How do I get over this funk?
September 9, 2010 5:49 PM   Subscribe

My dissertation is due in ten days. Sick of looking at it, much less engaging with it and actively making changes. Help me get through this!

The situation: Writing this 18k essay has been unnecessarily difficult, procrastinated waaaay too much, had major topic crises, etc. Working full time means that I haven't really dedicated enough time to it. Now reaching deadline, feeling completely sleep-deprived and sorry for myself.

The actual paper: Mostly done, little chunks here and there to be filled in (I know what to write but really don't feel like doing it), introduction and conclusion still to be done.

Supervisor has made changes to my draft that I still need to look over. Bibliography and footnote polishing still outstanding.

Question: How can I make this easier? If necessary please just tell me I need to get over it and just suffer for the next ten days. And probably get off metafilter. Physically how do I stop feeling queasy looking at the mush of words on a screen?
posted by nvly to Education (26 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Stop looking at it now, and take the night (or day, depending on which time zone you're in) to do something that will entirely take your mind off it, like going out with friends, exercising, watching a cheesy movie, or whatever else sounds fun. The work will still be there tomorrow, and you have the time to do it. You'll be a better editor if you give your brain some time to detox and rest.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:55 PM on September 9, 2010

Physically how do I stop feeling queasy looking at the mush of words on a screen?

Print it out, turn off the computer, do your revisions in longhand in a location where you don't feel chained to a keyboard. Don't go back to the computer for at least a couple of days. Then set yourself a routine where you're composing away from the computer and simply typing it up, rat-a-tat-tat, when you switch the machine on. If you feel blocked from writing in one location, find another one.

You'll get a much better sense of how the whole thing flows and coheres, because you'll see more than three paragraphs at a time. Enjoy crossing stuff out. If you want to change the ordering, physically cut out the paragraphs with scissors and paste them where they should go.

Set yourself hard deadlines, and work back from the submission deadline, with at least a couple of days for bibliography and footnotes and proofing.
posted by holgate at 6:01 PM on September 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

Make a plan for the next ten days. Outline everything into little do-able chunks, multiple ones for each day. That way you can break it up into manageable pieces, and deal accordingly. It helps me to make a nice to do list for each day, and it feels good to cross things off. If you are the type that needs accountable, email your mom/significant other/best friend you to do list each day, and tell them to nag you if you don't finish it. If you are the type that needs motivation, get a treat for each day. If you finish your to do list for the day, you get a manicure. If you finish you to do list the next day, you get Indian takeout. Just keep telling yourself you are almost there - good luck, you can do it!
posted by quodlibet at 6:02 PM on September 9, 2010

1. Start working- it's going to be way more work than you are anticipating. However, none of the work will be that difficult, and most of the time you spend working won't be all that unpleasant. There will be moments where things are hard to fit together, or you'll struggle with phrasing, source synthesis, etc., but it won't be that bad.

2. (optional) give yourself a self-destruct night tonight. Don't do anything productive and let yourself be completely avoidant of it. Just don't get drunk or stay up all night or anything that will sabotage you for tomorrow. Results may vary, but I generally need one of these when I've got something terrible and large-scale looming.

Good luck!
posted by jimmysmits at 6:03 PM on September 9, 2010

And yes, you're not going to be productive when sleep-depped, and instead will create a knock-on effect of tiredness for the days ahead. Print out what you've got, give yourself a good night's sleep, and pick up a pen in the morning.
posted by holgate at 6:04 PM on September 9, 2010

Mountain Dew.

No, seriously.
posted by milarepa at 6:05 PM on September 9, 2010

Agreed. Print. Drink (if you're of a mind). Sleep. Grab diss, find coffee and your indulgent breakfast pastry of choice and a sharp couple of pencils. Set yourself a per-hour page minimum; if you're obsessing over stupid shit, ur doin it rong. Plow through that SOB and then make your corrections back at the keyboard tomorrow afternoon... after you've had an indulgent nap. Rinse, repeat.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:19 PM on September 9, 2010

Is this US or UK dissertation?

