There are many ghosts that visit the academic writer and this is one of the most malevolent ones:
“It may already be too late.”
Whatever ghosts are, if they are, they include some kind of strange relationship with time and the order in which things play out.
And that’s what the ghost thought of I should have started sooner is–
at the root it’s about a relationship with time, and a habitual relationship with time that keeps coming back,
and in the case of this evil spirit, a coming back that seems to bite.
And it’s weird how it comes back, because it strikes right at the moment when you are about to get going again on something!
You anticipate this action of getting started again, which you will take, and right then and there…
Whoosh! The thought of what might have been if only you had taken this exact same action,
that you are about to do,
a long time ago.
And then it stops you from taking it now.
You probably look back over the time that has passed and imagine what might have been accomplished,
and you look back at the time that has been lost,
and how you can never get it back again,
and scorn yourself for your “lameness,” or that’s what the ghost says.
You think of the behaviors and things you did over this time that brought you to this point now.
Every time you go to step forward, which always includes imagining an action,
it brings you back to how you could have prevented all this if only you started sooner.
This is the malevolent ghost.
When it strikes at the end, when time is up and you’ve got a document and you have to suck it up and deal with how imperfect it is,
knowing if only you had one more month, one more week, one more day…
…it’s not so bad. At least you have something.
But when it strikes in the middle, it’s like a truly sinister ghost, dragging on you with regret as you make each move.
What can I do about Procrastination When It’s Already Too Late?
What we need to do to dispel this ghost is alter our relationship with time.
It’s all about living small and comfy with small time.
When we are focused on the ultimate goal, the book or dissertation or article, all done, in the future…
and the safety it might be able to give us down the line….
Then we are living in Big Time, which also spans the recent past, or a pattern of similar pasts going back further.
This is the ether that this malevolent ghost needs to live in. It feeds on this ether.
But small time is where success hides out. The small time of short, repeatable actions that actually get you where you need to go.
You need to get those straight in your head, and live with them, dwell with them. You need to construct your own cosy dwelling in small time.
If you don’t have that, then your attention will pop out and about, searching through Big Time for it’s bearings.
But all it will find there is ghosts.
There’s nothing to hold on to. Everything you grasp, bites.
You need instead to know what you are going to do when you open your laptop, right there on that occasion.
You need to know how long you are going to work on that, right there on that occasion.
You need to know, when that time is over, what you are going to do next time.
And all these things must be small and cozy.
You must be able to easily accomplish your small task in a small amount of time.
And then be able to track that and know exactly what is your relationship with time in terms of small time, daily or weekly.
Did you give yourself tasks that were too big for small time? You are tracking it, so you know to make them smaller.
Did you work for 3 hours without a meaningful break? You’re tracking that so you know something is reaching out for Big Time.
Did you not have a specific and easily doable task to do? You’re tracking that, so you know that you sat down to “work on the book” or “make progress on the article,” which is living in Big Time.
If you stick to small tasks done in small time, over and over, and you are tracking exactly how that is going, and go smaller as needed until it’s easily repeated…
…well ghosts just can’t live in that medium.
How to Get Started without Waking up the Ghost.
So if you want to start to build your dwelling in small time, or even just envision that, of course the ghost could come back, because the thought could come– If I started doing these small actions and tracking them sooner!
But here’s where it’s different, in two ways:
One: You actually ARE initiating small time life, which is different than “getting going on the dissertation” or whatever, and then getting tripped up at the thought of that, with nothing else in place.
But Most Important— Two: You are doing something that you wouldn’t realistically have done way back when. You actually had to suffer the haunting and the worries and the regrets and shame first before you would have done this. “If I had done this three months ago,” while still possible to conceive, is just not realistic.
Let’s face it– no one is going to work in small increments, with small goals, and keep track of that for quite a while, and change their relationship with time, just for the heck of it.
You have to have been up shit’s creek a few times, been visited by the ghost many times, haunted for long stretches, or get bitten bad, before you are going to do what writers over the centuries have done– stick to a cozy lifestyle that occurs inside of Small Time.
So go for it– build your writing lifestyle in small time, and let it be modest. Modest chunks of time, easily doable tasks, something you can live in.
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