I am an obsessive compulsive procrastinator. OCP. If you could be a fly on the wall of my brain you’d be embarrassed for me. I sit down to work at my laptop (one of the lesser qualities of grad school is that most of my reading comes in the form of electronic PDFs) and the rough order of operations is:
1. Check email.
2. Check my school email.
3. Check Facebook. (Hey, I’m admitting it here. I’m not proud.)
4. Check my favorite Blazers blogs for any news. (Yes, it’s basketball season and I’m a rabid Blazers fan. NOT good for the productivity.)
5. Check NYTimes.com and CNN.com.
6. Do price checks on Amazon for a couple Christmas present ideas…
You get the idea. And all the while I’m watching the minutes tick by, and the 30 minutes I was going to spend reading dwindles to 15, 10, then nothing at all. Infuriating.
So last night, while watching a Blazers game in its entirety and feeling guilty about it, I made a to-do list for today. On it, I wrote that I would work on a massive paper for my rhetorical theory class (due in T minus 16 days) for FOUR uninterrupted hours. To all you doc students out there, that maybe doesn’t seem like a whole lot; after all, the blogger I featured in my previous post wrote that it’s not hard to find some advanced doctoral students out there clocking 12 hours a day at the computer. But for me, if I could pull off four hours without getting lost in the comments section of some blog post on why Damian Lillard should win Rookie of the Year, then I’d consider it an out-and-out victory.
The day got off to a good start, as far as my to-do list was concerned. I even went for a run. BEFORE breakfast. But the schedule quickly began to deteriorate. After breakfast I even found myself curling up in bed with a book and a mug of tea for a while, and then frittered away a couple hours doing some Christmas shopping (a necessity, but the paper was not writing itself here). Before I knew it, it was 3:30 and that ugly combination of anxiety and self-disgust was mounting. It doesn’t help that it’s mid-November and the sun goes down basically in the middle of the afternoon, which feels like life is passing you by even in the best of non-grad school circumstances.
So desperate times called for desperate measures. I went: underground. Knowing that I was my own biggest distraction, I cut as much of my life out as possible. I went into the office, cleared the desk and spread out my laptop and books. I got a glass of water and some brain food (banana), and closed myself in.
I. Turned. Off. The. Wifi.
And I told myself: two hours. You can’t leave the room, you can’t look at your phone, and you CANNOT turn on the internet.
It worked! Two hours flew by. And I got some serious work done. I figured out what the thesis for my paper will be; I even drew a concept map laying out visually the basic principles of my argument (that the shift from deductive to inductive reasoning among genre theorists is paving the way for a critical approach to genre studies). How supremely, productively dorky is that!
Not wanting to rest on my laurels too long– after all I had assigned myself 4 hours, not 2– I celebrated with a quick skip around the apartment and a small glass of wine (there has to be some compensation for these early nights), and then hunkered down for another hour. Piece of cake. I had dinner, and pounded out my final hour by 10 pm.
4 hours. I feel good. Tomorrow I’m going for 6 hours, in 3 2-hour shifts. To all you OCP’s out there, if you need to buckle down and accomplish something may I recommend these tactics: 1. Write down your goals. That makes it somehow more urgent, more real. 2. Go underground. Banish yourself– physically– from your distractions for a (reasonable) set amount of time.
When you’re finished, reward yourself. Then, checking basketball scores will be a source of hard-earned pleasure.