Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Don't feel like working?

What do you do when you don't feel like working?

I'm struggling with that a little today--in particular with respect to writing this blog.
I know it's worth it to get in there to do just a little.

When I'm resisting work and procrastinating, I often find it useful to simply tell myself that I'm going to make an absolute minimum effort. And then, being free to do as little as I wish, I often find it possible to engage in the project in a way that I couldn't if I were thinking about how much work I had to do.

Tonight, for example, I didn't feel like writing the blog. But I thought I'd just say a few words about not wanting to work, and suddenly here I am. It's no novel, but it is a handful of sentences and growing.

A sense of obligation, in and of itself, is an emotional burden. If we can enter the work space without the sense of obligation engendered by saying "I have to work on this for the next three hours," then we may actually be able to get more done than if we procrastinated due to our sense of obligation.

Often I follow the suggestion of Joan Bolker and suggest to writers to work on something for fifteen minutes, with no judgment about having done something "good enough." I was wondering tonight whether that even might be too much obligation for the writer to be able to enter the process without a sense of obligation.

Anyway, if you don't feel like working, it can often be worth it to say to yourself that you're going to sit down for just a minute on some minor task.

And that actually brings to mind another thought: if we can start with some very simple task--cleaning the desk, fixing a sentence that we didn't like, adding a reference, or checking a reference to find the page number for a quote--that can often help us to get into the flow of working and to get our focus to move to the project.
The simple little task is minor, but it shifts us to thinking about our project, and may even clear away some sort of minor administrative nuisance that was bothering your when you were concentrating on larger issues during your previous session of work.


Eve said...

Thank you so much for this tiny obscure post that hasn't got the publicity it deserves: it struck the nail squarely on the head because, at the late stages of my PhD, "don't feel like working" is what happens most mornings.

And you're right, of course - once you start doing something, anything - then you get on a roll. And this is really about biting the bullet head on, just starting small - much more useful than all that mumbojumbo about seeing the meaning in it - which i generally agree with, but some days you just really DON'T care. Esp when there's just so much anxiety about just finishing that it overwhelms. I kept this open on my OneTab bookmarker so much that I think I'll just make it my home page ;D

Dave said...

Thank you for your very kind comments, Eve! It's great to know that my suggestion helps. For someone feeling overwhelmed, meaning can sometimes be a hindrance: the more important something is, the more it can feel overwhelming. Small and easy steps can help build confidence that we can move forward. And most projects have lots of small and easy steps that can be taken at any given moment.