Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Don't make me break out the colored pens!

Ah, procrastination. My greatest skill and most dangerous vice all in one. Tonight I am avoiding class prep, and many other things, by planning out the rest of the entire year, with color coding and bullet points. Ahhhhh. Yes, I am quite the obsessive-compulsive. Now give me back my multicolored pens!

Here's hoping that planning out the major writing projects I have to tackle this summer and fall (including another stab at the job market) will help me stay organized and keep focused on productivity. I love organizing, not staying organized. It's like how cleaning a really filthy kitchen floor can provide more satisfaction, because it is more visually apparent, than merely keeping on top of the task with regular touch-ups. Not that I know anything about that, ahem. The problem is that before you have the makeover, whether fashion-wise, organizationally, or academically, you have to be in the crapper first. Otherwise it's not a makeover.

Anyway, I periodically have to rededicate myself to whatever project I'm working on, usually with shiny new pens or notebooks or other organizing utensils, but sometimes with the purchase of "writing music" specifically for that project. I find that I am very easily distracted and flighty as an academic, with little patience or perseverance for long projects. On the other hand, I did finish a dissertation, which various studies show only about 50% of all grad students do, so I must have some sort of adaptive mechanisms.

I think that a major strategy I have used is that I am very easily amused and can live in a delusional fantasy world quite easily, which means as long as I treat my projects as a game of some sort, and change up the games frequently, I can chug along, like the little engine that could, alternating between progress and boredom. (Hence the implementation of MMAP 2009.)

I'm currently toying with ways of amusing myself/competing with myself/fooling myself to keep me engaged and writing on my stuff throughout the last of spring and into summer. (If you have any suggestions, please add them here) and may test-drive them on the blog in the future. Or I may just give up on academia and get a job at an Officemax store. Here, have another look at those colored pens!

Mmm, colors! I don't waste the good shit on my student papers, either ---- they can suffer comments in the color of the lead pencils I stole from the library. I save the quality material for myself.


Dr. Brazen Hussy said...

I am the same way! It's a little embarrassing how many pretty notebooks I have that are only about 10-25% filled up.

Love the colored pens!

azoresdog said...

When you plan out your projects, I'm wondering: are they very ambitious? If that is the case, is it safe to say you will probably always be feeling in some sense "behind" your schedule?

Because I do that; I'll do all my project planning in a woosh of optimism that sets me up for constant failure to meet goals.

You could break up the projects into tiny pieces with teensy little milestones.. then reward yourself with something tangible for achieving them, like a new music CD or something from your Amazon list. Or an entire day off: no work, no thinking about work. So, conceivably, you could earn a reward almost every week.

Another thing I do sometimes: I'll make a list for the day, then cut it in half. How about looking at your planner again and removing or pushing back some things? I'm not so sure the theory of working better under stress holds true after one has already adapted to it and developed mechanisms for dealing with it.

Other good tricks: changing venues and making appointments. Move around your workspace. Schedule an appointment to talk to someone about it, even if it's just a 'help me think this through over coffee' meeting.

Okay, I'm tapped. Let us know what you come up with.

Dr. Crazy said...

Sue's suggestions are great. I'll add one thing to the "reward" system: you need to choose rewards that you really, truly want. The whole, "I can buy this book off my amazon list" thing never works for me, because I decide that I won't have time to read the book anyway, I don't really care that much about it, whatever, and so I decide that I'd rather procrastinate than make it to the reward. Thus being unproductive and feeling bad about myself. I can find that smaller, more concrete rewards can work better, like, "If I write for two hours, I can then take a break to make the "good" coffee that I save for special occasions. This works better for me because a) it's something already in my house, b) it's a treat that I otherwise wouldn't give myself, c) it's something I want that is small enough that I won't talk myself out of it (I shouldn't spend the money, blah blah blah). Also, if you do the Day Without Work of Any Kind reward, be sure to make actual plans for that day. If you don't make plans, the day off can feel like miserable procrastination even when it isn't.

medieval woman said...

I love the colored pens, too and I plan out stuff on printed out monthly calendars! All these suggestions sound great - good luck, m'dear and we are TOTALLY hanging out a ShitLA....I mean MLA....

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago, I purchased one of those black & white notebooks and started keeping a log of my academic projects/responsibilites, usually divided up according to Fall semester, Spring, semester, and Summer (my three units of time, sad to say). I would list everything I needed or wanted to do during that "unit". At the end of one unit/start of the next, I would reflect on what I accomplished and make a new list (often times including old items that I hadn't finished). Nothing fancy -- but the point is that I've kept the same notebook for YEARS and when I look back over it, I have an incredible sense of accomplishment. I find it is hard to keep track of the all the work we do as academics -- so much of it seems to just evaporate, with little tangible reward -- so my notebook has become very valuable for reminding me that Yes, I have been working my ass off and Yes, I have actually done some stuff.

I also keep a "new projects" folder (used to be an actual physical file folder, now it's virtual) and whenever I have an idea for a new project -- even if it's just a fleeting, completely fantastical idea, I write it down. Sometimes, I just scroll through all my new project ideas to remind myself that I have new ideas -- especially as I am slogging through something that is taking far too long and making me doubt my ability to develop innovative ideas.

And, yes, I love the colored pens!

Susan said...

I'd add colored file folders :)

Rachael said...

Ooh, I love colored pens, too, but never quite know what to do with them.

Best of luck with things - I think Up. Not Ugh. is a wonderful mantra.

Academic, Hopeful said...

Picking up some good tips here people. Thank you.

I find talking about my projects with people helps keep the momentum going. I delude myself into thinking that someone else cares. Also, I think presenting seminars about your topic to people out of your field is quite invigorating. You can often receive more positive, and also more surprising feedback.

You sound like you're all over the planning/timetable front. This activity is obviously hugely important, but I think if the goals aren't manageable and specific, micro-planning can be a waste of time and even just create a constant sense of failure.

Let me know what works! I am still clawing up the final peak of my dissertation. I am all about trashy TV as little doggie biscuit rewards.

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Mmmmm, office supplies.

Anonymous said...

omg, multicolor pens...how i love thee! if only the planning and color coding were as fun as the doing.....