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  • Julie T. Kinn 5:23 pm on August 21, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: avoidance, bribery, legos, , punishment   

    Dealing with the Project you Hate Part III: Bribery and Punishment 

    Hello Darlings! This week’s post is the last installment of Dealing with the Project you Hate. In prior weeks I blogged about owning your hate and coping with it. This week I’m bringing out the big guns: Bribery and Punishment.

    I sometimes joke that bribery and punishment are my favorite parenting techniques. For example, “please stop pretending you are shooting your sister with your sandwich and I’ll tell you a silly joke. If you don’t, dinner’s over for you.” As adults, we don’t normally need to resort to bribery and punishment in order to finish work. When we’re lucky we are intrinsically motivated to finish projects.  At other times we have excellent extrinsic motivators: paychecks, CVs that need building, tenure review. Bribery and punishment are the big guns I call out when my id is in control and my superego is out to lunch.

    For example, I recently had an annoying errand to run. I had been avoiding this stupid errand to the point that I was waking up in the morning feeling guilty about it. Not good. To force myself to complete the task, I set up a bribery and punishment scenario. I first made a list of potential rewards (Table 1). Then I emailed my best friend and asked him to call me later in the day to see if I had completed my errand. For me, knowing there is a fancy coffee waiting for me at the end of the rainbow will pretty much get me to do anything. Add in the fear of disappointing my bff, and consider the task done. Table 1.

    Take a few moments to list out potential rewards that motivate you. Maybe petting kittens at the pet shelter? A chapter in a trashy book? Perusing the Lego aisle at the toy store? Easy peasy. Now pick a small concrete task that needs doing on your hated project. Not the whole project, mind you… just one concrete goal. Just make sure you actually follow through with the reward. None of this “well, the work wasn’t really that good, so…” No. You did the concrete task, now go look at Legos. Repeat.

    Now let’s talk about punishment. First, let me say that punishment isn’t really that great a choice. It doesn’t help you become a more motivated worker in the long run, and should really only be used in dire circumstances. Also, we humans aren’t really good at doling out punishment to ourselves (back to the id). I can tell myself that if I don’t finish my task I’m not going to read my trashy book. But will I really follow through? Hell no. What do you think I was doing when I should have been doing the task? Here is a nice, easy, concrete way to dole out punishment in those dire circumstances (e.g., grad students who are about to run out of time to finish theses and dissertations):

    1. Go to the bank and get $20 in ones.
    2. Put $1 in an envelope with the address of a charity of your choice.
    3. For every day that you don’t complete your concrete goal, increase your donation (i.e., $1 on Monday plus $2 more on Tuesday, etc.). If you run out of one-dollar bills, go back for more.
    4. If you really want to get evil, make it a charity that you dislike such as a different political party.

    In closing, I want to emphasize that success on stalled-out projects really just comes back to setting small concrete goals. Hope these last few posts have helped kick-start your motivation. Just a warning…. Next week is going to be super mushy lovey dovey.

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  • Julie T. Kinn 9:55 am on August 12, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: avoidance, , mediocrity, , relaxation   

    Dealing with the Project you Hate Part II: Tools to Achieve Mediocrity 

    Last week’s post focused on recognizing and understanding the dynamic between you and work you have come to hate. Today’s post is all about specific strategies and tools for getting work done when your heart isn’t in it. In particular I’m thinking about dissertations, theses, and papers handed down to you by supervisors. But all the advice below can apply to any avoided/undesirable activity: cleaning the fridge, exercising, getting that weird mole checked, etc.

