For our peeps in grading jail: How do you motivate/reward yourself while grading?

I’m in the middle of grading final projects and exams and completely tuckered out.  And yet, I have to keep chugging.

I tend to work best when I set myself a reward like, “after grading each problem for all exams, I can watch a 4 min youtube video or read a part of a book chapter”.   If the procrasinatory mood is right, I might be able to “reward” myself with less pleasant things like switching out the laundry or loading the dishwasher.

How do you keep yourself going when the grading gets rough?  Non-academics, how do you motivate yourself to do long repetitive boring tasks that are frequently disappointing?


35 Responses to “For our peeps in grading jail: How do you motivate/reward yourself while grading?”

  1. Susan Says:

    My problem is returning to the grading after a break. I rarely have the will power for just a short break!

  2. independentclause Says:

    Disengage emotions (if possible) and work outside or at your very most beloved cafe.

    This time of year in my former town, the favorite cafe is filled with both miserable students and miserable professors.

  3. Anu Says:

    Similar to you, rewards after a particular number of work for me. So do checkboxes and visual measures of progress – I get satisfaction from seeing that I’m 45% of the way through. Keeping it concrete and visible is key for me. If possible, like independentclause I will do boring and repetitive work in a pleasant location.

  4. Katherine Says:

    I stack the exams/problem sets/whatevers into piles of 5 or 10, depending on the size of the class (I’m at a SLAC, so my classes tend to be small). Then I can see tangible signs of progress. I usually grade one or two problems at a time, and often save the ones that will be easiest to grade for last, so I can look forward to them, as much as that’s possible.

    I sometimes reward myself with a short break, but like Susan above, I struggle with keeping the breaks short. I feel like once I’m on the internet or doing something else, it’s really hard to come back. Mostly that results in my grading taking forever, because I’m only spending about half the time actually grading.

    • xykademiqz Says:

      I do this too — piles of 5, small reward breaks (check email or Twitter) in between. I divide grading into a few days. The first day of grading is always the hardest, because I am calibrating how much partial credit each screwup carries (no pre-made rubric accounts for all the ways people can in fact screw up; also, I often have these small essay questions (explain this or that in no more than N sentences) that take a long time to read and assign credit to consistently). As a result, the first batch of 20 or so I go over multiple times, to make sure I am consistent, and I grade one problem throughout, then back to the start of the pile. By day three, I can go through papers quite fast.

      As bloggy friend Alex says, “I would teach for free. They pay me to grade.”

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I *have* a pre-made rubric for what I think each partial screwup is worth (based on past screwups), but Every Single Semester they surprise me. There seems to be no limit to student creativity when it comes to getting things wrong. One would think they would run out eventually for say, a standard t-test problem, but no.

      • independentclause Says:

        Spouse lives and dies by the rubric. For example (paraphrased for extra cussiness): “I know how to cite in fucking MLA as I have been taught for three years now.” “I have a clear fucking thesis statement that I back up with quality scholarly fucking sources.” Etc.

  5. gwinne Says:

    When possible I grade with the TV on in the background. This (obviously) only works for particular sorts of mindless tasks like, in my case, tallying scores on essay questions.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I also like the huffington post feminist bachelor podcast for boring repetitive tasks. (Sadly my students are being so creative with errors this year that at most I can have music videos on in the background. I will be glad when my colleague who teaches the other sections of the first semester class gets back– she does a great job preparing them for the second semester.)

  6. Bardiac Says:

    Chocolate covered raisins. Or chocolate malt balls (but not the crappy kinds, in either case.)

  7. Leah Says:

    UGH. I need this RIGHT NOW. Going to go grade some more. I find having cups of water helpful, because it gives me something to do with my hands/mouth without mindlessly eating.

  8. EconProf Says:

    If at home, I use natural breaks in grading (like you do, finishing a problem on an exam) or my Fitbit reminder to get up off that a** to change laundry, put something away, wash dishes, check social media. In the worst of it I have to set a timer to get myself back on task. At work, I’ll walk circles in the halls (though that risks conversations). Both my exams are the last day of exams this year (the day before graduation) so I feel the impending jail time, but sit here with nothing to do about it. Walking clears my mind, so if I finish a big task I’ll take a 30-60 minute break to walk sometimes. And like others said, I have to have a clear sense of how points are allocated on each question, otherwise I am not consistent. My solutions have point values attached to the important pieces of each answer.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      timer to get back is a really good idea

      I have been having so many conversations with my colleagues…

      • EconProf Says:

        I find the timer is helpful for two things. One, to make sure my break isn’t too long, and two, sometimes I set timers for, say, 30 minutes, and force myself to grade for 30 minutes with no distractions. That helps keep me feeling like I’m on track when things are dismal… like grading econometrics papers. Some are so bad, I have to have the timer to make sure that I don’t spend 2 hours trying to decipher an individual paper that doesn’t deserve that much time. The very worst papers can take hours if I let them. Though the best are generally quick to grade (30 minutes), because they are complete and well-written.

