Recently, I’ve been noticing myself thinking that “I don’t have time” for this, that, or the other thing that I want to do. And this is despite knowing that it’s usually unhelpful to think such a thing, because “you’ve gotta make time“, blah blah blah.
At the same time, I know there is also some truth to thinking I really don’t have time for certain things, because I haven’t always made the best use of time in the past and there is always a threat of returning to that horrible state of existence. I really, really, really can’t afford to do that—“I don’t have time” to waste in that way!—because there are some things I’ve gotta do (hello, thesis!) that are becoming incredibly urgent to complete.
I’m not enjoying this blog post at all, so far.
It’s all about suffering and bad feelings! This doesn’t seem helpful!
Didn’t I have some great idea of why I wanted to write about this? Oh yeah, I remember now: I wanted to mention how “I don’t have time” to blog. I mean, I “shouldn’t be making time” to blog, because there are other things (hello, thesis!) that are more urgent.
But at the same time, I’d like to keep active on my blog, even if only every few months or so. And it’s been quite awhile since my last real post (aside from updating an old post and reposting it anew); it’s been more than a few months, let’s say. This “wanting to post” won’t ever become urgent on its own, so I need to make the time, but I really shouldn’t, because there are other things (hello, thesis!) that are more urgent. <Insert deep sigh here.>
So what can I do about it?
I suppose the answer must be to work on whatever is extremely urgent (hello, thesis!), but take occasional breaks to do things that are enjoyable, like this writing and other writing, and photography and artwork (for which I haven’t posted much online anywhere in the past few years because “I don’t have time” to muck around with photos), and communicating with friends and family who are important to me but they might not know this because I rarely ever say it because “I don’t have time” to have meaningful friendships– ouch! Did I just say that?!
This has gotta stop. I mean, it will stop, and I’m so close to the end (goodbye, thesis?!), I’m taking this moment to really appreciate how much I dislike this feeling of “not having time” for what I want to do.
And I really, really, really don’t want to be in the habit of pushing aside things I think I don’t have time to do, just to endure whatever it is that is most pressing. Because hell, I should be able to enjoy everything that harnesses my skills and creativity and deep thought processes.
Hello, thesis, you can come out of the parentheses now.
And I do enjoy working on my thesis, when things are going well. When it’s going really well, and I’m on a good roll in which everything is awesome and interesting and exciting, I even take to calling my work ”thesis madness” when I mention it on twitter.
However, here’s the kicker: I really don’t have time to do everything that I want to pursue in my research. I’m going to have to hand in just a small part of what I wanted to do and know is possible, because I’m being told (or rather, I’ve been told a few times now) that I have exceeded the time limit. This kind of sucks, because I had such grand hopes for what I would be able to do for my thesis, and I was even hoping that there was a chance it would be so awesome, someone would convince me (and give me permission to extend my studies longer) to call it a dissertation instead. But now I don’t see this as being very possible at all.
Part of the reason this is taking so long is that I keep feeling like I can’t proceed unless I derive absolutely everything that I’m using as stepping stones through my thought processes. Another part of the problem is that I keep finding new stepping stones between the ones I saw initially, and I keep feeling like I need to completely understand each one, deriving their link to the ones that I’d already noticed. And every time I find myself going around in circles like this, I get that feeling that I “don’t have time” to be adding more to the things I’ve already considered “done”, but I know of no other way to get through what I’m trying to say without doing it how I do it.
Oh and then there was the slightly older problem that I’ve never quite felt like I knew what to do at all, until I eventually realized that there was only one way that would work for me: my way.
Oh good, my way!
“Oh good! My way! Thank you, Vizzini.
Which way’s my way?” – Fezzik (from The Princess Bride)
Yeah, so, not only did I have to figure out what “my way” entails, but I had to overcome the delusion that my way couldn’t possibly be the right way, because everyone else is successful when they do things in other ways… so shouldn’t I learn about how they do things?
It’s obvious now that I really shouldn’t care about how other people do things—I “don’t have time” for that! But try to tell that to a person who is just starting to realize that she might be already doing things differently from others, while she is facing the fear that ‘differently’ might also mean ‘incorrectly’—not to mention, worrying that she “doesn’t have time” to figure out her own way. After all, throughout her life of schooling, there was always a correct way, a best way, a way that is going to get better marks than if the thing is done another way.
So is it any wonder I spent so much time researching how to write a thesis (I’d link to the resources I found, but I didn’t feel satisfied by what I read and so I just kept on feeling clueless… though I did just do a search of what was out there, in case something caught my eye and reminded me of something useful I’d found, and I found an awesome article about how not to write a PhD thesis that I wish I’d read earlier)? Not to mention all the time I spent researching things like time management and self-improvement and procrastination, and making all those efforts to analyze my struggles and fight them off by harnessing brilliant epiphanies about how to be better at life. (Heck, even through all that, I’m sure I was thinking I “don’t have time” for the depths I’m exploring but then found myself unable to pull myself out of the train of thought because it was too interesting to simply abandon!)
Noticing some things
I am coming to terms with my own ways, though. And this means a lot of interesting things, I’m noticing.
For one thing, sometimes it is best to just seize the inspiration and go ahead and do something that isn’t what I planned to do originally, because I would be upset if I missed the opportunity. Some examples:
- Photography: I can’t NOT take pictures when I see something incredible or beautiful or interesting. (I just don’t bother taking the time to share them or caption or tag them or anything else other than make sure they are automatically uploaded to folders that are sorted by date.)
