Friday, April 15, 2011


One common reason people don't get things done is that they "hate" to do them. Everyone has a particular class of things they hate doing, and that they therefore put off or do without paying sufficient attention to them. "I hate grading," one professor recently told me. I'm sure many readers share that view. I myself hate filling out expense forms (all forms, actually, I guess). In this post I want to point out that hatred can have consequences well beyond the object of your hate itself. In fact, for strange reasons, we often treat the things we hate better than the things we love.

Here's a hypothetical situation. You have a pile of term papers to grade and, let's say, a week to do it. You hate grading, but you have set aside time for it in the evenings after the kids have been put to bed. When the house is quiet, you sit down in front of the papers. But you get up immediately to make yourself a cup of coffee. The first paper is so-so, probably deserves a C, and makes you feel like your students "just aren't getting it". Or something. Did I mention that you hate grading?

You get up before even giving the student a grade and walk around a bit. You check some mails. You surf the internet. You might even make some notes for a paper or an upcoming class. By the time you go to bed, you've graded some of the papers, but not the third of them that your planning vaguely implied you had to. You're now, as they say, "behind".

So when you get to the office the next day and look in your calendar to see what you have to do today, registering, say, a meeting with the Dean and a class you have to teach as set in stone, and deciding that that lunch date with a colleague has already been put off too many times to be seemly to cancel again, and since you're behind on your grading, well, you had better cancel that hour of writing you had planned for, funny this, just now, and, funnier still, you had better spend this hour, not doing some grading, but preparing yourself for that meeting with the Dean, which, now that you think about it, you were supposed to give some thought last night after grading some papers, but, because you were so consumed with hate, you were worn out and just went to bed.

For good measure you cancel another writing session for tomorrow, and a longer one at the end of the week, to give yourself a "buffer" to grade those papers. That gives you the "whole evening" tonight and tomorrow for grading (plus the buffer), which means you do some administrative work in the time you had planned to write (and would have spent the evening doing? ... Well, nevermind, you're not thinking straight now. The hate is eating you up.)

Okay. I think I'm making my point. By the end of the week, you have actively and efficiently hated the grading but at least you've gotten it done, and the students have probably all gotten exactly the grades they deserve. Your colleagues feel respected and your Dean is impressed with you. The only thing that suffered was your writing. But you don't hate your writing, do you?

The moral of this story is of course partly that it is especially the things you hate that you have to be disciplined about, so that they don't interfere with the things you love. But why do you hate grading anyway? Think of grading as a test of your judgment. You are going to have to give a certain number of Fs, Ds, Cs, Bs, and As. You know this in advance. Don't let the C or the D depress you. Just recognize the paper for the C it is. Give the grade, pat yourself on the back for being so discerning, and move on the next paper. Don't spend extra time (and emotional energy) trying to see value in a paper that (obviously) didn't successfully make that value obvious. Grade the paper, not the student.

Also, when you cancel a few hours of writing time to "give yourself time" to do something you "hate", think about how that makes the writer inside you feel. And think about how much time you are actually winning for each paper to grade. If you cancel a full hour of writing time in order to devote it to a stack of, say, 10 papers, you are winning 6 minutes (at best) for each paper. Are those six minutes really going to make the difference between a fair grade and an unfair one? And, honestly, are you going to actually devote those six minutes to each of the the papers? Aren't you just going use the time to wallow more completely in your hate?

Once you realize that you only have the time you planned to use on things you don't like very much to do, let your dislike of those things focus your attention, not dissipate it. 6 hours. 24 papers. That's four papers per hour. 15 minutes per paper. Minus breaks. 10 or 12 minutes per paper. Focus now. Get it done. Then go back to doing the things you like to do.

This blog is now taking a one-week break. When I return, I promise, I will write a post about love.

Update: Great minds not only think alike, they think about the same things. Unbeknownst to me Jonathan wrote a couple of posts about hatred yesterday (here and here).

1 comment:

Jonathan said...

Here's another post along the same lines. Great minds seem to converge around certain themes at the same time.