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Pick something and go July 20, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research, work.
Tags: , , ,

I wrote up a list of things I need to be dealing with at work.  While it was helpful for me to have a list to reference, it was also rather disheartening.  I came up with over 10 things, and all but three were fairly sizable goals, like writing a paper.

I was rather overwhelmed, but happened to think about GMPs recent post on writing in a crunch.  Her method was to break things down into bite-size chunks until the project was done.  But what do you do when you have half a dozen big projects at the same time?  I guess I tried to take a similar approach.

The thing is, I’m not in a huge time crunch to get most of this stuff done, but if I try to tackle several of these things at once, I’m fairly certain that none of them will get done, ever.  So I picked off the easy things that I can work on here and there or that have definite deadlines (those first three).  Of the 7 remaining items, I prioritized the ones that would be easiest to finish as well as providing the least amount of conflict in terms of computational resources with my current projects.  I decided to just focus on the first one until I get to a point where I can’t work any more.  Once I reach that point, I’ll shift to the second on the list until I can get back to the first or it gets finished.

I KNOW I can’t multitask well (or even passably, for that matter).  The problem is that there are still these six other things that are sitting there, and it makes me uneasy to not even touch them.  There’s this little voice that says, “If you don’t work on it now, you might NEVER get to it.”  It’s really an irritating voice because it fails to recognize that I can only work on one thing at a time, and I’ll be more productive if I can maintain some decent focus.  It also fails to recognize that there is a significant reduction in stress every time I can cross one of those things off my list entirely.  And even if I start working on three or four of them, there are some that will have to get left behind as well.  There is just no way to work on all of them simultaneously.

I wish I knew where that little voice came from and why it doesn’t listen to reason.  Somehow I keep feeling like I could convince it that this is the sane approach.  Instead, the best I can do for now is to ignore it.

How do you deal with things when they seem overwhelming?



1. karifur - July 20, 2012

I always like to start with the shortest and fastest task, because then I start off on a good note and am encouraged by the sense of accomplishment. Then I start on a bigger task. And always bookend a big task with two small ones.


2. GMP - July 25, 2012

This is a hard one. I start with something short and, if possible, mundane if possible, just to get warmed up. For instance, if I have something to grade, I will do that. If I have a letter of recommendation for an undergrad whom I don’t know well, so it’s mostly pro forma, I do that. Submit my travel reimbursement. Stuff like that.

If you feel you are getting in the groove, attack your most intellectually challenging and/or long tasks, like writing a paper or a proposal, grappling with a technical conundrum. As your focus starts to waver, try picking up another light or quick task.

I don’t have a fool-proof method for how to help focus when you are all over the place and especially when you are overwhelmed and panicking. (It happens to me a lot.) And nothing works 100% of the time. One thing that often works for me is music — when I have a really hard time focusing, I put on headphones and play something.
I know music can be distracting, but for me it helps turn off the necessity to constantly check email or blogs. After a few songs, I usually find I am focused and that it’s distracting me so I turn it off.

As for the little voice that makes you disconcerted about not tackling everything, I know it’s hard to ignore it. All you can do is practice ignoring it — once you get really focused on a specific task, I find I don’t hear it any more.

And I recommend this blog “Stupid Motivational Tricks”

It has some cool ideas for writing more/better, for focusing better, etc. Flip through the archives if you have time, there are some true gems in there.

Good luck! It’s all about persevering and trying new strategies for focusing.


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