How Do I Get Moving on My Final Project?
December 1, 2011 6:55 PM   Subscribe

I'm a graduate student in the middle of creating my final project for the semester. It's due next Wednesday. I think my project sucks, and because of this I don't want to work on it. Help?

I can't seem to get in the mode to work on my final project. The more I work on it, the more I dislike it, which in turn is causing major procrastination issues. How do I get myself out of this mental trap?

It's too late to make major changes to it, all I can pretty much do is power through it at this point...have you been in a similar situation? How did you talk yourself out of inactivity and get motivated to finish what you started?
posted by helios410 to Education (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
A completed project with grade is more important than no project and a fail.

Getting it over with will take it off of your emotional and time plate.

Sucks? Who cares. This isn't the great American novel. It isn't even your dissertation. It is a blip in your life. Do it and move on.
posted by k8t at 7:00 PM on December 1, 2011 [8 favorites]

Yes. All the time. In fact, I'm finishing my second book, and I still have this problem.

Have you shown it to someone else? After a certain point, you become so close to the project that all of the answers and insights start seeming obvious, even though they may be fresh and new to your reader.

In short, I operate on the assumption that I'm often the worst judge of my own projects, and start from there.
posted by thomas j wise at 7:02 PM on December 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

There may be some useful advice for you here, too.
posted by argonauta at 7:02 PM on December 1, 2011

I had a problem with my a big (35% of the grade) project this week. I emailed back-and-forth with the TA about what I could do at this point to avoid a pitfall. He gave me some ideas and some reassurance.

If you've got one like that great.

If not, the only thing I can say is "figure out a small piece of it you can do and get done quickly. Do that piece. Lather-rinse-repeat."
posted by Mad_Carew at 7:09 PM on December 1, 2011

I wrote this in a previous thread.

Looking over your history, it seems that you're in a creative/design program.

Whenever I get stuck like that I remind myself of this: in the end, what matters is not that you do well, but that you fail better.

It's important that what you do is not what you wanted to do; in essence, that you dislike the project in some way but powering on so that you do make mistakes; that these mistakes then change your project, and that for your next project, you learn a little bit more.

And also remember: the narrative is important; it's possible that what you make could be seen from a different light and reframed in a different way, after you've finished working on it. A circuit that fails to work turns into a metaphorical/spiritual amulet. The project isn't entirely yours, and so it's not finished even after you're done!
posted by suedehead at 7:10 PM on December 1, 2011

tl;dr: No matter what you do, as long as you do it, you will learn from it.
posted by suedehead at 7:11 PM on December 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

I wish I could remember who said this, because I repeat this to myself ALL THE TIME. Basically he was a columnist for a local newspaper, and he was always overwhelmed with his first column of the week, so he reassured himself by saying, "One of the columns I write will be the worst column of the week, so it may as well be this one. I might as well just get it out of the way now."

Likewise, this may not be your best project ever. It may even be your worst project ever. But turning in your worst project ever is still going to get you a better grade than no project at all.

Also, a dirty little secret about creative work is that it's not all muses and inspiration. A big part of it is grunt work and having to live with decisions you later regret and then just have to make the best of because you're on deadline. There will be times in your life when you have to do good work on something you don't enjoy or believe in (says the frustrated novelist now working in PR). This is a good opportunity to practice that skill.

Power through. Accept that you hate the project, accept that you can't change it now, and just do the best work you can in the time you've got left. If it gives you the opportunity to perfect a technique or get more experience using a new tool, then that's your win.

It sucks, but it'll be over soon, and you'll live to see another day.
posted by elizeh at 7:38 PM on December 1, 2011 [4 favorites]

Focus on the implementation and don't worry about the design. There's a lot of satisfaction in starting with a set of constraints, shitty or not, and doing the best you can. Imagine that someone else has chosen the project idea and you just have to execute it as well as possible.
posted by scose at 7:52 PM on December 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Accept and embrace the failure. If it's really bad, just go with it and make it as terrible as you can. Once you're finished with a terrible version of your project, you can always go back and improve on it. Nothing is perfect on the first try.

And looking at your history, I'm guessing it's either pcomp or ICM, right? As long as the concept and idea is thoughtful, the execution doesn't matter as much. You just need to show that you learned something and thought about it, and if it breaks during your presentation, know that it happens to about 80% of the other students (whether you're aware of it or not).
posted by hooray at 8:47 PM on December 1, 2011

I'm also a grad student, and I've been having the same problem writing up the results of some experiments I did that didn't end up being very interesting. What's been working best for me is thinking about this other paper that I really want to write (about a super cool project I did), but that I can't start until I send this dreaded paper off to my advisor. So maybe thinking about something that you really want to work on, but can't until you get this other thing out of the way, will help you get motivated to crank it out.
posted by rebel_rebel at 9:02 PM on December 1, 2011

When I'm facing a deadline with anxiety, one of the things I remind myself is that it's a deadline.

In other words, one way or the other—whether you produce a top-quality project or a bad one...or whether you collapse and produce nothing—it will be over next Wednesday. Sure, you'll have errands to run on Thursday and problems to worry about, and life will go on. But this part will be finished and behind you. No matter what.

That helps me.
posted by red clover at 9:13 PM on December 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm making my way through the rungs of academia right now, and currently beavering away on my PhD thesis. You are NOT alone feeling this - in my experience, everybody doing project-based work in higher academia feels like this at some point, on some project. It can be quite soul-destroying, and de-motivating to feel disconnected from a project, not liking it and so on. But, like others have said, the main thing is to produce something, and hand it in.

Not every piece of work you do rocks your world ultimately, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. From your question, you seem to maybe be feeling down on yourself for just feeling like "powering through" as your only solution to this. Powering through is an ESSENTIAL skill for academia, non-academic workplaces and life in general. It totally sucks usually when in the middle, but it is - at least for me - empowering and motivating to know that being able to do this is a skill, one that you cultivate and get better at.

What works for me in these situations is to break down the task into smaller parts and set time limits (e.g. I will write this section in an hour tops, what I produce is what I produce, and I will only minimally tweak it). The aim is not to produce The Best Project Ever right now, just to produce something you can hand in and pass - you can totally do this. Reward yourself during powering through (small things that tide you over) and then a nice big thing at the end. Being so close to this project, like others have said, skews your judgement of it and its quality also. What you produce will undoubtedly be better than your perception of it; don't overthink it. Now, you just have to go to it and get that damn thing done so you can move on.
posted by thetarium at 9:11 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

1. Accept that you hate this project and don't try to reason your way out of it either way.

2. Have your schedule full and keep very busy till the deadline. Your day should be full of things to do- this project, other school work, household chores, social engagements, other activities. And, clean the bathroom again if you are already done with it.

3. Schedule a time for hating the project AFTER the submission. Any time a thought pops up in your mind, tell yourself," Yeah it sucks. Hey, I decided to think about it from 7.00PM-10.00PM later that day and make a list of all the reasons it sucks, not right now".

4. Also remind yourself that "All I can do is my best right now. I will think about it and judge it later. I will also compare my conclusions with those of the instructor and see who is off base. (Heck, I should do this comparative analysis on a more regular basis)"
posted by xm at 10:40 AM on December 3, 2011

OP here, I want to say thanks to everyone who responded. Though I am not happy with the project, I finished it by the deadline and learned a lot during the process of building it. That's what I'm taking away from this experience. Thanks for your help and guidance.
posted by helios410 at 7:01 AM on December 9, 2011

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