I’ve never had much of an issue with procrastination, because I am very deadline-driven. My colleagues, co-workers, graduate students and editors know this about me: I stick to deadlines like it’s a religion, and I get really whacked out if others don’t do the same (even as I admit and know it’s my personal tick).
The pandemic, though, has humbled me. The pandemic has destroyed my sense of time and wrangled my sense of urgency, not least because my career as an academic is driven largely by self-set benchmarks and boundaries. Why bother finishing Thing X when the world feels like it’s falling apart? Why focus when emergencies and demands spring out of nowhere and now indisputably matter more than my ramblings about neoliberalism and Foucault? And why attack any task with urgency when–paradoxically, given my last question–there seems to be an endless amount of boredom-inducing work-from-home days ahead as the pandemic sprawls out from 2020 into 2021?
Time flows so slowly and so fast, all at once. Why bother believing in deadlines?
I can’t answer that question yet (and yes, I’m still a believer), but I’ve hacked a decent exercise to break through the lethargy that keeps me from doing my work and doing it efficiently. For the last month, I’ve been drafting an article/book chapter that brings some political, sociolegal and historical perspective to the designation of gun stores as essential businesses in the US under the coronavirus pandemic.
I’ve finally finished a full draft of it, but getting here was unusually difficult. (Let’s not talk yet about the revision hell slated for next week.) Realizing I needed to focus, I cut out social media for a couple of weeks, installed a rigorous morning routine that would have me writing regularly on the paper, and outlined, outlined, outlined to guide me as I moved forward. But some days I just didn’t want to wake up and write this thing! And so I turned to what I am increasingly seeing as my superpower: my journal. I wrote about why I feel passionate about what I’m writing, why it matters that I’m writing what I’m writing–the usual kind of lofty-ish “self-reflection” that I journal. But finally the rubber was meeting the road, and I decided I needed a much more instrumental journal prompt:
How will you feel at noon when you are done with this section of the paper you plan to write?
That was the ticket. I wrote for 15 minutes relishing how I’d feel productive, efficient, accomplished, done. I wrote about why I liked not just writing but the feeling of having written. I reminded myself not just why I’m writing this particular paper, but why I write at all.
Needless to say, I was pumped when my timer went off and readier than ever to take on this paper. I’ll be keeping this in my toolkit for times when I feel like I need that extra spark to get my writing in motion.