Tuesday, December 05, 2006

In which I am appalled at my work habits

As one of the first steps in my planning week, I spent part of yesterday morning going over my research notes from the past year or so. I wanted to get a sense of what I had actually been working on, what stages various pieces of my research were in, what forgotten/abandonded paths had I started to explore, etc. My plan was to use this information to streamline my current work and to shape my goals and tasks for the upcoming sabbatical---for instance, I don't want to commit to working on something that I've already tried and discarded.

In the midst of this, I made an alarming discovery: I have a ton of half-finished and abandoned work! My research notebook speaks to a veritable graveyard of started-but-never-completed work. In some cases, stuff that's really almost finished but that I never bothered to finish up and send out.

Part of this is exciting, of course. Low-hanging fruit! At least a couple of conference papers, I'm sure. Or stuff that I can fold in to the "bigger stuff" I'll be working on during sabbatical. But part of this is absolutely appalling. Am I really that incapable of seeing something through to completion? What is it about my work that makes me start down a path and then abandon it, never to return? Is this a manifestation of a fear of failure---or worse, a fear of success?

The best upshot of this, though, is that there was one particular project that I've started and not finished several times over now: a journal article that I really should have submitted two years ago. Getting this article out is now my main goal for December. Part of my stumbling block here (besides the normal "I haven't done enough work yet!! My results aren't good enough yet!"), I think, is that I was writing this article without targetting a particular journal. See, I'm really really good about getting out conference papers, because in that case I have both a clear deadline and a clear audience. I've realized that I cannot write effectively unless I have both in place. So I actually have picked a target journal for this article, and am writing the article with this journal firmly in mind. And so far, the writing is going much more smoothly.

The other upshot is that I've decided to make a list out of some of the smaller unfinished projects---the ones with the least amount of remaining work. My plan is to pick one of these per day during my "low energy" time (early afternoon), work on it for an hour or so, and see how far I get. That way, I can get some stuff done (and possibly finished) on some of these other projects, without sacrificing the focus on my larger goal (the journal article).

I've also realized that I now have a resolution for 2007. I, Jane the Computing Goddess, resolve to finish the projects I start. I resolve to turn things around more quickly, and to examine the root causes of my "roadblocks" more carefully (i.e., am I truly stuck, or is this just perfectionism?). I resolve, when tempted to start a new project, to examine my existing projects first, and finish at least one before starting another.


~profgrrrrl~ said...

Just wanted to say that I entirely relate to the half-done work! Good for you, planning to get it all completed in the upcoming months.

Jane said...

Thanks! I hope I can stick to it and that I can keep this momentum going during my sabbatical.

Amy said...

LOL I think we all have similar problems, to various extent. I find that taking breaks help. Not only do breaks help me relax and re-energize, but they also allow me to recap what's done and what's yet to be done, so that I could pat myself on the back for the former and remind myself to focus on the latter.

Mind if I borrow your "am I truly stuck, or is this just perfectionism?" for an occasional self-reminder?

Good luck with your work!

Jane said...

Amy, great point about breaks. They are definitely a vital part of getting work done. And feel free to borrow that phrase---I'm thinking of framing it and putting it in my office, right next to my framed "20 Ways to Say No" list. :)

Marcelle Proust said...

Thank heavens, I'm not the only one.