I had a meeting with my advisor (Hi, Dr. McBrine.) to discuss my thesis, which you may or may not know is on Middle English lyric poetry. At the time, I had sent him about 35 pages of solid criticism — the bulk of a fifty-page master’s thesis. The consensus was that the work I had done so far was very good. After months of reading, researching, and writing, such positive feedback was music to my ears. The hard part, my advisor declared, was over. All that was left to do was write my introduction and conclusion and tie it all together. I was almost done.
That was a month ago.
One month later, I’m still almost done, but I’m not any closer to actually being done than I was before the holidays.
I am paralyzed on the brink of achievement.
In some ways, it doesn’t make any sense. Just finish the damn thing! But, unfortunately, procrastination is persistent. There are a couple of reasons why I’ve failed to make any progress as of late. The first is that those initial 35 pages were hard work, and I clearly interpreted advisor’s generous feedback as, “Great job. You deserve a break.” Wrong, of course, but I’m only human.
The second and bigger reason is the concept of “almost done” itself.
Being almost done is exciting, but it also makes it much easier to come up with excuses for not finishing. “I’m almost done!” becomes “Eh, it’s almost done… I can finish it anytime.” Any time that’s not now, of course.
The brink of achievement is a precarious place. On one hand, most of the stress is gone. The hard part’s over. What once was an intimidating behemoth is now just a handful of leftover pages that need to be written. But on the other hand, less stress also means less motivation. In my case, having an entire thesis hanging over my head was excruciating. It drove me to power through in hopes of removing that pressure. Being almost done, however, means that my thesis is no longer a big deal. I’m not worried about it. Because it’s almost done.
That “almost” is a killer. It’s a splinter in the back of my mind. A much smaller splinter than it once was, but a splinter all the same. My thesis is still there, waiting to be finished off. And so it shall.
The only way out is through.
Obviously, I have no intention of going through life with an almost done thesis on Middle English lyric poetry in my back pocket. The time has come to finish the job.
Discipline and perspective.
I’m writing this Wednesday night, so my Thursday is reserved free and clear. Time to dig in. Fifty minutes on, ten minutes off. Repeat until lunchtime. Then hit it again until yoga. I recommend the BreakTime app.
What’s even more important is to think of the thesis — or any horrifying task — not as a To-Do, but as what Merlin Mann calls a To-Have-Done. That is, think not about how much it’s going to hurt to do the thing, but rather about how good it’s going to feel when it’s done. That shift in thinking makes it much easier to get started. Or get finished, as it were.
I’m not looking forward to working on my thesis for six or eight hours, but I am looking forward to being six or eight hours closer to done at the end of the day.
It’s time to own this thing. Soon it’ll be just a memory, and I can’t think of anything sweeter.