The other week, I spotted a tweet, which inspired me to write this blogpost on procrastination:
Time to start outlining a new paper! Right after I tidy my office, make some tea, drink the tea, wash up… ☕️✍️ #AcWri #ecrchat
— Lydia Mackenzie (@LydiaLMackenzie) April 25, 2017
It is a story that is very familiar to me: I, too, fight my tendency to set large, difficult tasks to one side whilst I get on with other stuff that is definitely lower priority. What gets me over such tendencies, is inspiration. And I often find my inspiration through low priority activities! For instance:
- Clearing and tidying papers – I did this at the weekend, with a physical pile of papers not looked at for 5 years! I reconnected with loads of old stuff, some of which is relevant to current projects. This is why I quoted the inspiring tweet with a link to Sarah Wayland’s blogpost on homeless and unfinished papers: sometimes your own old work inspires you. Perhaps I should also point out that I don’t always consider tidying papers to be a weekend activity. We recently looked at the massive weekly hours of work that academics do: I would not want to encourage this. But after 5 years of waiting already to do what amounted to 2 hours of work, it was my best option!
- Talking to colleagues – for example, we use themes to inspire and direct our writing on this blog. It’s sometimes difficult for me to come up with new and relevant themes but I only need to have a conversation with team member(s), and then “just the thing” pops into place. None of us has to work in isolation, thank goodness!
- Surfing and browsing my favourite channels – I love listening to Radio 4 and watching TED videos in my spare time, and these often add to my thoughts about whatever I’m working on, even if they are technically a hobby activity.
- Some of my best ideas come in the shower – or when I’m making a cup of tea, or washing up. When I’m not actively thinking about my work, or I am but I don’t realise it, I sometimes see things differently and find a new way to approach a project. And indeed, I sometimes re-set my priorities in such moments.
So you see, I’m not always procrastinating, even when I’m not doing high priority things. I am reminded of the “How to Survive your PhD” moodle course from last (academic) year, when we were asked to consider the role of boredom in the PhD. At the time, I concluded that “doing things slowly” was a good way to allow inspiration to reach me, especially the kind that comes with activity no. 4 in my list above. I know that it’s good to leave lots of unplanned time in your schedule, so that you can boost your inspiration levels – as well as all the benefits of wellbeing. Plus, when you are inspired (as I was by that tweet), you will have time to dash off the blogpost that it prompted!
I was relieved to see that the author of the tweet that inspired me is based in Australia, because it looked like it was sent at 6.30 in the morning when there is absolutely no need to feel guilty about making a cup of tea, when probably most of the civilised world is still snoring in bed! But in Australia, maybe it was a more normal time to expect yourself to begin writing an academic paper. I felt as though the author was being her own team-mate and motivating herself not to get stuck in the procastination danger zone. Because there is a danger zone, when low priority stuff takes over all your time and none of your high priority work gets done.
Get back on track
After procrastinating a little, I force myself to do just 20 minutes of the thing that I know I really ought to be doing, and after 20 minutes I can either carry on because the inspiration has bitten. Or I might decide to switch focus and come back later, if I have the luxury of such time. Telling myself that “it’s only 20 minutes” helps me to face those tasks that are easy to put off, and sometimes then “the muse” just visits and everything flows. Sometimes!
What inspires you? We’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration lately: it’s our latest blog theme, so if you want to write a guest blogpost about what inspires you to keep on going with your research then please do get in touch!
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