Yesterday I faced a task on which I've been procrastinating for a few weeks: beginning to send editorial comments on the submissions for the volume on Ethics and Children's Literature that I'm editing as a follow-on to the symposium I hosted on that topic here at DePauw last fall. The contributors' expanded and revised papers were due to me January 31; I set myself the deadline of responding to them by March 15, so I'm not behind on that deadline yet, but I've definitely been dragging my feet on it, for two reasons.
First, I knew I needed to use the Track Changes feature on Microsoft Word, and I have an unreasoned terror of Track Changes, a subset of my terror of technology generally.
Second, although I had already read the first papers that came to me, and knew exactly what I wanted to say to their authors, I kept second-guessing myself about my comments. Had I missed something? Was I too locked into one narrow critical perspective? Was I being too critical? Or not critical enough? Should I read each paper another time? Or two more times? Or three?
So yesterday, I just made myself do the first and easiest paper. Track Changes was a piece of cake! A piece of cake with nice thick frosting on it! And then, exhilarated with relief, I finished another three.
And regarding my self-doubts about my comments: basically, I am who I am, and I think what I think. It might be nice to be smarter - it would definitely be nice to be smarter - but I don't see that happening in any dramatic way over the course of the next three weeks. If I read the papers another time, or ten more times, I might find one more small insight to add. Or I might not. It's exceedingly unlikely that I'd find a big insight to add.
Once again, I have had occasion to realize my own variation on the famous 80-20 rule of time management: that 80 percent of the benefit comes from 20 percent of the work, and in order to get the additional 20 percent of benefit, you'd have to increase your amount of work five-fold - not worth it! My variant on this is realizing that you aren't going to get to 100 percent in any case. If I had worked harder on these editorial comments, I wouldn't have gone from 80 percent to 100 percent. I would have gone from 80 percent to 82 percent. Not worth it!
It is so much better to get 80 percent in a timely way, without undue life stress, than to take forever, half-killing oneself with fear and dread, to get 82 percent.
Which I proved to myself, once again, yesterday.