Wait for it ...
Updated: Feb 10
When it comes to getting anything done, my method looks something like this:
Start with a brilliant idea
Park it in the back of my mind
Let it sit there for ... days, weeks
Notice that the idea is politely asking to be brought back into the light of day where it rightfully belongs
Ignore it ... hard
Fight with its need to be seen and my need to not do anything about it
Repeat until the bugger finally wears me down and I begrudgingly attend to it
When asked to list my personal strengths, I always include the ability to put off until tomorrow what I could do today. After all, what's the rush? A deadline, you say? Isn't that what the day before it's due is for? I managed a B average through high school and University with this method so it's not entirely without its merits. The one time in University I experimented with writing a paper well in advance of the deadline, in that I started it weeks before it was due, I got an A. And a meeting with the professor who suspected me of plagiarizing the paper.
In his 1930 article How to Get Things Done: One Week in the Life of a Writing Man, Robert Benchley observed that “anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he is supposed to be doing at that moment.” *(Citation)
There are very few things that can capture my attention deeply enough that mindless distractions are no match. Genealogy research is one of them. Partly, the reason for this is that spending hours, days, lost amongst all the family trees allows me to avoid the thing I am supposed to be doing. I can be otherwise productive without actually getting the intended thing done.
I'm Not Alone
I came upon this TedTalk by Tim Urban which pretty much, 100%, describes me. So my method is not mine alone. Thousands of you share it with me. In this Just Do It culture of ours, Just Wait On It, doesn't really measure up. But procrastination is finally getting its due. We are starting to recognize that there is method to the madness of putting off the big, important things. Matters of some import require time to gestate not unlike a young sapling. Throw a ton of water and light at it right off the bat is more likely to overwhelm as opposed to nurture.
Check out this blog by John Perry where the term structured procrastination is coined. The idea he posits of making a checklist of things that need to get done and put them in order of importance resonates with me. When I finally sit down at my computer to pound out a blog or other writing project, I ritually attend to a bunch of smaller to-do items first.
It looks something like this:
Walk around my office greeting all of my plants, offer encouragement and praise and give them some water if needed
Open windows for fresh air
Tidy the already tidy piles of papers on my desk
Surf the web and social media for mindless escape
Tempt myself with family tree research knowing full well that it is a black hole of a time-waster
Respond to emails and other busy business work
Tweek my website
Go back to the house for a snack
Head to the mailbox to pick up the day's mail, say hello to all the plants and trees, birds, insects, and animals I pass along the way
Make a cup of tea
Fold some laundry
Go back to the office and sit back down at my desk
Repeat any step that takes my fancy
Without an external deadline, I have no discipline, no push. With an external deadline, I get cranky and whiny and feel the weight of the unfairness of it all! So much pressure!
The Panic Monster
Tim Urban talks about the Panic Monster and describes it thus:
The Panic Monster is dormant most of the time, but he suddenly wakes up when a deadline gets too close or when there’s danger of public embarrassment, a career disaster, or some other scary consequence.
How It Plays Out
I have the annoying habit of saying yes to events like workshops and presentations without really knowing how I am going to pull it off. I make note of the date in my calendar and then I forget about it - until about a week before I will be standing in front of a room full of people with expectations and the Panic Monster rears its frenzied head. What have I gotten myself into? What was I thinking when I said yes? Why do I do this to myself? Now, (and yes it feels like) suddenly, I need a plan. I need to find things to say and power point slides to display. Internal chaos ensues.
And, yet, I manage to do it. It simply has to be done. Although, let's not kid ourselves, I come up with all manner of imaginary but believable excuses for bowing out at the last minute. I spend a considerable amount of time pondering the possibilities of truancy - my aunt died, my child is sick, my dog ate my presentation. Yes, the one I spent all the hours developing! Not. Inventing ways to absent myself seems to lessen the rising level of stress I have voluntarily heaped upon my poor brain.
Old Dog, New Tricks?
How to avoid the panic is a question I ask myself every time I have activated it. Sure, I could start planning, researching, and writing way earlier. I could break the project down into smaller steps and tick them off one by one as they are completed. I could enlist a person to help keep me on track. The solutions are endless ... and I don't like any of them. For some reason, I am drawn to the challenge of the last minute, the down to the wire. Maybe it's because I don't really have staying power. Instead, I have bursts of extraordinary energy and motivation which are spurred on by the procrastination panic.
It seems to work. I've gotten this far in life getting stuff done. Sure, there are things, like that novel I've always wanted to write (ask me!!), that have yet to see the light of day. But the good news is my house is super-clean, the plants are happy, and I managed to bang out this blog in under eight hours (2 hours writing + 6 hours avoiding writing).
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