Procrastination. Okay, I’ll get the joke out of the way first: I meant to write this blog last year, but I didn’t get around to it. Ba-Boom! Thank you ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be here all week!
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s talk about procrastination – how can it help you? You heard me, procrastination has it’s up side – I figure everything we do that we don’t understand has a reason somewhere, somehow – we get something from it.
And let’s face it, if it didn’t have an upside, procrastination would make us absolutely crazy and there would be some reality show where procrastination therapists staged interventions to try and convince people there is no need to organize 450,000 photos before writing a simple blog post…
Even now, finally settled down to write, procrastination’s insidious ways have me checking for something I can play in the background as I write: “Mad Men”? No, no – plots are too distracting… Music? Hey, is Grooveshark a channel on Roku? No, it isn’t – I’ll have to play it on this computer. Dang, my Flash is out of date again. Well, when is it NOT out of date? This’ll just take a minute… or I could get my old laptop out… I need some more coffee anyway… And I can’t forget I need a picture for this… How come I can’t put a picture directly into the new OmniOutliner anymore? Why would they make a new OmniOutliner that didn’t do as much as the old one? I should write them – the Omni Group is so responsive and all, and except for that, this is a great new version… oh, COFFEE!
You know how it goes – 45 minutes later you’ve watered the plants, made more coffee, called your long lost boyfriend from high school, and made plans for a summer trek through the Appalachians. And it’s September.
And you still haven’t written the blog post.
Before I despair too much, here’s a couple of things to notice. One is that, in procrastinating, you get an awful lot of other things done. Things we would never get around to doing otherwise, I’m sure. In avoiding writing this weekend – my particular procrastination province – yours may be homework, or housework, or just work in general! – my laundry is done, school papers are graded, two pretty tough workouts accomplished, went out with my friends, etc., etc.
Philosopher John Perry calls this structured procrastination and he argues that it’s a lifestyle, not a flaw. He noticed as a young faculty member that his own dislike of grading papers and preparing lectures found him going next door and socializing with his students in the dorm – eventually giving him a great reputation as a friend and mentor and leading to some sort of “Top 10 Professors I’d Like to Hang Out With” award.
I can’t think of anything NOT writing a blog post is going to do for me – maybe find out if anyone reads these? But you see where I’m going with this. If I’d done my “to do” list with the most important thing on top: writing – and refused to budge from it until I Got It Done – I wouldn’t have had such a productive and satisfying weekend. And I would probably STILL be sweating this out with increasing anxiety, aware of all the other things I’d put off that now hang heavy over my head.
Besides structured procrastination, maybe what I was doing, by doing the least important things first, was reducing the anxiety surrounding writing until I could do it? You have to admit, it’s a possibility. Most of us are, in one way or another, perfectionists – it goes hand in hand with being creative. We don’t want to just get the job done, we want to get it done in a way that will knock your socks off!
And the computer is such a great way to procrastinate, isn’t it? Witness the proliferation of apps that do nothing but simulate a computer from 1992 with no internet dial-up. Computers are now a tremendous toy and a total distraction fun box – really, we should pat ourselves on the back for getting anything done at all!
So for procrastinators, one idea is to get something even worse on the top of your to do list. If, for some reason, I’d decided I HAD to find and call one of my old high school boyfriends this weekend, writing a blog post would start to look pretty good!
Another idea is to collaborate with someone else or structure your life so that you might as well do something. The whole idea of a job or school any more, I believe, is more the idea that, if we’re all together, we might force or cajole or tease or “in your face!” each other into actually working. That this doesn’t always work is a testament to the power of distractible human beings, who now have a venue and a group with which to make softball teams…
It’s part of our nature as human beings to be distractible, some of us more so than others. We fondly believe that in the past people – well, mostly because our grandparents tell us this and you have to believe your grandparents – didn’t suffer as much from this problem. Do any of us have that Miss Haversham ability to focus so on a moment of time – remember, she was left at the altar and for the rest of her life lived in an increasingly ratty wedding gown, amidst the moldy cake and other cobwebby reminders of the party? Hats off to her, I mean, it’s not like I haven’t had heartache, but, increasingly, I can only be upset for about 24 hours and then it’s like, “oooh, something shiny!”
But, and I have given a lot of thought to this in the past 20 minutes, when was entertainment and distraction ever so readily available as now? I’m doing an experiment where I’m cutting off cable tv, but there’s still the internet… and books… and music… and people… sigh… I’m afraid it’s hopeless! What are you procrastinating on right now? Ask yourself this: what are you getting from that?
Oh, well – don’t feel too bad – with a really good weekend under my belt I finally got this written. If you’re procrastinating reading this, first, thank you! – and then maybe you’ll come up with a solution for the rest of us! For me, I’ve hit on a topic that am very interested on, and that will repay further research. I’ll put it on my “to do” list. For now, all I need is a picture… And what ARE those spots on my computer screen? I think I have something that will take those off… Oh, and I need some more coffee…