Why do I do this to myself? A research rant!

Why do I put projects down and not pick them up forever?

I spend so much fricking time trying to figure out what I was doing a year, two years, five years ago.

A lot of this is my coauthors’ fault.  I hate nagging and other coauthors don’t, so I’m often low on the queue.  And sometimes there will be something they have to do that I can’t do.  And months will pass.

But… that doesn’t explain why I do this to myself on single-authored papers too.

And I always swear to myself that this time I will leave myself better notes.  More complete files with better comments.   Ugh.  Unfortunately whatever it was that caused me to put something down often keeps me from putting it away neatly too.

One benefit of having to figure out what the heck it was I was doing– I often find mistakes.  But really, I’d prefer to find those mistakes in a faster way.

#2 chimes in:

Cripes, I do that too!  I have so many things that are around 85% done.  All the hard part is done!  If I just put in a few hours, fewer than 10, I can send this stuff out for publication by the end of this month.  But yet, I don’t do it!

There are various reasons for this.  Sometimes, I stall out when I don’t know what to do next.  Instead of asking for help like a reasonable being, I try to pretend nothing’s wrong.  I have some fear that the project somehow isn’t right, in some way (not rigorous enough?  stats not correct?), and that reviewers will, I don’t know, laugh at me.  This is silly because peer review, whether through a journal submission or  just asking colleagues for informal feedback, will catch existing problems and make the paper better.  Maybe those problems aren’t even there and I’m just imagining them!

Maybe I have a fear of success.  If this article is great, I have to keep producing great things!  What if the next one isn’t as good, or I can’t get the next one done?  I better hold on to this one in case I need a submission for next year.  (??!!?!?!?!?)

Sometimes, I get distracted.  For example, I have to get my RAs started on data collection for the next project, and that takes a lot of time and energy, and I don’t make it a priority to finish writing the previous paper.  I’m dumb like that.

Sometimes, it’s just hard work and I’m tired.  In my head, I have found great results and know what they mean.  Or found not-great results and I’m already working on a follow-up study that fixes this one’s limitations.  Taking the extra time to explain complex results for an audience can be tedious.

Sometimes, I can’t face the thought of all the work still to come.  I can submit for publication and forget about the paper for a while… yay!  But then I might get a revise-and-resubmit, and have to do YET MORE work on this project that I am mentally done with, and that would be tedious.  Or I could not do the revisions, and send it somewhere else.  This works a surprising number of times.

On the upside: A pre-tenure push to clear the backlog has really paid off for me.  But I need to try not to get such a backlog in the first place.

Grumpy readers, please smack us upside the head and tell us to stop being dorks, ok?  Also, send cookies. (Do you do this kind of stuff too?)