(MA or PhD)?
posted by k8t at 6:21 PM on September 9, 2010

1. catch up on sleep and being lazy

2. polish bibliography and footnotes (this will give you the chance to think 'oh yeah, that thing I read that made that point I need', without being actual thinking)

3. look over the changes to the draft and incorporate them in place you can highlight, because they'll scan differently once they're inserted

4. fill in left over chunks and don't worry too much about how it fits in yet

5. catch up on sleep and being lazy

6. read the whole thing, see how it reads and smooth over any clunky parts

7. catch up on sleep and being lazy

8. consider how every single paragraph relates to the subject at hand, delete anything off topic or that you aren't absolutely sure you can defend

9. polish bibliography and footnotes again (you can score on this section in some subjects depending on your supervisor - always look like you knew what you were doing)

10. Profit. Or work in macdonalds, you didn't mention your field.

Some priorities will depend on exactly what it is you're doing - being able to defend your stuff will be more important in a phd, looking polished for another type etc.
posted by shinybaum at 6:24 PM on September 9, 2010

Something that helped me when I get stuck in a rut is to start with the easy stuff first, hit the low hanging fruit. The momentum/flow that you get from doing this makes tackling the harder, more onerous issues seem less daunting.
posted by scalespace at 6:25 PM on September 9, 2010

Plan something great for day 11 so you'll have something to look forward to when you're all done (and plan this activity with someone else who will be disappointed if the event is cancelled for any reason). In the meantime, starting the work is the critical thing - the anticipation is almost always worse than doing the work itself (shorthand: ass in chair). And try to break things down into manageable parts/sections so that you will be able to proceed with a sense of accomplishment. Finally, remember that when you're done, the biggest reward will be that you'll find yourself living every grad student's dream - there will be moments of grace in which you realize that there is nothing in the world you're supposed to be doing...

Now I'm going to run off and take my own advice.
posted by analog at 6:28 PM on September 9, 2010

When I had to finish my honors' thesis (not the same thing, I know) I sent it to my adviser just to have her take a look at it and she understood it as me turning it in and gave me a grade. I'm sure I could have explained to her that I wasn't really done, but I was just so relieved to have it done that I didn't bother.

I'm not sure how important perfection is for you and your future, but it's a thought.
posted by theichibun at 6:34 PM on September 9, 2010

I'm sure it's really damn long at this point, but if you have access to cheap printing, I would suggesting printing portions of it out and looking at it in print. This always helps me feel less insane than trying to stare at the computer screen for a million hours on end.
posted by elpea at 6:41 PM on September 9, 2010

How about you make it five days?
Make yourself a deal - nose to the grindstone, and finish early, then freedom comes early! Not slacking-off freedom, but nothing-hanging-over-me-anymore-life-is-WONDERFUL freedom.

I know that "finished" is not really an applicable word, but five days actual work is going to produce a better result than ten days of procrastinating, so it's legitimate to take the remaining days off ;-)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:42 PM on September 9, 2010

Turn off the internet and just do it. You are so close! You can do this!
posted by bluedaisy at 6:57 PM on September 9, 2010

Just wanted to add - if you haven't seen these comics by Jorge Cham, definitely check them out when you're taking a break. It's nice to know that you're not alone!
posted by analog at 6:59 PM on September 9, 2010

First, cancel everything cancel-able in the next ten days. Take as much time off work as possible, if you're not already doing that. Reduce your non-dissertation responsibilities to a bare minimum.

Next, make yourself a schedule. List the tasks still to be done, estimate how much time each will take, and divide them into a nine-day schedule. shinybaum suggests a pretty sensible order of operations. The tenth day is your "oh shit" day. Do your best to forget that it exists until you have a true "oh shit" moment.

On each day, get up, have a good breakfast and/or shot of caffeine, and get straight to work on that day's task. Pace yourself knowing that you CANNOT take longer than the alloted day(s) to do each task because you cannot afford to ruin the rest of the schedule.

Meditate on the grad school truisms:
  • The perfect is the enemy of the good . . . and the adequate . . . and the done.
  • There are only two kinds of dissertations: finished and unfinished.
Take your sick-of-it-ness and funk, your queasiness and suffering, acknowledge them, and try to put them outside of yourself, if you know what I mean. Yep, finishing a dissertation sucks. I've never heard anyone say that it was a fun time. But it will be over soon. In the meantime, there's this piece of work to be done, and nobody is going to do it but you. So go into your growlery for five minutes, have a moan to yourself about how hard it is, and how sick it makes you feel, and how this is not the shining intellectual moment you envisioned when you enrolled in grad school n years ago. Then leave the growls behind and get to work. (My growlery is the bathroom, and I growl into the bath towels so as not to disturb the neighbors.)

