Procrastination: An obstacle to animal care

Farm Forum

At SDSU, we’ve been upgrading our connections with first-year pre-veterinary students. We’ve turned an existing one-credit Introduction to Veterinary Medicine course into a two-credit “first year seminar” class. This means that in addition to learning about the wide variety of careers available to them in veterinary medicine, students learn things like study skills, wellness, and adjusting to university life. More than most students, pre-veterinary majors need these skills. They need to take challenging courses – and achieve good grades — to qualify for vet school. Good study habits are not just something that can get them into vet school, they’re essential to becoming a competent veterinarian, and to lifelong learning within their profession.

The most frequently mentioned obstacle to good study habits for these students? Procrastination. Studying for a far-off test or starting a lengthy research paper is easy to put off. I can actually relate well to this. In practice, it was impossible for me to put off emergency calls and surgeries. But my current position at SDSU is rife with procrastination opportunities, with projects, assignments (like newspaper columns!) and deadlines taking the place of emergency calving calls.

Just like veterinarians, people who care for animals don’t get to procrastinate either. After all, if we only fed the pigs or milked the cows “when we felt like it,” our animals and our farms would suffer greatly! The continual march of time and production cycles mean that we can’t procrastinate putting the bull out, breeding the sows, or giving vaccinations.

I’d still venture that even the most scheduled and disciplined animal caretaker falls victim to procrastination once in a while. Day-to-day animal chores are impossible to put off, but larger, longer term issues that could greatly affect our animals are easy to delay until a “better time.” Examples include facility repairs or modifications, deciding on a synchronization and breeding program, purchasing new equipment, and management decisions such as bringing a family member into the business.

We put these things off for a reason. We’re usually uncomfortable about some aspect of the task. We rationalize that we don’t have enough information or time to tackle it. We may be avoiding confrontations with others. After all, if these were jobs we truly enjoyed, we’d have them done by now.

There’s some interesting science behind how the brain behaves when we procrastinate. When we think about an unpleasant task, pain centers in the brain are actually activated. We subconsciously register an “ouch” when we think about that barn that needs cleaning! No wonder it’s so easy to find alternate activities that bring our brain pleasure, such as going fishing, watching Netflix, or looking at Facebook!

In our course, we’ve learned about some strategies to conquer procrastination. There’s something called the “Pomodoro” technique. You set a timer for 25 minutes and force yourself to work on the task you’ve been putting off. Most of us can bite the bullet for 25 minutes to at least start researching a new purchase, fixing one section of the cattle alley, or cleaning one stall in the barn. At the end of 25 minutes, stop. The job likely won’t be all the way done, but you’ve got a start. In the meantime, your brain has registered the notion that the task wasn’t so bad after all. When you start the next 25-minute work session with the issue, you’ll feel even better about tackling the job.

Listing these onerous tasks and scheduling time to work on them can also be helpful. Time management experts suggest making a list of tomorrow’s tasks before you go to bed. Then choose the worst one to work on first off the next day. When you write these things down, your brain has already subconsciously started wrestling with those problems.

As we enter into winter, can you think of one thing you’ve been putting off, that if done, will help you and the animals you take care of? Schedule time to work on it and tackle it a little at a time. Before you know it, you’ll have accomplished something very important, and will have proven to yourself that you can break through that wall of procrastination.

Russ Daly, DVM, is the Extension Veterinarian at South Dakota State University. He can be reached via e-mail at or at 605-688-5171.