Friday, June 28, 2013

Procrastination - busted!

I thought I would just get away with it (or maybe just hoped I would -- in the back of their heads, most procrastinators know they'll get caught eventually). 

I simply had not turned in 3 short essays I had promised to write and thought I would get them submitted in time (without anyone noticing).  But I got busted by the new editor yesterday.  So all last night I polished these mini-essays and submitted them this morning.

The weird thing was I really was on the verge of getting them done in May, and then the first editor said I should just submit whatever I had and there would be time to go and fix it.  If she hadn't said anything, I would have just worked through the night (back in May) and submitted final drafts.

However, once there was a bit of a release valve, I turned to other things.  And actually got a bit more sleep over the past few weeks, though still not enough.  I am finding I have not been able to work through the night the way I used to, partly due to aging though honestly a lot is being so depressed about my current work situation (which has degraded really quickly since the office moved -- and it is not just me -- morale is unbelievably low).  It is just draining thinking of going to work, and this carries over into the rest of my life, of course.

Actually, I do get a lot of things done, particularly work-related tasks, but the real problem is being totally over-subscribed and just having promised to do too many things.  I always should be doing "something" and have very little true downtime.  But the truth is that for things I care about, particularly academic-type articles, I am a bit of a perfectionist and really hate submitting things (perhaps subconsciously I don't like being judged in an arena where my ideas are judged).  I actually have somewhat less trouble in writing creative pieces as well as these blog posts.

Perhaps all things considered, it was for the best that I didn't become a professor where I would have to write far more academic papers than I do now.  Anyway, one coping mechanism is the deadline.  I rarely miss deadlines, with a few very egregious exceptions.*  Another is by running right up against the deadline, I can tell myself, I did my best with the time that was left available to me.  (I know -- a lousy strategy.)  Back in university I knew that when push came to shove, I could write the final draft of a term paper (footnotes included) starting from nothing at a rate of 1 page an hour, so based on the length of the paper I knew if it was an all-nighter or a two night job...  Granted, I didn't usually make things quite so tough on myself, and I often had notes or even a first draft to work from, but there were certainly times I would find myself with 5-6 pages to go and only 8 hours left, so I knew I would get at most 2 hours of "rest."

A much better strategy is to work on co-written papers, since a promise to deliver a draft to a colleague is a very firm deadline in my book (much more than a promise to myself).  Then we normally have time to make further edits before the actual deadline.

Now I should add that I don't just waste the time when I am not working.**  Because I have two or three or four projects going at any one time, I do productive procrastination by working on the other projects -- just not the one I am procrastinating on.  Thus, I always have "something" to work with when I finally realize that I have to get started on whatever it is I am avoiding.

For better or worse, my normal work life just reinforces this.  As a general rule, consultants are always over-subscribed.  (I have been working in my field for 15 years and been a consultant for all but 4 years!)  Consultants usually spend at least as much time chasing work as doing work.  But the key feature of those with the mentality of a consultant is to focus on high priority projects first, which in practice means the person who has gotten in your face the most.  It is so true that squeaky wheels get their deliverables and the nice guys don't (see *). 

The biggest downside is that things I want to do just for myself (like editing my plays or writing a novel), I don't have that external push to get to these tasks, even though (fortunately) the perfectionist bug doesn't normally kick in and make things worse.  Thus work (or a handful of academic obligations) always takes precedence over creative writing.  It isn't enough for me to just budget the time; I would have to join a writing group or something to make sure that I am "shamed" into doing this writing.  The drama writing class at Langara wasn't the most rewarding experience, but I was able to leverage it into finishing the first draft of my second play.  I probably ought to do the same with a novel-writing course.  Well, something else to think about after the move, since I don't think I will find the right kind of group here.

* There are two book reviews that I have just decided to write off (3+ years late now) and while it is my fault (and I still feel pretty badly about it), if either editor had actually emailed to bug me about them, I would have gotten them done in a reasonable time frame.  (For better or worse, a substantial number of editors just accept that academics are flakes.)  But without that external motivation, they just couldn't compete with everything else I was/am doing. 

** Perhaps not 100% true.  I am a bit addicted to reacting to the news "as it happens" and I do refresh my email inbox waaaay more than is healthy.  This is something that I definitely should try to kick as I'm sure it would improve my productivity (and given the state of the world these days, probably my mental health as well).

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