People who were in worse shape than you ten days before their dissertations were due have finished. You can do it.
posted by Orinda at 7:26 PM on September 9, 2010 [6 favorites]

When I was in this state of finishing, I would set a timer for 15 minutes, and do focused work for that long. When the timer goes off, you'll either want to keep going, or give it up and do something else. If it's the latter, go do something else and when that's done, set the timer again (but only if it's been a couple of hours). Repeat. I'd find that I'd either keep working for longer and get a lot done, or get an amazing amount done in 15 minutes and not feel as guilty and that I'd chipped away at the work significantly. Both were very desirable results.
posted by Fuego at 8:00 PM on September 9, 2010

When I got sick to death of my book, I'd either change the font of the entire thing or read entire sections back to front, sentence by sentence. It's amazing what you can find when the context shifts a bit.
posted by mynameisluka at 8:45 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I second the suggestions by Orinda. Another possibility for getting things done and focus, is to suck it up and go somewhere. Get a hotel room in a random place an hour from where you are now and work there. The ideal place would be a nice B&B on an island with beautiful settings, but Super 8 in nowhere-land works too.
posted by brorfred at 8:51 PM on September 9, 2010

I'm going to echo what some others have said: this will be easier work than you think it is, but it'll take you longer than you think it will. Start now (say, tomorrow), and just finish the fucker, come hell or high water. If something looks mushy to you, go find a place that doesn't look all mushy. Remove your internet. Leave the house if you can. Printing out is a great idea. Drinking is an even better one.

The good news: the hardest part is forcing yourself to actually do it. Once you've built up some momentum, it should be like rolling down hill.
posted by incessant at 8:51 PM on September 9, 2010

I like what brorfred says, too. Sometimes when I got to a "mush of words on a screen" stage with my dissertation, a change of scenery really helped to give me a fresh start mentally. If you always work at home, try a campus library or a coffee shop for a few hours. If you usually work in a library carrel, try moving to a different floor or a different library (on or off campus). Or take brofred's suggestion and head for the Super 8.
posted by Orinda at 9:45 PM on September 9, 2010

The last 10 days are no fun, but you can do this! Hang in there!

Write the introduction and the conclusion. Those are the two things anyone will actually read in your dissertation.Write them asap. Then, come back and re-read/edit them in a few days.

I am sorry, I disagree with anyone who says walk away from it for a couple of days. No such luxury, nose to the grindstone, gotta finish it. It's a bitch, you can make it your bitch.

Is this the common case where you submit the dissertation, then defend, then make changes later? If so, don't obsess over the footnotes and bibliography polishing too much. You can polish (as long as they are already in there) after you submit.

FWIW, 10 days before mine was due, I had almost exactly what you listed to still be done. It somehow got finished, and I somehow survived.
posted by copperbleu at 12:46 AM on September 10, 2010

What, exactly, are you looking for? Other, that is, than for someone to tell you to get off your ass and do it? We can't write it for you and if you don't write it you'll fail. And that won't be our fault. I hate to be the one who always states the obvious, but this is something only you can sort out.
posted by Biru at 11:28 AM on September 10, 2010

I did the same thing! Ended up setting an egg timer for 1 hour of work, then 45 minutes to browse the internet and do whatever the heck I wanted. For some reason that kept me on track. Also, find comfort foods that you are allowed to get if you start working. Work for an hour, take 45 minutes to get a fancy $8 coffee drink (or whatever) and your favorite donut/candy/chips, work for an hour, then browse metafilter. The timer is important, and you have to follow it EXACTLY. Don’t finish working on a paragraph or reading a post before getting back to leisure/work respectively. Consider the timer god, and remember when working that a long break is coming soon, and when breaking that you don’t need to feel guilty because you are being regimented. I also usually cried myself silly before starting; I think it was helpful to get all the bad emotions out before starting. This was involuntary, so I recognize it isn’t something you can “do”.

Doing something else to take your mind of it was not helpful for me – I was just stressed every time I tried doing anything else, and it made it that much harder to get back in the zone.

Do you have time off to do this paper? Consider calling in sick if you aren’t where you need to be for the last two days of this.

I also really like mynameisluka's idea.
posted by Acer_saccharum at 12:10 PM on September 10, 2010


All handed in! With the necessary day-before-casually-neglected-to-notice-capslock-was-on-and-locked-self-out-of-work-computer-without-any-back-up and the consequent frantic calling of IT persons who don't work sundays as well as a separate issue of word crashing two hours before it was due...

All the answers were helpful and encouraging thanks! I think necessity got me out of feeling sorry for myself and just getting on with doing it. It is nice having weeknights again, and I have never looked forward to a weekend this much before.
posted by nvly at 10:20 PM on September 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

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