March 19, 2012 by Katie.
I dunno about the rest of you, but I have a hard time working. Even with work I *love* I am embarrassingly easily distracted. Even by things I would otherwise despise. Never am I so eager to scrub a floor on my hands & knees, never do I so easily recognize the dust on a bookshelf as when I’ve decided I’m going to sit down and do some real work.
And that – my friends – is really distressing to me. It’s existentially draining. Because, similarly to the Sneaky Hate Spiral – procrastinating on work, not following through on thoughts & ideas – leaves me in a desperate state of self-pity, uselessness, and rage. But unlike the SHS, it’s all my own fault.
I could work, I just don’t. Meanwhile all those other bloggers/PhDers/stuff-they-DO-and-is-meaningful-to-them-ers are busily beaverly changing the world. While I Cathy-out with Downton Abbey and red wine at a not-to-be-mentioned-but-probably-too-early-hour. Re-cue SHS. As you are beginning to see…it’s a viscous cycle.
The thing is, the more I thought about this, the more I realized this “work block” doesn’t just happen to writers & academics, artists, and musicians. It happens to all of us daily or weekly in our 9-5 worlds, too. Personally, I don’t make my money off of blogging…I have a job in a field that I whole-heartedly stand for, at an organization that – although it has its (major) frustrations – could be a LOT worse in upholding its mission to said field. Yet, many a day, I find myself grumpily feeling useless while I wile away the hours listlessly checking facebook for the 1000th time. WHEN I HAVE PLENTY OF THINGS I COULD BE DOING. I’m not a bad employee (despite previous description). In fact, I’m a really great employee (says my last review). And, those days that I’m busily completing project after project – I feel great! The reality is, however, that work cramp gets in my way…well…constantly.
Academics (and I suspect other free-lance type professions as well) often consult each other on how to stave off procrastination. But this is also a major concern for more structured office environments. An article that circulated like wildfire amongst my friends was by a fellow academic named Virginia Valian – a successful psycholinguist (I know…so pretentious!) and decently prolific author, who became interested in why she was so self-stifling, why getting shit done was so difficult and painful for her. Thus came a sort of second-career as a thinker and writer on “work.”
Valian’s main idea is that we overwhelm ourselves with entire projects – or the immensity of the work-to-be-done instead of focusing on the small little tasks that comprise the whole, or even just simply beginning. Valian suggests starting with any increment of time that you know you can complete – 15 minutes is a good amount, but she says to even begin with as little as 5 if you’re really hung up.
Then WORK for that amount of time.
No email, no facebook, no bathroom, no water breaks. Set a timer & WORK until it goes off. For some of us, this may be ALL we can do for the day when we begin to wean ourselves back into a pattern of inspiration or productiveness. But she says – usually – it encourages you to do another block, then another. Maybe not one after the other, but sporadically. Because you realize it’s not so terrible & that you CAN! And, wah-la! That Sneaky Hate Spiral starts to go away – you begin to gain confidence – as you see yourself making slow progress.
I made a pledge to myself to use Valian’s method every time I’m feeling useless at work this week & I challenge you to use it too whenever you’re feeling uninspired (after you finish reading this blog post, though! ;)). Let me know how it goes!!
Virginia Valian – “Learning to Work”