Thursday, 29 August 2013

Deadlines



All year long, I tell myself ‘I want to be finished by (December/ March/ June/[insert month at random]). I set myself doable deadlines (with the help of friends and lovers who are good at seeing how long a thing will take). I miss all the  deadlines; a chapter which was meant to be finished on a Tuesday has not even been opened by that day, because another chapter took far longer than I’d hoped. I’m not surprised by this, nor am I even upset. It is as though my brain has given up before we have even started, and told me ‘You know, you are not going to make this deadline, so I may as well not even bother’. This week – absolute final deadline – ‘you know, you can’t miss this deadline, this is it’ (to quote the Lover) – and I have missed it. Today and tomorrow I am supposed to be working on chapter 5; I am on chapter 3.  I am running out of days. The knowledge that I am running out of days slows me down on those few days still available to me.

Somewhere along the line, a long time ago, I made commitments to friends and family for this time of year (important weddings and birthdays, mainly). I never thought, not once in a million years, that I would still be doing this PhD now; nor did I imagine that there would still be quite so much to do (because all these chapters make no sense and need rewriting, and inspiration has only just condescended to arrive). So I try to keep these commitments to family and friends, for what are, after all, momentous and important occasions in their lives. Seeing as I am supposed to be sharing in their joy, I try to be ‘joyous’; I go in there, nicely dressed and smiling, and I try and act carefree, I laugh and talk and thank them for inviting me, I tell them that it actually helps me, this, having a few days off my PhD, it’s the best thing in the world for me, I’m so thankful to them for dragging me away. I big this up so that they don’t feel bad. (because if I am spending all that time away from my PhD, we might as well all enjoy ourselves, non?...). And I find myself almost believing it. Maybe it is true, and maybe one day I will look back and will be grateful that I went and enjoyed these happy times, and that I did not make all these people upset for the sake of having a few days’ extra time to work on my mediocre PhD (days which, knowing me, I would probably waste anyway, on making coffee after coffee, and fantasizing about cleaning the floor).

When I actually look at how many ‘long weekends’ I have pledged away, and how many mid-week escapades have also been planned, the number of working days available to me shrinks drastically. And my mind goes into panic mode, wondering how on earth I am going to produce a draft of Chapter 3 at all, given that it still needs rethinking, and that ‘thinking’ has been replaced by ‘panic’. (I can’t think when there’s packing and planning and booking trains to do. I can’t do it.) And so the few days that I’ve actually got also slip by, somehow, without a great deal of work being done. Every time I almost get going I have to interrupt myself again, close the computer, and go off to another rendezvous, memories of what would have been bits of my chapter fading away in my head.

I tell myself that it’s good for me, these weekends away, it’s good because it’s ‘restorative’, I will end up reenergized and truly ‘re-created’ (this is a Procrastination Bible sort of word). But of course this only works if you actually manage to work on the other days, and get stuff done. I read somewhere that Kafka used to fantasize, in letters to his lover, about the possibility of dwelling in a cave, with meals delivered to its door, but otherwise being left alone in there for weeks on end. What fantastic, uninterrupted writing he would then produce!... And boy, do I understand what he was feeling!... Indeed, a cave of one’s own would be nice. A room of one’s own is not enough.

What happens, though, if you set yourself deadlines, and you want to make them, but you just keep missing them? what happens when you get to a point when there is no more time to push deadlines further and further forward? What do I do then? Will I have to spend stupid sleepless nights, again, on producing rubbish that I am too tired to actually make good? … What is the point of all this work, if that's all it will come down to in the end?... Will this ridiculousness ever stop?...


Will Cloud Nine ever finish her PhD?... Join us next week for our next episode of ‘I Hate My PhD’.

9 comments:

  1. I have the answer to your following question:
    "What happens, though, if you set yourself deadlines, and you want to make them, but you just keep missing them? what happens when you get to a point when there is no more time to push deadlines further and further forward? What do I do then?"

    Well, that's they day, my dear, when you will hand in your PhD manuscript.

