I tried an experiment last week in order to try and see whether anticipating problems would help me be more productive. One morning, I felt unusually tired, so I wrote a short list of what to do if I started having trouble working:

  • 30 minute nap
  • shower
  • 15 minute walk

It actually really helped. Later that afternoon, I looked at my list and decided to take a short nap. Not only was the nap effective, but when I hit a wall, I was able to quickly evaluate my options, make a decision, and address the problem with a minimum of stewing.

Since then, in the front of my calendar,  I’ve been keeping a running tally of ways to address typical problems I face when writing. My mission: to avoid getting sucked into hours of playing computer games. I was truly embarrassed the other day by throbbing wrists in yoga class that I was 100% certain related to mouse clicks. I just got a massage, which included a lengthy session on my forearms, and I’m determined not to waste that money or treatment by exacerbating the problem immediately after attempting to fix it.

I usually play computer games when I’m restless. So here’s my restless list:

  • dance party (an extremely effective method my friend Rebecca & I came up with while writing papers in college)
  • read dissertation-related book
  • deep breathing exercise
  • empty dishwasher/advance laundry
  • organize magazines
  • write a blog post (just thought of that one!)

I know organizing magazines isn’t everyone’s idea of a great time, but we have quite a stack of unread magazines right now that it soothes my mind to put in chronological order. The Future Mister Doctor helpfully disorders them on a fairly regular basis, thus giving me a completely non-urgent, non-stressful project that can be accomplished in less than ten minutes.

And here’s the FEAR list:

  • read dissertation-related book
  • deep breathing exercise
  • exercise
  • design an elaborate reward for the end of the day’s work
  • try to focus on inviting yourself to write and explore, rather than demand yourself to succeed (a technique I learned in yoga)

As you can see, there is some overlap in the lists. But the point is not originality, the point is simple, effective ways to get the off-track Future Doctor back on task. For me, a written contingency plan has been very helpful.

Ooh, just thought of another list–the maddening e-mail from an advisor list:

  • call and/or immediately forward e-mail to members of dissertation support group
  • read the Dinosaur Comic entitled “kant was the one who thought genius meant originality, but kant thought a lot of things” (The title alone reminds one that every smart person has a bunch of idiotic ideas, too–just consider Plato on the theater. Then T-Rex starts talking about a “Power Punch Bear.”)
  • watch Die Hard (where the hero takes every form of psychological and physical abuse, and yet triumphs) or something in the Shooter/Taken genre, where Marky Mark/Liam Neelson gets mad and then kills everyone. Any Bourne movie would work too.

5 responses to “Anticipate

  1. I love the idea of making a go-to list for when you become distracted or frustrated. It’s so easy to waste time guilting yourself and deciding whether to take a break.

  2. becomingdoctorjones

    Thanks! Glad I’m not the only one to waste time guilting!

  3. This is AWESOME!!! And I’m really, really happy that the dance party tactic is still useful!!

    Re: Christine’s thoughtful comment: I realized at some point that taking a 20 minute nap is more efficient than spending an hour or more without accomplishing anything because I need to take a nap. Many times the fastest way to get back on track is to take a break.

  4. I’ve always found many of the “Rocky” movies to also be motivating – all those training scenes can really get you going! Great post!

  5. becomingdoctorjones

    Rocky, yes! Nothing like drinking a bunch of raw eggs to make you want to write, no?

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