The Pitfalls of Quasi-Working

As an academic writer I bet you’ve sometimes wished that you punched a clock every day and could just go home and forget about it all, after a certain hour of the day.

I know I have.

Instead of scrambling around day to day,

trying to fit everything in,

what if I could just work part of my life, and have the rest for other things, completely clear and free?

Wouldn’t that be great?

But the reality is most of us can spend weeks and months burdened for almost every waking hour with the writing work that’s hanging over us.

(Well, actually after close inspection you will see that it’s not quite “every hour,” but it certainly does feel like this is almost completely true!)

Well without spending too much time reflecting how much it can suck to punch a clock, let’s talk about the ways that we create this feeling that “I’m putting my time in” without actually getting writing done.

This is what I call Quasi-working.

I’ve also called it Openlaptopitis.

It’s this feeling that you just show up, get on the screen, sit there for a long time, do stuff,

maybe a lot of stuff, and you’ve put in your time at work.

But you don’t make progress on finishing your writing.

We can live for quite a while on the illusory feeling of Quasi-working.

But in fact what’s happening is you might be fumbling around cutting and pasting, then looking up citations,
then checking social media,
then checking email,
then maybe trying to write,
and you go on to organize a syllabus,
look up more literature on your topic, etc.

On and on. Next day: rinse, repeat.

You might tell yourself that you work 3 hours or 8 hours a day, seven days a week.

But no: you wrote 15 minutes one day during three hours of moving from thing to thing.

The other day you wrote for 8 minutes at one point, and at another point 17 minutes and read academic literature and text messages for the other 270 minutes.

It feels like you’re working. You ARE getting tired. You may even be burning out on all the quasi-work you are doing.

But it’s mostly not writing.

It also may feel like you are bad writer. But that’s simply not true. You don’t have a writing problem, you have a focus problem.

So, what to do?

How to Stop the Quasi-work and Get Actual Writing Finished

Here are three simple things you can get straight first before you jump to conclusions about what you may or may not be truly capable of.

Pitfall #1: You believe the story that you are working hard.

Solution: if you want to write more and finish your work then you’ll need to keep track of how much time you are devoting to writing exclusively.

It’s not necessary that it be a lot of time. There’s nothing wrong with working for 15 minutes. The problem is when we tell ourselves that we are working for three hours but it’s only 15 minutes.

And there is no need to try and crank up the amount of time.

This is very simple and powerful it is almost too good to believe. Simply by keeping track you break down the illusion of Quasi-work.

Pitfall #2: You have no time to write or for other enjoyable things in life.

This especially pops up when we reflect back over the last two months or two years. It seems like you’ve been working hard but had little time to write but also didn’t really do much of the other things you’d like to do in your life.

It may or may not be true that you don’t have time to write 3 hours in a row on weekdays, but if you scheduled in small amounts of writing each day, you could probably manage that.

But it may not be easy for two reasons.

One, at first writing in small increments may make you look down on what you just did in a single period of time: “You puny pittance of writing, how shall you slay the Goliath that is my book manuscript?”

The truth is, that adds up over the long haul and also builds your confidence and momentum. The small increments naturally expand.

And two, we can also have a resistance to admitting that we CAN actually get small amounts of writing in regularly. It’s just that “not having time” has been the wall of defense we’ve put up against the encroaching feelings that we are failing in our mission. It can be hard to accept a new way that clearly shows that such thoughts are not completely true.

Likewise, some of us may be indefinitely putting off almost any kind of special, playful, fun and adventurous time because, like, how can we with all that work hanging over us?

You have to get over that lie and just go have some fun somehow and prove that it’s not true.

Of course, this will require allowing the truth to come forward a bit even if it is uncomfortable.

The benefit of stepping into a different story about what is going on with your time is well… you get writing done and you have fun too!

Pitfall #3: You follow spontaneous urgencies rather than stick to what matters to you most.

Yes, there is a loose thread on your sweater, or more likely, a book you heard about and you need to check on what’s the deal with that.

There are people sending you emails and the phone is buzzing with messages.

And yes things just pop up in your mind.

“I just need to do {insert your spontaneous urgency here} before I go back to my text”

Instead, when you sit down to write, every time (as in every time) always know what you are there to do and what is your real priority.

If you are going to check out literature, or catch up on email, fine, as long as that’s what you decided to do.

If you sit down to write, know that writing is exactly what you are there to do during the period of time in question.

And that means not only “I’m going to write” but exactly what you are going to write.

You are going to write one paragraph on your topic.

You are going to revise these two pages to read better.

Or whatever it is.

The key thing is: after you finish your short writing session, you know whether you did it or you did not.

If you didn’t get it done, at least you know that.

You can set something more do-able next time.

But the point is you are not living in a feeling of work without real work.

As you can see, the theme here about Quasi-working is all about seeing through the illusions and getting clarity about our writing process.

There is more you can do to get clearer and clearer, but what is most important is that you start to understand and recognize the power of knowing what’s actually happening.

It’s an amazing power to have in your writing process.

Once you understand, by actually getting to know the truth about your process and changing it, then so many other doors open up in your process.

If you are suffering from Quasi-work, you can’t skip this step of getting to know your actual process!

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