Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sharing the Misery

Thanksgiving is over.

You know how you see that block of 4 days off and you think: Wow. I am going to be SOOOO productive that weekend?

It's been a feeling I've had every year since I was a Freshman so long ago. I'll write all my final papers! I'll finish my reading! I'll make a final study schedule! And later, in grad school: I'll grade all those papers! I'll finish my Master's! I'll prepare my prospectus! I'll finish my dissertation! And now: I'll write my conference papers, my new journal article, my final exam rewrite, my online re-design, my sabbatical proposal!!!

None of it. Ever. Gets done.

Yet I fall for it year after year. This year, I anticipated doing the following:

Finish polishing 5 book chapters to be submitted Dec 1
Redesign final exam (since last year's ended up online)
Begin my 6 conference papers. Because I have one conference every month for the next 6 months
Grade 55 10-page essays.

And here it is, the final day of the weekend, and I am only now just finished with tomorrow's lecture notes. That's all I've done!! Feasting and drinking and toeing the family politics line -- I didn't even travel anywhere this year. They came to me. And I still didn't do a damn thing.

Surely I am not alone in such folly?

There's no way around it. I've said yes too often. My next 4 weeks are going to be TERRRRRRIBLE.

That's the misery. Coming soon: Snowflake Roundup!


  1. I, too, was going to do OH-so-very-much, and did dick-all. I did nap a lot and saw friends and ate pie and hobbied, and it is probably important to understand that sort of activity as Constructiveness, of a sort, in that it does the work of keeping one sane/rejuvenating at a very bad moment of the term. So embrace it.

  2. I worked with a counselor for several years as a graduate student to combat my imposter syndrome feelings and my propensity to self-sabotage by holding myself up to unreasonable expectations.

    When we do this to ourselves and put so much on our plates and do not complete the unreasonable goals we set for ourselves, we help feed in to our own anxieties and doubts.

    The cure, as I have found, is to be realistic about goals. To borrow a term from the medical field, it is about triage: the most critical things must get done first. You have to prioritize the list. Make reasonable goals. Can you revise all five chapters today? Probably not. Can you revise one chapter a day until the end of the month? More likely.

    Every day, I make a list of things I HAVE to get done, then I have a list of things that I would like to get done. At the bottom, I have a list of things that would be nice to get done, but are not exigent. If I get all the things on the HAVE to list done, I move on to would like to, and in the unlikely event that I finish those, I move on to would be nice.

    I find these lists keep my anxiety down and help me focus on the task(s) at hand. I also use the "timer method" where you say, "From 3 to 4 I will revise Chapter 2." Then from 3 to 4, I put my phone in another room and only access the Internet for work related things. It helps me not get distracted.

    Question: How do you eat an elephant?
    Answer: One bite at a time.

  3. Me too. I had a sobbing breakdown on Friday, about how much I suck because I can never clear the To-Do list in my head. My poor husband patted me on the back then drug me out of the house for a walk. Still felt lousy, but at least got the crying out of my system.

    Maybelle, your first two paragraphs: yes. That. Thank you for some food for thought.

    1. I'm so sorry Annie. I send you invisible Internet hugs.

      I would also recommend taking the To-Do list out of your head and putting it on paper. Then, whenever you feel like you need to think about it, you tell yourself, "No, I will not worry or get anxious about this list because it is written down and I will cross off X when I finish it."

      Sometimes my Other Half hands me a piece of paper and says, "Write it down. Now. I will not hear you being worried about X again today."

      (Reposted to fix a typo.)

    2. Very good advice. Quite fortunately, the polishing for my chapters is just that -- read it out loud one last time and make sure the prose flows and doesn't say something stupid like "England" when I meant to type "English."

      But I am a huuuge fan of to do lists.

      And of drinking with friends (usually the cause of my overly-optimistic fails. We watched so many movies and ate so much pie and drank so much beer! Never replace that with work. Never.)

    3. There's a great "To-Do" list app, too! Actually, there are several good ones. And yes, deleting items results in much tension reduction.

    4. "Surely I am not alone in such folly?"
      You are not. And don't call me Shirley.

      Been there, berated myself thusly, love Maybelle's (therapist's) take.

      Annie, if you need any reassurance that you in fact rock, know that I've admired your wise and funny posts since you joined CM. And your alpaca haiku belongs in a CM hall of fame.

  4. When I was younger and had more energy, I'd use a long break to go fishing in Baja California. For Spring break, I'd have everything packed and ready, camper full of everything imaginable, boat hitched to the car waiting in the parking lot, ice chests filled of beer and food, faithful Lab on a leash tied to the truck. As soon as classes were over in the afternoon, my wife and I would hit the road, cross the border, and drive for a couple of days to get to the East Cape. Fours days of hard fishing, a two-day drive home, a midnight arrival, and I'd be back to work on Monday.

    I'd always have a stack of papers to grade, so one thing I had to decide was whether to bring them along. If I did, they'd sit there glaring at me all week long, and they never, ever got graded. Every day I'd feel guilty for not getting to them. When I learned to leave them behind, my vacation was MUCH more enjoyable. I could feel virtuous all week: "Gee I really feel like grading right now. Too bad I left all that work at home."

    Lesson: When it's break time, take a break.

  5. That's usually me, too. This year, though, I'm so ready to be done with this degree that I sat down for 4-6 hours a day during the break and finished drafting a dissertation chapter, then did a bunch of research and made a list of books to pick up for the next chapter once the library opens again.

    1. Wow! That's good progress. Congratulations! May you make it to the end soon.

    2. Sometimes the sight of the finish line is all it takes to light a fire under one's own ass. Godspeed to the finish, SW!

    3. Excellent! May your momentum continue! It's great that you sat for 4 - 6 hours a day instead of 14 - 16 hours. The down time often is necessary for marination and congealing of ideas (not to mention walking of dogs and sipping of tea).

  6. I've finally learned that Thanksgiving break doesn't contain much more time than a normal not-too-cluttered weekend, really, and plan accordingly. Of course this year I was so far behind on everything that I ended up having to work despite original plans not to, and was actually fairly productive (but I'm still way behind on everything, just incrementally less so, and very exhausted, which is making everything take longer).

  7. I think it's terrible that people are looking forward to the (long) weekend so that they can get some work done.

    There's something really wrong if we can't get work done during something like reasonable working hours.

  8. Agreed. But, that said, last night I surprised myself by breaking my no-grading-on-weekends rule when I found myself with an hour to kill before the weekly phone call home. Even just burning through two or three essays made me feel loads better about what's left for me to deal with today and tomorrow...although to be fair, I didn't have a holiday weekend :(

    1. Whoops...that was supposed to reply to Vog3lfr3i above.

  9. You need a break from time to time, for mental health's sake. Don't feel bad!