If I were to sit down and make a list of all of the things I’m currently procrastinating about doing, it would be quite long, likely depressing, and definitely not fun, so I’m going to put that off… But seriously, why is it so hard to just DO things?
I can’t speak for everyone, but I have a few theories for myself and I suspect that different reasons come into play at different times.
I’m married and have two young kids, I’m still trying to gain fluency in Arabic after more than a decade of on and off study, I have two little side businesses that I’ve largely abandoned since coming out as an almost a year and a half ago, I’ve bitten off an enormously large book project, and I’m trying to manage a household, plus volunteer at school, learn everything I can to make up for the years I wasn’t trying to learn about the world and life as a non-believer, and I’m trying to figure out what I want to be “when I grow up.” Please excuse the run-on sentence, but it seemed to capture how I feel about all of it. Considering that I’m an ALL the irons in the fire sort of person, this leaves me with far more things that I want to do than I am capable of doing at any given time.
As a spouse and a mother, my family needs to take priority – I sort of signed up for that. But the monotony and small details of child-rearing and maintaining a household are frequently at odds with my desire to learn new and interesting things, my voracious appetite for reading, extreme need for socializing and my seemingly insurmountable tendency to not be organized in a physical space (my mind is good, but my desk, and the table, and my closet, etc. are not.)
First off, I am one of those people who performs well under pressure. I need deadlines. That’s why I take classes. I could easily lose myself in interesting books and articles for days and never pop up for air, but it’s like going down a rabbit hole: One thing sparks a thought, which leads me somewhere else, and then I’m popping over to check on something different and soon I’ve simply forgotten that I had seated myself at my computer to work on conjugation of Arabic verbs in Lebanese. But did you know that Ex-Muslim Imtiaz Shams of Faith to Faithless got to speak at the British Islam Conference of 2018 just last month? Or that Count Dankula (who I’d never heard of before two days ago) has just been given jail time for a joke in extremely bad taste? What about that silly fake news article that has started going around again about a bogus Dasani water bottle recall containing “parasites” (they used a photo of baby eels, by the way) – I need to stop the fake news that my friends are spreading on Facebook! And look, my good friend Rachel was just featured in a local news article because a spectacular shot she just took of a rare cloud formation in our town. Ah, and let’s see what Steve the Vagabond and Silly Linguist has been up to. You get it right? SO MANY THINGS I WANT TO KNOW!
Focus is definitely a problem for me when the topic isn’t interesting. Being uninterested is essentially a death knell for anything I’m supposed to do. But even when it is interesting (like Arabic, or my book) I struggle to focus when there are so many tantalizing topics nipping at my feet like my little dogs who are always asking to play. “Please, just spend a minute with me! Just throw the ball a few times… or for an hour.”
Practically speaking, a lot of procrastination on my part comes from a perceived (though not necessarily real) time mismatch. My mind says, “Oh, I only have 30 minutes, I don’t have time to get started on that. That’s going to take forever. I really can’t stop to do that now.” But, really, I could. Plus something else. Or, maybe it’s something that I know is going to take days, or even weeks, and the thought of having to do that same undesirable task is simply too overwhelmingly unpleasant to consider. Yeah – that thing gets placed at the bottom of the priorities list. My husband, even after nearly 20 years together, is still astonished at how I seem to prefer to wait until something is a disaster before tidying it, rather than simply spending a few minutes each day. He can’t see inside my head to understand that I’m always juggling, trying to squeeze in a few more minutes of the things I WANT to do, often at the expense of the things I SHOULD do.
I’m always living at the bleeding front edge of running late. In addition to procrastinating, I’m also what has been called a “time optimist.” I always think I have more time to get things done than I do. I don’t allow enough of a buffer to get ready in the morning, get lunches made, get kids clothed, dressed and out the door without being late, or nearly late, because the youngest has decided that she REALLY needs to have her armadillo Squinkie with her at school, but she can’t find it, and she doesn’t have a pocket in the leggings she was wearing, so she’s now in her underwear again rummaging through the toys in her room, as we are supposed to be driving down the street! If I would just remember to add those 5 extra minutes, AND remember to check on her instead of assuming all is well, then mornings would be a bit less fraught, and perhaps I’d also get breakfast before school starts. But I’m easily distracted. I should probably ban myself from social media before the kids are off to school. Whenever I burn something that I’m cooking, my husband calls it “Facebook toast.” I have probably only managed to cook tortillas once or twice in the past five years without at least one being burnt to a crisp. Considering that tortillas are a staple in our house, that’s a lot of crispy & inedible bread products.
