Friday, May 21, 2010

Later Has Evaporated

Procrastination and the Artichoke

The Problem:
X needs to be done. I don't do it.  I find some excuse to put off doing it.

Think of X's being done and how that'll make you feel. (Yay plus 1,000). Doneness is the goal.  The pleasure of arriving there, its reward.

What's stopping you?
That damn block. The one I've intentionally installed there to relieve me of the task of doing the task I don't want to do right now.  The one that charms me with: "Wait.  Do something else instead." 

Removing the Block:
Let's pretend Doneness is an artichoke heart.  Granted, one can buy artichoke hearts already extracted, jarred or canned and ready for consumption, but ...  it's not quite the same.  The tasty little ritual of getting to the heart of an artichoke, one delicious anticipatory taste at a time as you pluck off its green outer petals, is one of its pure pleasures.    The pleasure lies not only in the arriving at, but in the process while getting there.  Is my choosing not to do X because I find little or no pleasure in the process?

Understanding the Problem:
Let's address the process. The three most common factors that might prohibit someone from reaching a goal are:

1. The emergence or continuing presence of more compelling,
     immediate tasks.
2. Dislike or dread of the process.
3. Getting sidetracked by something else--or
     finding the process itself so engaging, one loses sight of the goal.

1.  Priority must be assigned.
2.  It's a question of attitude.
3.  Dscipline and stick-to-itivness must be installed.

Excuse No. 1:
I have no time.

I'm overcommitted, too many irons in the fire.

Hmmm.  You make time for doctor's appointments.  You find time for scheduled family and social events.  You set aside time to do the dishes and the laundry.   You have time to daydream and doodle.  Why can't you make time for finishing X?  Make an appointment with yourself, and show up to do the work!  Just DO it!

Excuse No. 2:
This other thing seems easier and much more fun at the moment.  

Rather than do a thing, I find myself writing about doing a thing--otherwise known as "Procrastination by Way of Substitution."  I am substituting an additional, peripheral task to override my having to do a more personally important task.  Like Bartleby the Scrivener, I simply "prefer not to" right now.  I mean, that other thing can wait, right?   There is no actual deadline per se.

An Example of Stuckness:
I am reminded of an episode on the old TV sitcom "Mary Tyler Moore" where Mary appears to be in a funk.  She's unhappy with how her life is going, its weary everydayness and predictability is getting to her.  She wants to change things but doesn't know how.  (Procrastination presents a similar dilemma--it causes weariness and a desire to change.)  Mary  complains to Ted, one of her co-workers. Ted always seems so upbeat, nothing ever seems to get him down.

"How do you do it, Ted?" Mary asks, in desperation. "What's your secret?"
"Oh," says Ted, "I was like you before." (He proceeds to demonstrate how he used to be).

"I used to get up." (He rubs his eyes and makes a frowny face).
"Go to work." (He sighs.)
"Do my jobbbbbbbbbb." (Groans.)
"Come ... home." (He droops his shoulders and sighs again.)
"Eat my ... dinner." (Feigns poking at something with an imaginary fork, totally disinterested)
"Read the paper." (Slumps down in a chair, flips an imaginary page, exuding deep weariness).
"Go to bed." (Yawns, drops his arms, lowers his head, and closes his eyes).

Mary nods, as he has just perfectly described what she has been feeling, almost to perfection.

"So here's what you do," says Ted, straightening up.
"You--GET UP!" (He jumps up, imitates vigorously shaking himself awake, opens an imaginary window and takes a deep breath, then pounds his chest and says "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!", smiling broadly).
"You GO TO WORK!!!"  (He marches forward, arms swinging.)
"You DO YOUR JOB!!"  (Raises both hands, flings them skyward, and grins.)
"You COME HOME!!!"  (A big smile on his face at the word "home").
"You EAT ... YOUR ... DINNER!!!" (Rubs his hands together, giddily anticipating each tasty bite).
"You READ THE PAPER!!!"  (Sits back, chooses a magazine, crosses his leg, flips the page and reads).
"You GO TO BED!!" (Puts his head back, closes his eyes, stretches his feet, and feigns falling asleep, smiling).

Attitude ....

Change your attitude toward getting this thing done.  Focus less on the difficulties, monotony or tediousness of the process and view it as a way-of-life thing you do simply and effortlessly without analyzing it to death. 

Excuse No. 3:
I have a psychological aversion to being told to do something.

Rationalization:  Maybe it's a subconscious rebellion against "having to's" of any sort, some psychological carryover from childhood that somehow bore itself into my subconscious whereby the mere suggestion of a "have to" triggers an automatic stalling and evasive response--even if it's my own self issuing the command.

Get over it.  The negative connotation attributed to your "having to's" is strictly perceptual.
Pick a deadline, get your stuff ready, schedule the time -- and just DO it.

Final Comment:
Pretend the above is a Note to Self written 5 years ago.  Folding it up and sticking it inside your desk cubbiehole to act on "later" is no longer an option.

There IS no Later.
Later has evaporated.
You've used up all your personal postponement and extension credits.
Time is up.


START already !!!!

* Artwork  by Audrey Stiebel.

**The above refers to a large writing project I began more than eleven years ago (!!) which sits collecting dust in a box in the closet, never having progressed beyond the outline stage -- a novel-to-be, languishing in unfinishedness, along with a second, later book-in-progress, a dozen short stories, and several uncompleted articles--never revised, never sent out, word children hidden in a cupboard, waiting for .....   

They have been haunting me lately, taunting me beratedly, two fictional characters in particular, for my sheer, unabashed, continuing, willful  Neglect.  Which is what prompted the above mental kick-in-the butt to stop procrastinating already, and get back to work.  

If not now ... when?

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