The topic in the title is one of the Frequent Addressed Topics in my work with clients working on a Ph.D. In particular in the version “…and everything is just as important!”. I have to read, write, make experiments or conduct interviews or gather data on however other way, and all the rest (and smile?). In such moments we wish there were just less to do. We wish the tasks and projects would come to us one by one like the baddies in karate movies. Who or what keeps throwing tasks at me? one wonders. Can’t it just stop for a moment so that I can breathe?
The other day this question was asked on Facebook:
Are there any Scanners out there who feel simultaneously as if there are so many things to explore, but overwhelmed by the sheer number of goals they want to accomplish?
Doesn’t it seem related? Scanners are people who are interested in so many different things that it becomes a problem. They keep changing their focus of interest often in a quite radical way. What interested them last week might seem odd the next. They cannot help it, it just happens. Do you have a friend who is deep into a different topic every time you meet? Or is it you? Do you think again again that “you found it!” (“it” being Icelandic pronunciation or orchid breeding or crochet or piano playing), the thing you want to do the rest of your life, and get totally into it, to find soon that you are absolutely bored by the topic so that you cannot see it anymore? Are you making yourself and everyone else around you crazy with your ever-changing “final” passion?
Scanners dream of stopping being scanners. Ph.D students dream of slowing down. Where does it all come from? Can’t anyone see that it is too much? Won’t it ever stop?
The answer in both cases is: No, it will never stop. A scanner is a scanner and there is not much that can be done. And it is good so because scanners see things others don’t. A creative and competent person engaged in a demanding project like a Ph.D will always have a rain of tasks, projects, possibilities and ideas falling on her. And it is good so too because the opposite leads to unemployment, loneliness, boredom… depression?
Still, we need to learn to manage that, for now, uncontrolled flow.
What to do with the overwhelm through that seemingly never-ending list of goals you want to or have to pursue, ideally at the same time? For Scanners, Barbara Sher recommends listing all those goals, so that you get a more accurate view of their number. Are they really “infinite”? Then she recommends you to put them in a 6 year plan. She explains it beautifully in this video:
As for the Ph.D and other long projects: in “The now habit” by Neil Fiore, PhD, a great book about procrastination the author says:
Tackling any large project requires an overview of its size, length, and breadth […]. When you survey the task before you, you will commonly experience a surge of energy (stress or anxiety) as your body tries to be in several places at once along the imagined course of your project. […] You’ve created a two-dimensional picture of your project –all work, all at once, with no time to catch your breath.
Fiore, as Sher, proposes to use a calendar to expand your view of your project by one dimension: that of time. And so, your project goes from a black-hole feeling: a seemingly infinite mass collapsed in one point, to a time line of events. Isn’t it calming?
Well, maybe it is not but you are one step closer to that. Namely, it can happen that you realize while making a plan that your plan is really impossible. Still, the case is not lost yet. There are things that can be done. Now you have maybe a list of problems. But before you had a blurry black cloud looming over your head. You are a step further.
To be continued…