- Haiku writing: if I notice an idea or thought or way of explaining something in five or seven syllables, or it can be easily turned into something with five then seven syllables, I’ll stop and brainstorm the rest of it and then post the haiku as soon as I can. Or if I get stuck, I’ll either jot it down somewhere to finish later, or just junk it. I’m getting better at going with the flow in this, which is nice.
- Journal writing: If I have an urge to do journalling, nothing can stop me. Nothing. So I always answer these urges to write, and I burst forth with oodles of words in which I analyze myself, or soothe my worries, or even just summarize how things are going. While all of these tend to be useful, the summarizing is surely the best: it helps me get perspective of where I am, and leads me into thinking about where I’m going. And once I’ve summarized, I feel the journalling urge fade away enough so that I can focus on other things.
- Tangents to my thesis: sometimes I can’t help but follow up on the ideas I have, especially when they seem to lead down particularly peculiar rabbit holes. Even if those ideas turn out to be nonsense, I can’t just pass them up without thinking about them for awhile, even if the only outcome is a scribbled note thrown onto my pile of miscellaneous thoughts.
- Learning something new and exciting about anything, anything at all! …Okay, this isn’t a great example of something I should do, but it is one of those opportunities that I do seize when it occurs to me, because who knows when it will occur to me again to look up Whatever Thing Captured My Curiosity.
Alas, sometimes my creativity and curiosity ends up pulling me all over the place, and I get so wrapped up in it that I forget to watch the time. Eventually, I notice that too many hours have passed, and I’ve screwed up what I’d expected of myself, and then dismay leads to distraction, and it all snowballs from there. At least, that’s what I think happens, and I’m still not very good at stopping it—though turning to journalling or haiku tends to help, because those things bring my attention to the struggles in a positive way.
Harnessing time, bit by bit
Another way I help myself is by simply setting a timer and actively keeping myself focused for however much time I set. I originally found this idea through FlyLady, who suggests it as a way to keep housework from becoming an insanely aggravating task. I find totally does help me feel like I am capable of keeping up with most of the housework, most of the time, which is way better than I used to be (back when I was sure I didn’t have time to do the housework well enough to even bother doing much of it at all).
Then again, there were a few realizations that apply to housework that helped me get over this “I don’t have time for housework” feeling:
- housework never ends, and so every little bit of effort just helps make things a little better, for awhile;
- every little bit of effort helps;
- it doesn’t take much time or effort to make things a little better, and a little is often good enough;
- I actually like my home to be clean and shiny and smelling nice, so cleaning can be for me;
- the effort just needs to be applied frequently, especially if not applied for an extended duration, in order for the impact to be noticeable.
I was looking forward to applying these ideas to thesis work too, but somehow, it feels different when it is a huge task that is supposed to get smaller but never seems to do so, even when more attention is given to it. The realizations about thesis work had some similarities, but in some cases were totally different:
- the thesis is supposed to end, but it keeps getting bigger because of all the things that need to be included, which is frustrating;
- every little bit of effort doesn’t necessarily help, because some things end up needing to be removed because they are totally wrong or unhelpful;
- it does take quite a bit of time and effort to make myself feel better about where I am in my work;
- my writing can be for me, though this makes it even more disappointing when things don’t go the way I hope they will;
- effort definitely needs to be applied frequently for the impact to be noticeable.
Fortunately, the idea of using a timer still helps—and lately, I’ve been having some great success with the Pomodoro Technique, especially when I am not alone in the work sessions (thanks, L!). This is because every little bit of time spent is somehow useful, even if it involves working on an idea for hours only to realize that it can’t be a part of the final product.
What I mean is, I’ve gotta stop thinking that I don’t have time to make mistakes, because screwing up is all part of the process. Even more importantly, I’ve gotta realize that all the time I spend on my thesis is pretty much inevitable: whether it is the mistakes I make or the successes I have, it is all part of what it takes to get the ideas out of my head and onto the page.
And I’ve gotta remember that starting to work also means that there will be breaks, which are much more fulfilling than what happens when I’m resisting beginning and end up distractedly looking at whatever shiny things grab my attention. I need to remember that I DO have time for breaks, as long as they are between work sessions and they don’t get out of control.
Staying in control?!
This blog post definitely got out of control, even though I worked on it on several separate occasions. In each case, it was not a break; it was a sustained mental outburst happening in only a semi-controlled manner.
(Yes, I realize that “semi-controlled” is just another way of saying “semi-out-of-control”. And if I don’t exactly know where the line is between being in control and out of it… I’m probably not having much luck staying in control. Just sayin’.)
But it’s so hard to resist staying here and finishing it, because this line of thinking is golden, and I need to record it for posterity! NEEEEEEED TO! So what if I don’t have time to blog right now! I HAVE THINGS THAT MUST BE SAID!
Ugh, aha, there’s the guilt that accompanies that line of thinking. Conflict of priorities! Or, more precisely, it’s the fact that my true priority (hello, thesis!) is in conflict with joyous creativity and useful self-analysis… ugh.
And yet despite that reality check, here I am, writing about my thesis instead of writing my thesis. All because I was having a dilemma about the phrase “I don’t have time” that kept drifting through my way of seeing things…
Well, I also knew that this writing would help me out, because I knew I’d feel encouraged by accomplishing “at least something” that has been bothering me for long enough. And now it’s time to step back into thesis mode, because it too has been bothering me for long enough. (By which I mean, way too long, really, but that’s not a useful way to think about it.)
Alright then! So am I ready now? IT DOESN’T MATTER! It’s GO time! Because I don’t have time for it to be any other time.