When my two kids were little, they loved the book Big Dog, Little Dog, A Bedtime Story. In the book, Fred and Ted, two friends, who are both dogs, deal with all sorts of small dilemmas.
Fred is tall, and Ted is short. Fred’s bed is too short for him. What to do? Change beds with Ted. And so the book goes. The two friends problem-solve one problem after another.
What is the moral of the story? “Why make big problems out of little problems?”
One of my dissertation coaching clients has been resisting line-editing a chapter. Line editing is tedious, no doubt about it.
My client has this going for him—he has a morning routine. He’s set aside time for working on his dissertation before he does anything else. He has his morning coffee, but he doesn’t open his email. And so it would seem that he’s not suffering from what Roy Baumeister and John Tierney in the book Willpower call “decision fatigue.” He isn’t worn down by his day. Yet, instead of diving into the line-editing, the task he set for himself, he addresses easier tasks and never gets to the hard work of editing.
My client can point to other work he’s taken care of during the morning time he has set aside for his dissertation, but not what he had planned to do.
He says he’s stubborn. He may be, but what I know for sure is that he’s a stickler. In both his day job and in his after-work activities, he is detail-oriented. He’s a stickler for doing things right because he has to be.
I know he can do the work. What is holding him back? What is he afraid of? That he might make a mistake? That’s a given, right? Editing is like sweeping sand. It’s unlikely he will catch every grain, but it is time to stop the delay.
To build up willpower to do those things you dislike or find difficult, Baumeister and Tierney say that you should “set a firm time limit for tedious tasks.”
And you know what? That approach has worked for my coaching client in the past. On occasion, he has told me that when he strenuously resisted work, he used a timer to help him stick with a task for a short, designated amount of time. That strategy will work for him again.
Similarly, he can once again monitor himself. He can be accountable to himself. And I’ll be sure to hold him accountable, too.
Just as the moral for Big Dog, Little Dog, A Bedtime Story asks the question “Why make big problems out of little problems?” the same question can be asked of my client about his resistance to line-editing his dissertation chapter.
If you hate to edit, edit a little bit at a time. Do what you can bear to do, but do something!
Slowly, but surely you’ll get it done.
Why make big problems out of little problems?
I would love to hear from you. How do you deal with tedious writing tasks?
All good wishes to you,
Nancy Whichard, Ph.D., PCC
Your International Dissertation Coach and Academic Career Coach
nancy @ nancywhichard.com