article:

    From @Mededitor (
    Regarding stalling techniques, procrastination does sharpen the pen in practice. @thewebeditors #amediting
    (posted on @thewebeditors

    From @Maniactive (
    @AlanEggleston Stalling & procrastination is a must. It lets me build up creative steam, so that I can let it bust it loose before deadline.
    (posted on @AlanEggleston

    These are both highly respected and productive professionals. Seems stalling comes with the territory.

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