Passion, Procrastination and Impostor Syndrome

First off, the weekly review. I did it, it was good and it only took two hours this week so things are improving. I’ve gotten some work done on the book review and in starting to package up my current job so I can hand it off cleanly to my successor in mid-August. Things are getting done in pretty much every area of my life. So that’s good.

Along those lines, I read about a system called ZTD (Zen to Done) on Robert Talbert’s blog as something that he uses to enhance his GTD practice, so of course I went and read the little book. It raised some interesting points about habit formation that I hadn’t considered before and made me think about how I tend to try and change many habits at once only to revert to my old ways when I’m under stress. There’s a lot to unpack there and much good content that I’m still thinking about.

it was the last point in the book, “Find Your Passion Habit” which said that if you make your passion your job then you’ll find doing work easy that I had an issue with. Because I am passionate about my job — both teaching and researching and yet I procrastinate about my writing my research, even though there’s nothing that interests me more than the work I do on Chicana feminist writers and editors. Despite (or perhaps because of this love) sometimes, oftentimes, I struggle when it comes to sitting down and writing my ideas. Those times have even extended into finding it difficult to do research because I’m anticipating the struggle to write. I’m struck as I write this with the fact almost all of my publications to date were written to an editor-imposed deadline. I wonder if without those deadlines I’d still be struggling to write them, trying to craft the more perfect article.

Why does writing seem so unnatural to me? I’ll do anything to postpone it — empty the trash, answer the telephone. The voice recurs in me: Who am I, a poor Chicanita from the sticks to think I could write… ~Gloria Anzaldúa, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third Women Writers

What causes me to procrastinate is, as Joseph Kasper (pseudonym) wrote about four years ago, a sometimes overwhelming case of impostor syndrome where I doubt my ideas, the quality of research and the quality of my writing. This problem developed twenty years ago, sometime during my first year of graduate school (writing was less of a struggle as an undergraduate) and I’ve been trying to silence my inner voice of self-doubt ever since.

The perverse thing about this is that the more I care about a subject, the more important I feel the research is, the harder I find writing about it. My inner voice tells me I won’t be able to do the subject justice, that there’s research by someone else out there on this that I haven’t found, that I’m about to embarrass myself and let the people who’ve supported me down. And yes, the classic, that I’ve somehow been faking it so far, but this is the time when I’m going to be found out.

It’s something, I’ve been told, that most academics, especially women of color, feel, at least some of the time.  I don’t think the procrastination it can cause is due to a lack of passion for the work we do, but rather an abundance of it.

…I write because I’m scared of writing, but I’m more scared of not writing. ~Gloria Anzaldúa, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third Women Writers

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Hold All the Things

GTD. Getting Things Done. I first heard about it on Bonni Stachowiak’s podcast, Teaching in Higher Ed. It’s a system to manage all the many things (tasks and projects) in one’s life. It’s been around for a while. I’m late to the party.

So first, why am I blogging about this when there are so many great bloggers who’ve used GTD for years, including Robert Talbert (another person I met through Teaching in Higher Ed) who’s written some great work on using GTD in academic life? It’s definitely not because I’m setting myself up as some sort of expert on the topic. In fact, I’m writing these posts about the process, or at least my process, of setting up a GTD system at the same time I’m transitioning from five years of adjuncting into a tenure track position as someone who’s new to the system and flawed in her execution of all things requiring habit and structure.

What motivated me to do this? I first heard about the system last winter, read the book and made a stab at it. It helped briefly, but I wasn’t committed enough (habits come hard for me), I didn’t trust the system to work, I tried to use too many new tools (yay tech!) at once and things fell apart, though I will say at least I never had hundreds of emails in my inbox again. But this past spring, just as the semester ended, something happened that shocked me and made me decide I needed and wanted to commit to GTD and its idea of a trusted system to Hold All the Things. What happened was I opened my email and had a note from an editor at MELUS (Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States) journal asking me how the review of two books I’d promised was coming.

Reader, I had no memory of this commitment. Like, none. Had the email not contained my earlier response saying “yes” to reviewing these two books, I would have thought the editor was mistaken, that I hadn’t agreed to this. Further, I had no idea where in my study the books were or any memory of receiving them. Somehow this commitment to a journal and organization I care about and respect had vanished into a memory hole in my head, so much that even with the reminder I still couldn’t recall it. Yes, this spring had been the most stressful period of my life (and I include in this the semester where I wrote 150 pages of my dissertation in four weeks), but still I was scared and disturbed by this. How could a promise I’d made be so completely forgotten?

I don’t want to lose track of things. I don’t want to forget promises. That’s not the sort of professor, friend or person I want to be. So Getting Things Done, with its promise of helping me create a system I can trust to hold the things my brain clearly is not able to hold, feels like the right thing to try.

This felt like the right moment too. Although I’m working multiple jobs through the summer, I’m nowhere near as taxed as I was last semester. There’s time to experiment and read how other people are doing this so I can have a system in place when the fall semester and my new responsibilities as an assistant professor start.

I’ve learned a little bit from my attempt last winter. This time I’m not using any new tools, but rather using familiar tools in a new way. I followed the GTD guide to setting up Evernote as a collection system. I’ve used Evernote for more than seven years in various ways so it’s familiar. Likewise, I’m continuing my calendaring system. I use a paper Passion Planner and iCal and sit down and sync them at least once a week. My reason for using both was that while I love iCal, when I was all digital I tended to not look forward often enough. So I’m trying to change as little as possible in terms of what I use and make changes in how I use these tools.

