At first I didn't click on Adam Grant's "There's a Name for the Blah You're Feeling" because I thought it was my friendly companion "meh." But it really does have a name: Languishing.
Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021.
Last summer, the journalist Daphne K. Lee tweeted about a Chinese expression that translates to “revenge bedtime procrastination.” She described it as staying up late at night to reclaim the freedom we’ve missed during the day. I’ve started to wonder if it’s not so much retaliation against a loss of control as an act of quiet defiance against languishing.
That means we need to set boundaries. Years ago, a Fortune 500 software company in India tested a simple policy: no interruptions Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. When engineers managed the boundary themselves, 47 percent had above-average productivity. But when the company set quiet time as official policy, 65 percent achieved above-average productivity. Getting more done wasn’t just good for performance at work: We now know that the most important factor in daily joy and motivation is a sense of progress.
I don’t think there’s anything magical about Tuesday, Thursday and Friday before noon. The lesson of this simple idea is to treat uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to guard. It clears out constant distractions and gives us the freedom to focus. We can find solace in experiences that capture our full attention.
This makes a great deal of sense, especially with a phenomenon that I've been thinking of as "running out of steam." Say you're excited about Project A, you do the homework on Project A, you set aside the time to work on Project A, and then . . . nothing.
It's not like usual writing procrastination and anxiety, which are still there for some things. It's more like the excitement dissipating when you have to conjure up the energy to actually put those words down. The energy vanishes.
It's also important to note that not everyone in academia has the luxury of languishing--parents of little kids, overworked instructors, etc. etc. etc. Tanya Golash-Boza of GetaLifePhD wrote on Twitter had published "75 books and articles"* because she sleeps 8 hours a night, writes for 1-2 hours every workday, and doesn't "get in her own way."
There was swift backlash, and she later revised it to acknowledge her academic privilege of a low courseload and good research funding--and attributed her success to not hanging around Twitter [except to promote her brand] and spending the time writing.
Her basic point, though, is the same as Grant's: set boundaries. Give yourself time to write, and then do it--i.e., get out of your own way.
In other words, don't languish. Get past the "meh."
*Edited to add: I just realized that this reminded me of Bachman in Silicon Valley, when he lumps his his money with Bighead's and announces that their company has $20,013,000, never specifying that the the $20 million belongs to Bighead and the 13K to guess who.