Lately I have been banging my head against a project that I just don’t like. I have procrastinated on it long enough. I am sure you have been in the same position. So how do you do work that you don’t like? First, let me provide some context on a particular writing project that I have been struggling with completing.
I have to complete the 100th draft of a scientific research article. It is my team manager’s grad student’s article. I got assigned to redo the message of the article manuscript and now after the grad student has gone over it again for the umpteenth time I have to redo the discussion. Yippee me! I don’t like the subject matter of the article. But a scientific article is like any other so I should be able to rewrite it…right?
I have seriously been dragging my feet on this project. I have been complaining in my head…why can’t the grad student write better? The first few passes I made through the manuscript were to decipher what was written. Why can’t grad students learn to write better? For some reason, grad students don’t realize that better writing helps with making your message clear. And, do they seriously think they will learn good writing by osmosis? No. You got to either take a course or learn the damn thing on your own. Pick up a book. Go online and search for good materials.
Not only do I have to deal with poor writing, I myself am not passionate about the topic. Yes the topic is related to my field of research but I just can’t drum up the motivation to look at a manuscript that will have limited application. I’m asking myself, well, why would anyone want to read this piece of work? What are its implications? So I got a few points here to make the manuscript workable and me appreciating it a bit even though the topic is just boring (to me).
So, how do you do work that you just don’t like?
Here are a few steps I took to get started.
1. Why should I even do this project? How is it beneficial to me? Should I even do this work? Will this work be helpful to my career?
Well, another manuscript submitted is one step close to another publication for me. Another publication will help me build my writing portfolio in the long term.
Besides, my boss assigned it to me.
And while I am not exceedingly passionate about the topic I could use this manuscript to demonstrate that I can write on other topics.
2. Determine why your boss wants you to do the work?
He hates me. Ok this is not the case. I looked at the other people around me. Well, my boss and I are the only senior scientists on the team and the other grad students have their own work. My boss is the Head of Department. He is more busy than I am. I am actually the best person to write the message and discussion for the paper as I have had scientific articles published in good journals. I must know something.
See what I did there…I realized that I am actually the best person to rewrite the manuscript.
3. Am you the best person to do this work?
I answered this question when I answered why my boss wants me to rewrite the grad student’s manuscript. Sometimes this question and the one before may give different answers.
4. Determine what exactly is the remaining work and the end result.
Get clear on what you really need to produce and do to get that end product. The end product in this case is a redrafted manuscript for submission to my boss for his final edits before submitting to a pre-selected journal.
5. Chunk the work down into sub-projects.
I need to:
- subdivide the discussion into themes
- clarify the implications of the study
- summarize the main results and implications in the conclusion
- rewrite the abstract to reflect the main results and the main implication
- re-read the entire manuscript for
- clarity, and
- grammar and spelling.
My boss is usually the one to do the full edits.
- write the letter of submission.
- format the pictures according to the journal’s submission guidelines.
- incorporate my bosses edits. He usually does the edits on paper.
- submit the article.
6. Determine if you need to learn any new skills.
Some projects may require you to learn either new algorithms and coding or new experimental techniques. In this case, the grad student is the one who has to learn those skills. So luckily for me I have to focus on the manuscript.
7. Assign the next sub-project a deadline date and schedule into your calendar.
I usually schedule the next sub-project on my calendar over the next week. I have to keep my calendar semi-flexible as I am often called upon to do other administrative tasks on the spur of the moment.
Open your calendar of choice. It can be your work calendar or your email calendar or a paper calendar. At least use one where you already note all of your appointments.
Look for chunks of time in your work schedule and assign those time blocks to work sessions for the current sub-project.
8. Create another calendar and input all sub-projects and deadline dates.
This new calendar is your project calendar. It will provide an overview of what you want. Your working calendar which is the one mentioned in step 7 above is the calendar with all of your appointments, work sessions and meetings.
The project calendar helps you to estimate when you will be able to complete the work.
9. Renegotiate deadlines with your boss.
You may be working on several projects at the same time. So discuss which project gets priority when with your boss. Use your project calendars and overlay them into your work calendar when you discuss the work loads of each project and their priority. This helps your boss to see your full work load and for both of you to decide on a suitable deadline. I am assuming here that your boss is not a robot.
10. Can you see the end or near-end of the project?
Seeing the end of the project on a calendar is great. Knowing that this project has an within this year and within two months time is motivating. I am motivated now to get it done before two months time.
11. Show up and do the work.
This is self-explanatory. Showing up and doing the work are also the hardest things to do to complete the work on the hated project.
Review the specific outcomes for each work session.
Before you leave each work session, set the specific outcomes for the next work session and ensure the work session is scheduled on your work calendar.
12. Track the actual work that you do.
Tracking your effort and achievement of specific outcomes leading to the project’s end product helps in building motivation and momentum.
13. Reward yourself.
You are doing the work. You are tracking its progress. At the end of the day, you get to pat yourself on your back for the progress. Reward yourself with playing a favorite game or watching a favorite TV sitcom show. Or, have a cool beer. You earned it. And you get to expect the reward the next time you work on the project.
Can you think of a project where you have to do work that you don’t like, a project that you have been procrastinating on? Choose one and apply the steps above.
Give me a shout-out and let me know how this exercise goes for you.