I find that I’m essentially running two minds at once. The mind that is concerned with the wellbeing of my family and the joy and happiness I experience with them when I’m engaged with them. And the mind that is a fledgling activist striving to make as much of a difference in the world as I can. That latter part of me has always been there, but it was buried for a long time, because I was a Christian, and I was “not of this world.” Once I realized that God wasn’t real to me anymore, life suddenly had major stakes that didn’t exist for me before. It isn’t enough for me to sit back and watch – I want to be in the middle of everything. (And being an off-the-chart extrovert makes it easy for me to go out and meet people, form relationships and network so there is no deterrent there to slow me down.) I joke, as many do, about needing a handful of clones to do everything I want. But since that isn’t possible, I live with a daily shifting of priorities, and I do tend to shift the things that are less interesting, or seem less important in the grand scheme of life to the bottom of the list. But sometimes the big important things are there too. Maybe they’re a little bit too scary to think about.
But these past few weeks I’ve started doing a bit of both. Today I am writing this blog because I completed a goal of doing 4 things I’ve been putting off. My bedroom is cleaner, I’m going to actually get back the items I left in a hotel room four weeks ago, we’ll all have clothes to wear tomorrow, and my bathroom counter looks less like a department store display counter and more like it belongs in someone’s residence. Bonus effects are a reduction in stress levels in my much more tidy spouse and the brief thrill I get by thinking that I might possibly be able to keep things in order. (I give it about 2 days max. It’s not because I don’t care – I really do. It’s just that there are things I care about MORE. And I SWEAR I have not been ignoring that pile on the stairs – I truly didn’t notice it!)
My brand of procrastination is a double-edged sword. When I finally do stop and consciously put effort into a task with the intent to complete it, I’m a bulldog. When I have a deadline, I’m killer! I work very well under pressure, and some of my best work happens when I have a deadline about to crash down. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush. Looming deadlines make me bury projects until I can’t ignore them anymore and then I typically smash them out of the park. (Not always.) I have a mid-term project due for Arabic class next week and I probably won’t start until Saturday. I’m not nervous. I know I can do it without too much difficulty once I sit down, but there are so many things I need/want to complete before spending time on it, that I haven’t really started other than making a plan in my head. But is the stress at the end worth it? I’m not sure. I think that I NEED that last-minute rush to keep me interested and keep me going. But logical, rational me doesn’t want to “need” that – I would like to finish things in bits along the way – but it seems so boring! (And damn that stack of paper that arrives every single day from one school or the other with parent “homework” and tiny tasks that add up to soooo many little tasks!)
I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about being a procrastinator. It’s something I’ve accepted is part of my personality and who I am as a person. But that doesn’t mean I don’t try to shift it and make better choices. I would love to be that organized person. The Container Store is like porn for me. But I’m happy and I’ll be fine with a little more conscious thought put into how I organize my priorities list.
One last thing that affects my productivity and definitely seems to have an effect on how much procrastination is in my life: I do deal with anxiety issues – they are very well-controlled now – but sometimes will sneak in. I find that when I am putting things off for long periods, there is often underlying anxiety of some sort associated with that task.
Anyhow, do you know how long I’ve put off blogging as a way to get myself writing? Yeah, I don’t know either, but I think it’s been a long time – my spouse suggested it some time ago. It took a conversation on Twitter to make my thoughts bubble up until I couldn’t contain the ideas and needed to start writing. Now that I’m doing it, I see how easy it is to pour my thoughts and ideas out on a page, and the looming prospect of actually getting everything together for my book seems far more manageable than it did just a week ago.
Oh, did I mention that I’m also a perfectionist? Sigh.
The image at the top of this post is from a Facebook group called Procrastination (@ProcrastioNation) with 63k likes.
Squinkies are tiny little character toys made out of a soft squishy foam of some sort. They are adorable, especially the armadillo. And they get lost all the time.
Update: My husband just reminded me about this excellent Ted Talk by Tim Urban of Wait But Why. Hilarious & poignant.