The accountability cure (Tseen Khoo)

Leonard French - Four Seasons panel, La Trobe University
(Photo by Tseen Khoo)
My greatest achievements in academia were produced by my fear of shame and humiliation. 

I (jokingly?) said this to a colleague recently, and we had a good laugh.

The moment has stayed with me, though, because it's kind of true.

We tend to produce our work to deadline, whether these are set by ourselves or others.

Others' deadlines tend to be much more successful, usually, but I often still find myself standing at the edge of the abyss. Then I end up in spirals of frenzied, panicky activity that I fear will produce rubbish.

I really get into gear if there's a danger that I might let others down. Having to withdraw from a couple of academic publications when I was negotiating one of my career swerves (from an academic to a professional role) is something I remember with an awful sinking feeling. Even now, more than three years later. 

Coming to the pointy end of a deadline, the promise of an article or review submission (made oh-so-long ago) can hang odiously around your neck. So, why this repeated procrastinating behaviour that I know is bad for me?  

I'm a serial offender when it comes to leaving things to the last minute; it's a habit I honed throughout my various degrees. As is often the way, the problem lies not in failing others, but in doing perfectly well in the end and delivering writing that's halfway decent. That's the issue.

This simple handout about procrastination is excellent for sketching out why you procrastinate and what you can do about it. 

For me, one of the most successful ways of trumping procrastinating behaviours is through accountability. Increasingly, I've made my work on projects and their progress more transparent. This is a huge step for me. 

As a humanities scholar, one of those supposedly passe 'lone wolves' of the academic system, I wasn't used to sharing information about my work-in-progress on a regular basis.

Sure, I had to fill in progress reports and end-of-year justifications about why took up space in the university, but as part of regular collegial conversations? Nah!

Through #LTUacwrimo's spreadsheet, and with an increasing likelihood that I'll flag progress to academic buddies on various platforms, I'm feeling a constructive push towards getting things done because others' energy lends me energy.

Compare this with the purely shame-driven spiral of panic I mentioned earlier. I think we know which is healthier for mind, body, and output.

While I'm not at all as dedicated as Jennifer Lim (see her two posts about her process at PhD2Published: Part 1 and Part 2), I'm in wholehearted agreement with her statement about the key to accountability being "knowing what you need to achieve and making sure you put in the effort to achieve it".

It's all too easy to de-prioritise writing or reading commitments in your week. Having paid much closer to attention to my habits over this last month, I've learned exactly where change will benefit me most.

Can I have another month to implement these changes...?

Tseen Khoo is a lecturer in research education and development at La Trobe University and one half of the Research Whisperer team. 

In previous incarnations, Tseen has been a research grant developer and research fellow. She founded and still convenes a national research network (AASRN), edited an academic journal for five years, and has been part of successful major competitive grants. 

Other than that, she can be quite normal.