So, I was going to write this post a bunch of times. But the night I was going to start, I needed to finish reading Stephen King’s On Writing instead. The next night, I sat on the couch and my husband and I complained about all of the forms we have to fill out for our son before he starts preschool in a few weeks. Then we complained about how much money it costs to send him to preschool. Then I got depressed and fell asleep. Last night, I baked a cookie in a skillet before sitting down to write, although technically I did start writing, so I guess it wasn’t a total loss. (Plus, there was an 8-inch chocolate chip cookie at the end of the evening.) And tonight, I just took procrastination to a new level by reading a list about writers procrastinating before I got back to writing this. In case you’re also a procrastinator, it’s Grub Street’s What We’re Doing When We Should Be Writing list, and you should check out its awesomeness, and the awesomeness of all the links it contains, which allow you to go further down the rabbit hole.
The thing about procrastination is that I genuinely love it. I play little games with myself when choosing which minute to get out of bed in the morning, how to decide which item to tackle first on my to-do list, when I’ll finally get around to filing my papers and dusting my office. I put off stupid little things like folding the laundry and more important bigger things like paying bills til seconds before they’re due (hey, i might need some of that money for something else in the meantime, at least in theory). Sometimes I even try to trick myself into thinking I’m doing something useful while putting off another thing by reading one of Lifehacker’s articles about how to be more productive. Of course, none of this really helps because in reality the only thing that works is ignoring outside distractions and just doing whatever it is I’m avoiding. But somehow that option is never very appealing in the moment.
So, as Erin mused about laziness, I mused about procrastination, and I’ve come to the following conclusions.
- Kids are great causes of and cures for procrastination. If you have one (or two or whatever number), you constantly have an excuse for why you can’t get things done. On the other hand, you really desperately want to get something, ANYTHING, done just to prove you are still a functioning adult and can complete a task.
- Deadlines are key, but they have to be real ones. The false deadlines that are supposed to trick you into doing your work early so that you have some breathing room at the end of a project never work because everyone knows they’re false. What you need is the (as we were fond of saying at one of my jobs) “drop-dead due date.” That’s the date after which your project spontaneously combusts beyond hope of repair.
- Every now and then, procrastination is good. Sometimes it allows ideas to percolate and become more fully realized, at least in the world of writing. But if you let it go too far, you end up forgetting what you were doing in the first place, and that means more delays as you find your way back. It’s admittedly hard to hit upon this balance, that magic moment before you tip over the edge into the abyss.
- A to-do list may seem stupid and lame, but it can be quite satisfying to cross something off of it. It makes you feel like a more successful human being, even though in truth you are not; you are just someone who managed to put the trash on the curb and file fifteen emails in the course of a day. Go, you!
- The only cure for procrastination is the opposite of laziness – the busier you are, the better because it forces you to just do whatever you’re avoiding or accept the fact that it will never, ever happen. Usually whatever it is, you do want it to happen at some point, so it might as well be now. And if you’re busy, there are always several things you could be doing, so no matter what you pick, you are simultaneously succeeding at getting something done and procrastinating on something else. It’s a win-win.
And now, please excuse me. I’m going to avoid washing the floor by pushing some papers around on my desk and reading useless Facebook status updates. Right after I have a snack.