    • Cs Get Degrees. If you have finished a higher degree, then you are probably not by nature one to do things half-arsed. This strategy is generally a good one, except when it paralyzes you. At times I’ve seen brilliant and productive writers stymied by their fear of producing sub-par work. A key lesson in cognitive therapy is that If you can’t change the situation, change the way you think about the situation. Thus the title of this week’s post… if you are wrapped up in creating something groundbreaking, perhaps you should first shoot for mediocre. Sometimes it’s okay to just put crapola on paper. Give yourself the freedom to just get started without needing to make it amazing. I’m not suggesting that we dilute the academic literature with watered-down research. Instead, make the first draft just good enough.
    • Setting the Stage. In Practical Tips for Publishing Scholarly Articles we spend quite a bit of time on preparing yourself physically and emotionally to write, including making sure you have an environment conducive to success. Putting yourself in the right mindset is especially important when you are already engaging in negative self-talk about the project. Olympic athletes know the importance of sports psychology… if you say to yourself, “I’m going to screw this up” right before an event, the outlook is pooparriffic. When I was working on my dissertation I had a ridiculous way of motivating myself to work that I can’t believe I’m about to share with the world. I used to dress in what my husband called my “Hot Grad Student” gear, go to a cafe or bar, and sit with my laptop screen facing others so that I would be embarrassed to open Facebook or watch cute cat videos on YouTube (not that I ever do that).
    • There’s an App for That. Another good way to prep for work on hated projects is through relaxation. This may seem counter-intuitive, especially for those of us who like to mainline jolts of caffeine. However, given that often the hate for unfinished projects is really covering up anxiety, deliberately inducing relaxation makes sense. Anxiety increases the fight-or-flight response, and that comes with difficulty sitting still, increased heart rate, and a generally lousy writing experience. A fantastic (and free) breathing/relaxation app is Breathe2Relax. In the interest of full disclosure, my team made it, but it does seriously kick butt. And did I mention it’s free?
    • The Buddy System. I like to work next to other people. When I’m in a room by myself, I suddenly find myself eating chocolate and researching my favorite movies on IMDb. I’ve had two buddies who have spurred on my productivity in unique ways. I’m thinking in particular of my personal writing and publishing hero, Rich Furman, who has the best attitude of anyone I’ve ever known (incidentally, he also has an excellent blog all about writing). Just proximity to Rich is inspiring. On the other hand, I would probably still be working on my dissertation if it hadn’t been for my grad school buddy Leslie who would literally yell and curse at me in the middle of Starbucks if she saw me checking my email when I was supposed to be working. It takes a good friend to embarrass me into graduating.

    Next time I’ll be bringing out the big guns in the final chapter of this three part series. Tune in for Dealing with the Project you Hate Part III: Bribery and Punishment.

    Now, seriously, please make an appointment for that mole. You’ll feel better and so will I.

     
  • Julie T. Kinn 9:05 am on July 31, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: automatic thoughts, avoidance, , , Star Wars, unicorns   

    Dealing with the Project You Hate Part I: Understanding Avoidance 

    When I was suffering through my dissertation, I went through a series of delusions about other potential careers. These included high school teacher, personal chef, rapper, and stand-up comic. In retrospect, practicing my rhymes was just a glorified way to annoy loved ones and to avoid the project I had come to hate.

    Many of us have one – a project that starts near the top of the priority list each Monday and magically slithers to the bottom by the end of the week. It gets derailed by hot tasks, urgent errands, favors for friends, and cleaning the bathroom. This is the project that seems to physically propel you out of your seat each time you sit down to work on it (e.g., “Shoot – I just remembered I need to clip my toenails. I’ll just do that real quick, Google myself, make a snack, and then get down to business.”).

    Sure, sure, some of you are delightfully motivated go-getters with no proclivity toward procrastination. How lovely to be you. For the rest of us, here are a few tips I have learned to help understand and address avoidance:

    1. Acknowledge the Problem and its Source. Develop a bit of insight into why the project is taking so long to address. What is the real issue? Perhaps it’s boring, or maybe it’s something more – feeling out of depth? Worried that you don’t know how to proceed? Afraid of letting someone down? A good way to figure out your emotional roadblocks is to write down the automatic thoughts associated with the project. What are the first thoughts that pop into your mind when you think of this project? Now consider what these thoughts tell you about your motivation.
    2. Visualize the Finish Line. Let’s travel to fantasy land for a moment… The trees are made of candy, unicorns are pooping rainbows, and your project is done. Ahhhhh. Isn’t that nice? This is how you could feel all the time if you just got this paper out the door. The key here is finding internal motivation instead of just external (more on this later this month).
    3. Find your Inner Sith Lord. So you hate the project. That’s okay. We’re grown-ups; we don’t always get to work on just the fun stuff. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, imagine Emperor Palpatine standing over your shoulder saying, “The hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it. I am unarmed. Strike me down with it. Give in to your anger.”

    Now tear that dissertation/manuscript/grant proposal a new one!

    Tune in next week for Dealing with the Project you Hate Part II: Tools to Achieve Mediocrity

     
    • Kindra 9:42 am on July 31, 2012 Permalink | Reply

      This is me to a T. Thanks for the hard look at reality. I can’t wait for Part II.

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