Neil Gaiman, in this moving speech, says that one of the things an artist must do to be successful, is finish things. Sounds easy, but it’s not.
As you all know, I am writing a memoir. It is more than half done, and I am very excited about it. I also wrote a novel last year and the beginning of this year, and it is sitting in a drawer awaiting a rewrite. Juggling two projects along with all the other things I have going on isn’t easy, but I’ve been doing a decent job.
But then, I got another great idea. This idea involves setting up a new site, writing a lot of content, and spending a lot of time and attention putting it together, marketing etc. It’s a really good idea and I am truly excited about it. I registered three domain names the other day and started brainstorming content, until it finally hit me: I HAVE TWO UNFINISHED PROJECTS! Adding a third will definitely eat into the time it will take to finish these.
I reluctantly decided to shelve the new project until I’ve finished the first two (or at least one of them!), because I realized that the third project is just a way to procrastinate on finishing the memoir and the novel.
I do this all the time. I start something, all excited about it, and then, as it drags on, I become interested in something else. I changed my dissertation subject several times, and found myself doing extra research as new fancy things caught my attention. (To be honest, the memoir itself was a new thing that distracted from the novel, but I know I can finish them both, working more or less concurrently on them, as one is in the writing stage and one is in editing/rewriting.)
It’s hard to finish long projects. They often require sustained attention and perseverance, both of which I often lack. I am beginning to realize that I have a fear of finishing. If I never finish, after all, I never have to put the work out into the world and suffer the uncertainty and humiliation of possible failure and ridicule. Starting a new project is not just a symptom of losing interest in one thing or in the never-ending search for something new. It is also the manifestation of a tendency to leave things unfinished.
This time I recognized it before going fully into the distraction of a new project. This time I am able to reassert my determination to finish the memoir, finish the novel, and then embark on the new project. In the meantime, I will set up the sites and do some passive research, seeing which one generates more interest, and then start the thing in a few months, when I’m done with the other things.
If you are working on a project, do you feel the nagging temptation to jump onto another project? Do you finish 75% of something and lose interest? Do you fail to edit or rewrite or revise or whatever needs to be done to have a completed work? If so, let’s take Gaiman’s advice, and just finish whatever we are working on. If you have any tips, let me know in the comments.
This is a continuation of the last two posts (Week 1, and Weeks 2-3), wherein I take a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Irrational Behavior.
Week 4 (Labor and Motivation) started off strong. I watched all the videos and read most of the material. I took the quiz once and got 13/15, which is good enough for me.
This was also the week the writing assignment came to my attention. This consisted of a 500-800 word solution to a problematic behavior. You are supposed to describe the problem, outline the research, and propose a solution. I like the practical approach to this, and would have enjoyed writing this short paper, but I knew from the start that I would not get to it. The other component of the essay is peer grading. Each student grades three other essays based on a rubric. I really like the structure of this, especially for self-learners like myself, but I simply did not have the time.
Week 5 (Self Control) coincided with the beginning of the end of my semesters. I was teaching 6 classes (with 5 different preps) at 3 different colleges. The grading and semester wrap-ups were coming in, and I was inundated. There was no way I was going to grade three additional papers, no matter what. For this week I took the quiz blind and got 7/15. Not great, but not terrible for not reading/viewing the material at all.
Week 6 (Emotion)
Sorry to say, I never even logged in for Week 6.
This course was engaging and interesting, in large part due to the video lectures, which were well produced and informative. Prof Ariely is charismatic and clearly knows his stuff. I strongly feel that this is a case of getting out what you put in. If I had participated in the forums or on the Google+ page, and if I had done the writing assignment, I feel I would have gotten a lot more out of this. As it is, I learned a lot, and do not regret the time I did spend. The timing of this course was awful for me, and the fact that it was all for enrichment and not credit made it easier for me to set my own goals, and, ultimately, to drop out. The good news is the materials are still up on the Coursera site, and I can still finish if I want to (and I just might).
As I am teaching online now for the second semester, I thought I might be able to learn something from this. I haven’t yet used video lectures for classes, but I think I will, just to get my face in front of the students. Teaching online is isolating and weird. I am used to seeing the faces of my students, having regular f2f contact with them, and just generally being in the same room. Online teaching takes all that away. I intend to do some Google Hangouts video chats for office hours and perhaps record a few short lectures in addition to the readings and assignments. This might be time consuming, but the content should be reusable.
Dan Ariely has a nice article at PBS in which he details his experience with the course, as well as the implications of MOOCs and distance learning for higher education.
This is an account of Week 2 and 3 of the MOOC that I am taking, called “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior.” You can catch my write-up of Week 1 here.
In week 2, which was about money, I watched some of the videos early in the week, but waited until Monday, the deadline, to do the quizzes. This turned out to be a bad idea. I could not remember any of the details from the first videos. This may have been due to the time that had elapsed, but I also remember multitasking while watching the videos. I have a dual-monitor setup, and I put the video on the secondary monitor while I did other work on the primary. Surprise, surprise, I clearly did not absorb the information. I took the test 5 times of the allowed 15 to get up to a score of 19/20. The first few were much lower. I then looked over the readings, scanning for the gist and for keywords. After about 1/2 hour over 5 articles, I took the quiz, and immediately scored 10/11. Good enough. There is a lot of overlap between lecture and reading, and this time I got a little lucky because I knew some of the stuff already.
Retaking quizzes is interesting. You can’t just keep retaking them and choosing the one answer that comes up over and over, which would logically be the right answer. Both the wrong and correct answers change each time you take it. In other words, there are several correct answers just as there are several wrong answers (more than 3) that the software cycles through during retakes. I was struck by the immense amount of work this would take. I would love to do the same thing in courses I teach, but it seems really labor intensive.
For week 3, which was about dishonesty, I plowed through the videos on the last day, and took the test a few times. There is a new flexible deadline, where the hard deadline is Monday and the soft deadline is later in the week. I decided to take advantage of this and take the reading quiz later.I got 22/25 on the lecture quiz in one try, but I simply did not have time to read the material nor to take the quiz. I am not sure I will, to be honest (no pun intended). I might skip the week 3 readings and move on to week 4.
Each week, there is about an hour-long video called “Office Hours” where an assistant asks Dan Ariely a series of questions from the week.
Here is the video from Week 2:
I found this one fascinating for several reasons. First, I like how personable and candid Prof. Ariely is in the video. He talks a lot about the price of free, and the fact that this Coursera course is free. He estimates that about 3000 hours went into the making of the videos alone, which I found awe-inspiring. He compared the whole thing to television, which attracts and keeps viewers’ attention through close attention to detail, entertaining products, and, frankly, lots of work. I found it interesting that the model for these videos was television, and not the classroom.
I think the approach is working. I am slacking off more than I might if I had paid for the class or if finishing it actually meant something to me (accreditation, cv line, etc.), but I am sticking with it, and enjoying myself as I learn some pretty cool ideas. Some of the reason I am sticking around has to be the level of entertainment thrown into the mix.
Week 4 is “Labor and Motivation,” which is right up my alley.