I thought it was fitting and not without irony that the first offering of my regular offerings of creative Somethings should be about procrastination (and that the book I refer to is still yet to be finished!).
I wrote this back in March 2010 as homework for a writing group I’m part of (one or two edits made today).
(Please note: the bunny referenced in the article is Pumpkin and I soon found him Snowdrop after I learned that a bunny ideally shouldn’t live without the company of another bunny.)
It is true, I suffer from procrastination. I am one of those procrastinators you hear of, and for all the reasons a procrastinator procrastinates, however absurd they may be. Fear of failure, fear of success, magnifying the very thing I need to get done to such a degree that it becomes too huge to attempt – a mental block.
My procrastination manifests itself most often in the creative realm. The biggest cause of it is a strange belief that creatively, I am not quite inspired enough at any given moment to finish that particular song, write that paragraph, record that instrument, edit that photo.
I wait for the muse to arrive and hope that it will somehow whisk me into a frenzy of productivity of the highest artistic merit. Even though I cognitively acknowledge that inspiration is made up of a high percentage of perspiration, I somehow find myself not quite ready to create that thing I wish to create, believing that another time might see me creating it better and with greater worth. It is this very lie which feeds and justifies procrastination and the fruit that this yields is nothing, a blank, no thing.
I do those urgent things, both important and unimportant, in a timely manner (albeit often last minute) and I succeed at doing many non urgent, non important tasks, with great frequency and delight. It is those things which are not urgent but important which I often fail to do. One example which comes to mind would be the book that has been rattling around my head for a number of years, and which I am finally getting written.
I am penning this piece on procrastination at this very time in history, 1pm on Tuesday, March 2010, entirely for the reason that I am embroiled in procrastination over getting my book to second draft, and writing this essay allows procrastination to occur, in a manner most excusable.
I did work on my book a little earlier today, which was better than yesterday, when I hurled myself with maximum effort, into total avoidance of the task at hand, and succeeded, with complete abandon.
Today started off well but then a dog barked. I simply could not function. Again and again I heard the unwelcome noise, jolting me out of inspiration. When the intrusion stopped, all I could think of was whether it would start again.
I needed a caffeine fix and broke away from working on my book to submerge myself in the ritual of making coffee, the fresh grounds in the espresso maker, the cold water going in, the hot, rich, beautiful coffee flowing out and into my grateful cup. Then I was hungry. Then, after feeding myself, I remembered that I needed to search the internet on quantities of food to give a rabbit, one of the questions on my to investigate list, after the recent purchase of my bunny. It all depends on the size of the bunny it seems. Anyway, I digress, which is, of course, a manifestation of procrastination in operation.
Now all I want to do is lie down. The feeling is overwhelming me. Not only am I procrastinating with my book, I feel a sudden and substantially powerful urge to procrastinate on this essay. What a wretched being I am. I will make myself another coffee now. No, I will delay the reward. I will write this and then I will reward myself with that coffee.
This leads me to my four principled approach for a recovering procrastinator. Can I call myself that? Is that truthful? Am I recovering? Perhaps I am someone with procrastinistic tendencies (yes, I’ve just made that word up) who is able to walk in freedom from procrastination when I follow the following principles.
Principle number 1. Reward yourself afterwards. I have found that nothing slaps procrastination in the face quite like delayed reward.
I am not going to drink coffee or lie down until I have finished this, but when I have finished, oh the wonder, oh the glory, oh the richness of that coffee, oh the sweet sigh as my head hits my pillow, guilt free and with the taste of accomplishment (and coffee) in my mouth.
Arrgghh, it is rising up within me. I feel tired. I want to lie down right now, only for twenty minutes. It must have been the pasta I had for lunch. My body does tend to have a trough in energy at this time of day, but no, not yet!
Principle 2. Sliding Doors. Named after that film. When I see what could happen if I accomplished a certain creative task or took an idea and made it a reality, when I see how something I might create might encourage others, or move my life in a different direction, or help me express how I feel, then I am empowered to do this thing. Alternatively, when I think about my lack of producing the things I feel inspired to bring to life, I see a huge waste of time, purpose and opportunity. My life could go one way or another. I could achieve, I could make that difference or I could just not do it. I must choose to do that thing and do it now!
Principle 3. One achievable step at a time. I have a tendency to be all or nothing, swinging from the unrealistic over to inertia when I can’t meet my own ridiculously impossible goals. Break it down into smaller, doable, chunks.
Principle 4. A powerful weapon against the evil of procrastination is deadline. Just to utter the word sends shivers down the spine of the avoider and serves as the proverbial kick up the behind.
Encouragingly, I realise that I’m writing this essay now and not mere minutes before the deadline but the fact that it is looming hours ahead of me has helped get me there.
There is hope for the procrastinator. I can testify to that. Now, for some coffee.