A check of my Timex sports watch, 13:00. I shrug, no problem. I hurry out the door for a Monday afternoon jog. After a productive morning of writing, I deserve a break and some fresh air. The other work can wait.
I run half way around the lake path, walk the rest, and make it home in under 45 minutes. Maybe a quick protein shake, then back to the writing? On a second thought, maybe a shower first. With damp skin, I could catch a chill. But before that shower, a speedy check of the email. A quick pop-in just in case, I don’t know, someone needs me immediately. Not sure who the hell that would be, but too late.
One check of an email leads to the click of a link, another, and then a Google search about creative entrepreneur teens who are changing the face of feminism. Maybe a YouTube search to find out what the music and TED talks are all about. A Timex check, 15:00 already. I should eat a substantial lunch if I hope to get through the mental obstacles of revising my manuscript.
Bread warming in the toaster; ham slices, tomato and relish at the ready. The sandwich made, I grab a book and read while I eat. Only crumbs left, I read some more and enjoy the warmth of our sunny patio. Then, okay, 16:00; is that the time? Wasn’t I supposed to work on something this afternoon?
I pull up the document. I sigh. A disjointed mess of words hang on the screen. The usual awaits: sorting, revising, massaging, re-typing, finding a rare jewel hidden in the crud. Eyes drooping; maybe a revitalizing cat nap? No, too late in the day. What about that full sink, there in the kitchen, disgusting and screaming out to me? No, it’s hubby’s turn to wash; don’t give in. But the dog needs to go out a little early this evening. Don’t even think about it. I could stare at the screen; think of the thousand things to do other than write this essay; this essay about procrastination.
A friend joked that I would probably put this one off. My laugh flowed easy when she said it, but inside I knew. It would be like every other essay, every other project. That first hurdle; not necessarily of focusing, but convincing myself to start, and start immediately, before anything else popped into my frontal lobe and offered an excuse to delay.
No, sit back down, you don’t need to find some damn gum. Just chew on your tongue.
To procrastinate is not exactly a positive choice in our culture. Beyond the simple definition, there are the social stigmas: procrastination equals lazy and lack of will power, or leads to the plague of never getting anything done. Self-help guides line bookstore and virtual shelves to assist with this near mental disorder. Sciences study indicators and motivations, hoping to figure out the almighty weapon to fight off procrastination so it never returns. Are we in the battle of our lives, to conquer and defeat the fire-breathing monster known as ProKrastin Ate? I admit, I intentionally delay certain tasks that linger on the top of my priority list. But sometimes I am only taking a pause to think.
From my experience, the first stage of procrastination involves a fear and apprehension welling up from my belly’s pit. In response, stress throws up a mental roadblock that always offers a convincing detour sign. The messy-house-that-must-be-cleaned is my classic form of procrastination. If my home is unkempt, the universe will of course disintegrate back to a tiny particle of dust.
My inspired muse works overtime to generate more creative procrastination techniques, expertly veiled behind cloaks of both necessity and temptation. While juggling multiple assignments, the easy one becomes the focused center; the intentional distraction to divert any attention given to the one that’s due. I also prefer busy work in the name of procrastination. Although I do not budge an inch on the targeted task, I accomplish lots of other stuff like paying bills, creating a new household budget, organizing notes and files, even completing a few cryptograms from a puzzle book. And then there are the obvious offenders: eating sandwiches, checking my arms for odd shaped moles, sorting through junk mail coupons, taking pictures of my sleeping puppy dog, biting my nails, daydreaming of the nearby construction site and the creative ways I could dismantle or mangle the excessively loud equipment.
My fail-safe method of procrastination is time travel. Jumping forward, out of the present moment, and making to-do lists; creating new schedules that I implore myself to follow this time. Just turn off the brain and follow the damn list.
I think the Puritan work ethic is engrained in our culture’s psyche. You must be hard at work to be a good person because while the boss is away the mice will screw off and idle hands are the devil’s something or other. I read an article published recently, “5 Tricks to Teach Kids to Avoid Procrastination.” The article advised to prioritize work before play, to keep a to-do notebook and to get organized. The subject in the article was a child who had entered the first grade. Yowzah. What is that, 7 years old? I thought I was stressed out in grade school when I had to use my stuffed animals as dates for my Barbie dolls because I didn’t have Ken. I never knew this stress was a projection of how I felt about putting off other more important shit. Seriously, someone should have let me know about the other more important shit.
It’s all about results. I was raised to produce, to accomplish. When I got into school, homework was on, then band practice and tennis practice, then some more homework, nightly assignments, monthly tests, quarterly projects and exams. After public school came college. Time management was the necessity; procrastination meant cramming, all nighters, gut-rot from too much coffee and NoDoz. How did I manage without the current prescription Adderral focus-me drugs?
Maybe we credit procrastination too often as the culprit, the something to blame. “Oh, I’m just procrastinating,” I tell myself with a dismissive wave. But what is the delayed activity and why am I dragging my feet? Do I feel an intuition of bad timing, or do I hear the disgruntled integrity alarm? Maybe it’s plain ole fear and I need to gulp a breath before leaping into possible failure, or possible pain (I’m thinking of the dentist appointment that I have to make). Procrastination could be the red flag snapping in the storm, a signal to take a moment more of thought and consideration.
Wait, that’s right, no time. Multitasking is the desired momentum in this day and age, with everything geared toward doing more in less time. Procrastination could be the rebellion, to escape a social conditioning that runs our humanity dead tired into the ground.
To me, procrastination is a symptom of our productivity obsession; a sign that the overstimulated, multitasking wires are fritzing on overload. If I am not busy and producing, the social control kicks in and I feel horribly guilty. I must not be managing my time, or, oh-no, procrastinating.
If the social stigma evaporated and we didn’t beat ourselves up for delaying an action on some things, we could be a more relaxed culture. That’s a scary unknown.
Just because I create a to-do list doesn’t mean I actually have to do anything from it.
© M.R.Collier, A Way of Your Own, 2015