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    1. ... yeah, i guess you're right. :)

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  2. I am so happy that someone else is doing exactly what I am doing. Endless calendars with dates to finish chapters by and then those deadlines get closer and instead of finishing chapters I feel like I am no further forward than when I created those calendars.One piece of advice, don't also add to the calendar why you are busy on weekends not doing your PhD and then show said calendar to your supervisor, he found that I had marked out one Saturday to go bridesmaid dress shopping down highly amusing!!!!

    I'm not sure about you but I have a really detailed thesis plan that I am really happy with and it has the flow and structure of the thesis that I want and I look at that and think Yes I can do this. The problem I have is that although I have lots of words in chapters with diagrams and results, I can't quite seem to get the same story as the thesis plan. Here my supervisor gave me some interesting advice "It's like re-arranging deck chairs on the sinking Titanic", I almost had a mini heart attack here thinking he was referring to by thesis as the sinking Titanic, but thankfully no. He was trying to tell me just get it down and give it to your supervisors and then we can discuss together how to work the chapter once I have read your ideas and endless changing the order of the sentences one day and then back again a few days later is not helping. I shall let you know how this advice goes after I get back from a conference and my supervisor expects two chapters given to him, no excuses

    Good luck :)

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    1. awww, thanks so much for your comment. ('rearranging deck chairs on a sinking Titanic' - YES!...) I was starting to feel a bit frantic about things and you've managed to calm me down a bit. I finished a thing and sent it off to my supervisor (whom i'd been sort of ignoring, despite knowing that its a really rude and silly thing to do, but I just couldn't face sending an email like 'Just to update you on how things are going: I have nothing for you'.) I feel better about it all. Thanks again! X

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  4. I know exactly how you feel, I've suffered and am still suffering from the same problem.

    To describe my relationship with deadlines, my supervisor quoted Douglas Adams "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by" !! :|

    Just remember deadlines are tools, not goals.

    If they are making you work then whether you hit them or not doesn't matter that much.

    If they are stopping you from working, then ditch them for a day or two, keep on working but without the gloom and doom of a deadline.

    Reasonable levels of stress and anxiety are helpful to propel you, but once they become paralysing then this would really impede your creativity.


    Be happy when you stay up nights to finish something, its OK, sometimes it is even exhilarating, you can make up for the sleep. Creativity and motivation are strange beasts, and we're in the process of taming them, but it is a long journey.

    Don't worry about the rubbish you produced, it will be scrutinised properly by people who are paid to do that. Utilise the resources you have, and give your supervisor something to do.

    Good luck, you will make it, we all will ...


    (deleted the comment before because there were too many silly spelling mistakes, sorry)

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    1. so I took your advice, stayed up at night (after my return from birthday no. 3) and finished something and felt good about it. I sent it off to my supervisor and now I'm back to feeling better about things (a dangerous time, by the way: when you get something finished and feel better, tis the time when the motivation and relentless drive all sort of slip, and you find yourself thinking, meh, i have loads of time... must not relax and drop the ball again...)

      I love your quote about deadlines, it makes me feel so much better (I had been using them as a stick to beat myself with: why can't I make the deadlines? why can't I finish this? - but every 'missed' deadline brings e a bit closer to finishing. Every time I don't manage to finish something, I have still managed to leave it a little bit less unfinished.

      Thanks so much for your comment. Means a lot :)

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  5. Cloud nine, are you me in another world? when i read your blog posts i sometimes wonder whether you are me in an alternate universe writing out my feelings about my phd. every single post seems to mirror exactly what I am going through in this endless phd.Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I come here to know that I have a soulmate somewhere.Your blog posts about finding counselling services was so me, it was uncanny...

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    1. oooooh!.... :) well, it's good to hear that there's another 'me', somewhere out there in the world, doing exactly what i'm doing, hating what I hate - and being bad at the things i'm bad at. it's good to know that i'm not alone.

      thanks for posting! ... and keep at it, keep on starting, keep writing! :)

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