I remember discussing difficulties managing work days with another new assistant professor who had observed professors more closely than I had. He said: “Your problem is that you are not hiding enough.”
At the time I did not think this was a comprehensive enough answer and I did not fully understand it. But it has come to me now, decades later. I am definitely not hiding enough. You have to hide yourself to get work done. I have been procrastinating on grading by doing service today and it was a bad idea.
The problem with service is not that it is bad in itself or that it does not need doing — those things must get done and someone must do them. The problem is that it is antithetical to hiding, you have to deal with all these people and details, and this is exhausting and also disorienting.
All the advice about getting writing done that people give, does not make sense to me as advice for writing because it is not news. In my case, difficulty with writing is never with writing, it is always a sign of an underlying problem of project design or fatigue, it always means there is in fact something I should do first.
But the writing advice — try just 25 minutes, do a small part of it and then take a break, remember that if you do not start, you will not finish — it applies perfectly, but perfectly to grading.
This is in part because the papers have so many unforeseen problems that it is hard to know what to do, it is intimidating. But one must keep on keeping on starting. Take a short break and start again, but keep that break short.
Grading is antithetical to hiding because it is actually an intense involvement with someone else’s minds, or many other minds. That is why you have to hide to do it — you are already dealing with enough people and thoughts on paper, and more cannot be added.
I always said that this was not an academic blog but it appears to have turned into one.