So how did the week go? Slowly and carefully. The collecting thing is new and currently occupying more brain space than I expected. I’ve read around and made a few tweaks, the main one being picking three actions each day as things that are most important (MIT) to get done that day. I’m doing this not just because having a little structure helps me focus, but also because right now I’m in a weird bit of a paradox. The job that I’m giving up in six weeks is making a lot of demands that could fill every working moment. But in anticipation of being on the tenure track, I want to be sure I get in some research time every day, not least so I can finish the MELUS book review. That is, I don’t want the things that are yelling loudest to drown out the things that are actually most important long term.

The second weekly review I did took three hours. Which is better than the four the week before, but still too long. I think part of the problem is that I haven’t created clear outcomes for each of the projects I have and am doing that a bit piecemeal during the review time. My hope is that by next week each of them will have an outcome in addition to a next action.

The other problem I’m having is that I clearly have no idea how long some things will take me to do. For example, one of my MITs today was to read and take notes on a book introduction. It’s twenty pages and I imagined it would take an hour to an hour and half.


It took four to do the sort of detailed close reading it deserved in preparation for writing a review. I suspect (hope) that doing this means that the rest of the book will read quite easily (it was a pretty comprehensive introduction). But it taking so long meant my other two MITs gone done pretty late in the day. Then again, had I not planned to do this and wanted to be able to say I’d done the three things I’d determined to do today, I probably would have given up after two hours and gone to breakfast with my partner.

And that’s it. This isn’t going to be a blog that tells you how to do GTD — I wouldn’t presume to do that. Instead it’s going to be a shambling tale of what I’m trying and how it’s going.

Image by Dafne Cholet:

Weekly Review 1

I told myself I was going to post about GTD (Getting Things Done) and how it’s working for me and that I was going to post weekly. So here goes.

Being at DHSI was enough of a hitch that the review that was supposed to happen last Friday didn’t happen until yesterday (Tuesday). I’m not sure if it was my resistance to the process, the accumulated emails from the week I was away or that I was coming down with a cold, but it took the best part of four hours to sort the various inboxes and get everything up-to-date. I found I wanted to jump in and do the things I was finding for fear of them getting lost — guess this speaks to me not trusting my system and being distracted by a number of current emergencies. I’m going to try and take email offline as I do the next review so as I write the two minute emails, more aren’t coming in and distracting me.

What I was pleased by was going through my lists how many things I’d done, even while being away.  So that’s good. I keep imagining how much I would have enjoyed this system back when I did everything on Filofax. That said, Evernote is doing the job. I was especially pleased when I figured out how to make a Table of Contents page for the notes in my “projects” notebook.

It’s June Already

It’s June and I’m posting my first post of 2017. This may be taking the idea of slow blogging too far. I’m writing from San Francisco Airport on my way to the University of Victoria for DHSI. I am excited.

So what’s happened to me so far this year? Spring was a blur. I got myself in over my adjuncting head by having too much to do. Between my admin work as program coordinator for the humanities MA programs and undergraduate GE courses at CSUDH, teaching three classes at two universities (LMU and CSUDH), being parliamentarian for CSUDH’s Academic Senate, and interviewing for tenure track jobs, I ended the semester by basically collapsing over he finish line. As the dust settles, I’m still picking up pieces of things I dropped along the way.

The good news (the best news!) is that after four years on the market, after applying for more 200 jobs, having 20+ interviews and campus visits, I have a tenure track job. In fact, I have what I believe in my heart is my dream job. Starting in the fall, I will be an assistant professor in the Interdisciplinary Studies department at CSU Dominguez Hills, a Hispanic Serving Institution. It’s a campus where a majority of students are students of color. I couldn’t be happier — I’ve loved adjuncting there. The bonus is I get to stay in Los Angeles, a city I love, where my family is and where my roots are. Paul also gets to keep his job and we can stay in our apartment in Santa Monica.

What else is going on? As I said above, I let some things drop this past semester. I’m not happy about that. Inspired by friends in the Teaching in Higher Ed community and to make sure it doesn’t happen again, to help me focus as I move from adjuncting job-seeker onto the tenure track and because I think it will help me balance my life, I’m reorganizing the way I keep track of things using the GTD (Getting Things Done) system. For those of you who follow this system, yesterday I did my first weekly review.

I expect this road to be bumpy. My brain resists habit and organization and my response to stress is to let systems slide, but I’m committing to do this for a year. I have tried it once before, but that time I was also trying to use new list management software and I think it was too many new things at once. This time I’m only using Evernote (the professional version), which I’ve used for seven years, my electronic calendar (iCal) and my paper calendar (Passion Planner). Yes, I have to use two calendars – that’s the way my brain works. I think (hope) using familiar tools is going to make this process easier. I want to promise I’m going to blog my progress both on this and in organizing my work preparing to go up for tenure, but we’ll have to see how that goes.

I thought of ending this post with individual “thank yous” to all the people who encouraged and supported me while I was seemingly endlessly on the job market, but there’s really too many to name. I am so grateful for your help and kindness.