  9. slnoonanj Says:

    I have 12 exams left in one class, and I feel like the character in those old Gulliver’s Travels cartoons – I’ll never make it.

  10. chacha1 Says:

    My entire job is “repetitive boring tasks” which are all disappointing in that the competent performance of any given task conveys no sense of personal accomplishment and produces no external rewards. I am completely UNmotivated. I do it because it’s the job and therefore how I make money to pay for all the Not Job things that make life worth living. :-)

  11. nicoleandmaggie Says:

    Every day this week so far has felt like it should be Friday, except none of them have been. What’s up with that?
    (Stupid weekend grading.)

  12. First Gen American Says:

    I do find it to be my most productive time to do other tasks I’ve been procrastinating. Things that rarely make it to the top of the list except when I have that icky even worse task ahead of me. Like when I look up at my dead bug filled bathroom light every morning as I get out of the shower and say, I need to clean that. It will finally get done when I am procrastinating something else like cleaning up my opportunity tracking system. (That’s my equivalent of grading papers).

    My house is always the cleanest when I have some icky paperwork thing to do that I am dreading. Suddenly All chores must get done first. It’s like I have to get every other thing on my to do list done first before I can get to the yuck one…so I still feel productive and also clear the way for efficient paper working. At the end of the day, deadline looms and it gets done. Some procrastination is ok as it gets done one way or another once the deadline hits.

    • chacha1 Says:

      I call that “procrastitasking.”

      • First Gen American Says:

        I am known to be super efficient and often get asked “how do you get everything you do done?” I don’t really think I am the model of efficiency but perhaps the real secret is procrastitaskinating. Love the term. Thanks chacha.

        PS. Paperwork is my dark master. I hate it and it is always the absolute last thing I do. My office desk is always the last thing I clean in the house and usually only when I am due to go out of town. My whole house could be clean but the desk a mess.

  13. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    I’m on the quarter system, so I have about 5 more weeks of grading to do. I have 40 10-page design reports to grade every two weeks, and they take me about an hour apiece to grade, plus I have about 3 hours of quiz grading to do each week, so I have an estimated 167 hours of grading left this quarter (I’m behind schedule, because my students requested an extension on the last report, and so I couldn’t grade last weekend). So I’m looking at about 30 hours of grading and 12 hours of lecture and lab each week for the next 4-5 weeks.

    I generally take a short break after each design report (unless it is a good one, which takes much less time, in which case I can skip the break), to do something more fun, like cleaning the toilets or washing pots and pans. Unfortunately, I often reward myself with a small snack. During exam week last quarter, I put on 5 pounds.

  14. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    Most of a bar of chocolate got me through 19 terrible undergrad lab reports (and 2 really good ones).

  15. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    I hadn’t realized until now just how many in your readership are academics.

    For long boring tasks at work, I mostly get them done in long marathon sessions to get them out of the way all at once. So, one day I might stay until midnight on unimportant stuff just so I’m not interrupted by meetings and I can crank things out. Once I get into the groove of things, even if it’s boring labor, I can usually continue it pretty easily. It’s mostly if I take a break or am just starting that I have the hardest time. Usually an imminent deadline will give me the kick in the pants I need.

  16. Debbie M Says:

    For repetitive tasks, I just try to get as efficient as possible. I had a co-worker at my first clerical job who was amazingly fast at stuff and very motivating.


    When I was student teaching, I tried to get students to grade each other’s papers, but even with multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions, they lied about how well the person they were grading had done, so I had to grade everything myself. And if I didn’t make them turn something in, they wouldn’t do anything at all. So I was grading stuff every day. I only had two classes, but that was still a lot of work. And the text stank (how to make sociology boring: just memorize a bunch of terms), so I would spend a lot of time creating better materials. I slept four hours a night on weekdays, so that wasn’t really workable. (I did learn that grocery shopping at 4 am–and driving to and from the store–was just lovely.)

    For essay questions, I tried to grade one question at a time to help with consistency, but that meant going through each paper multiple times.


    I have also scored essay questions on teacher-certification exams. I’m qualified to score social studies, social science, and math, but I decided to do only math. I was too ignorant of history to feel competent with social studies, which was usually history (my majors were psychology and sociology) and the scores on the social science were amazingly bad. Like on a scale from 1 (clueless) to 4 (great), 90% of them were a 1. I feel like students were thinking, “What the heck, I’ll just take this social science test just in case–it’s probably easy.”

    Math was much easier to score, and although many of the answers were depressing, at least the majority were 3’s and 4’s. I don’t suppose you have the option to just stop teaching the courses that have the depressing assignments!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: