#8. Un-procrastinating

I kid you not. As I realized I had to write this week’s blog entry, which is about a week spent trying not to procrastinate, my first thought was: maybe I can just wait until tomorrow to do it.

Sigh. I guess it didn’t take.

Although that isn’t to say I didn’t do swimmingly with this week’s experiment. (How boring would it be if you checked in and Every Week, I was all, “I forgot!” or “I failed!”?) In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about it. I feel…productive. Me! Productive!

In order to appreciate the hoops I jumped through this week, I must attempt to garner your sympathy – or at least, some perspective – by noting that I am a world-class procrastinator. If there were an Olympic event in procrastinating, I’d win a Gold medal. If it ever got started. Wait. How would you know? Wait. I did it again. I procrastinated writing the next sentence. I’m out of control.

As I was saying, I am a person who actually doesn’t see the point in doing right away what you could put off until later. Whether it’s leaving a dish in the sink rather than putting it directly in the dishwasher, or writing a piece for a client at midnight the night before it’s due, I will drag my feet. Need I remind you that I finished the first draft of a book last May – and with the one-year anniversary of that milestone fast approaching, I’ve managed to put off revising all but the first four chapters?

This all makes for a problematic existence sometimes, mostly in the area of self-imposed stress and, say, running out of clean dishes and/or underwear because I’ve put off operating whichever appliance and associate chore is required to remedy said situation.

You’d think those problems would be enough to cause a person to change, but no! I procrastinate changing! And I can rationalize my procrastination with the best of them. I tell people that I’m actually just misunderstood. I’m a thoughtful and very deliberate person. I don’t want to rush the dish into the dishwasher. I need time to process it, to think about it for a while before committing. (Of course, anyone who’s seen me impulse shop knows that this isn’t actually true.)

I will not regale you this week with a day-by-day, blow-by-blow account of things I did not procrastinate the past seven days. I will just tell you that I, uncharacteristically, stuck to my guns ... and I got a hell of a lot done. Among the things I did this week, though, was an awful lot of thinking. A lot of observing my own reactions to life and its many challenges, vis-à-vis procrastinating. I shall generously share some of that wisdom with you, post-haste.

It appears as though one of my biggest procrastination triggers is boredom. It seems I don’t believe I should ever be bored or have to do anything boring. It has been brought to my attention that grownups do boring stuff they don’t want to do all the time. It is a fair point and probably very valid. It doesn’t make the idea of doing boring stuff more appealing to me, but maybe it makes it a little easier. It helped this week when responding to emails and cleaning the house and folding the laundry to know that this is what normal people do all the time.

A little. It helped a little.

It also turns out that deciding not to procrastinate is not nearly as cut and dry as one might think at the outset. Until it becomes possible for people to do everything all at once, some level of procrastination is absolutely necessary. Although, I noticed, at this point it’s called “prioritizing” and it’s perfectly acceptable.

The problem is, it seems, that I’m not innately good at prioritizing. Maybe if it’s something you could do just once and be done with it. But the hierarchy of things needing prioritized is always changing as new projects and challenges arise. And frankly, I can’t really be trusted to make good decisions. The very same chores I put off yesterday – cleaning my desk, filing papers – suddenly become “priorities”  when I’m faced with even less desirable tasks – emptying the litter box, paying bills. What I want to do – as opposed to what I need to do –  carries far too much weight to produce a reasonable conclusion.

In fact, it occurred to me about mid-week that maybe my real problem isn’t procrastinating at all; maybe it’s really just an inability to prioritize. It requires a lot of thinking on one’s feet, a lot of objectivity and honest assessment – skill sets that aren’t exactly in my wheelhouse.

At times there’s so much on my plate that I seriously can’t figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do next. Some choices are easy: I know that taking a bleeding spouse to the ER trumps wiping down the inside shelves of the medicine cabinet. But does laundry trump meeting a friend who’s going through a rough time?  Does a work project trump taking the laptop in for repair? (And what if you’re the sort of person who would inflict bodily harm on his or her spouse in order to avoid wiping down the inside of a medicine cabinet?)

How do you choose? Generally and historically, I have observed,  I don’t. I do neither. Until I can’t not do them anymore. Until a deadline is fast approaching or the laptop is making such crazy noises I’m afraid it might come to life and kill me while I sleep.

Even while trying to write this blog entry, I was faced with a conundrum. I got an email from the editor of a magazine I’d written a spec essay for. She wanted me to do some rewrites and get it back to her, preferably this afternoon. Even though Thursday afternoon’s my Blog Writin’ Time, I needed to set aside this piece of writing for that. Did that mean I was procrastinating or prioritizing? I’m still not sure, but I’m counting on the fact that as long as this entry posts sometime on Friday, as promised, I can at the very least claim it was the latter.

When I was fretting about this particular shortcoming of mine a few years back, a very kind and generous  friend pointed out that maybe instead of beating myself up about procrastinating, I should just accept that it’s who I am. That it’s how I go about things and it’s neither right nor wrong. I can get behind that logic…partially. I do write better at the last minute. That’s true. But I think it’s a stretch to apply that to other areas of my life. Can I honestly say that I do laundry better when I’m out of underwear or that I pay bills better when the electricity’s about to be shut off? Probably not so much.

Thus, this week of non-procrastination. Yes, I was crazy productive, and there’s no question that it felt good. I think it’s a change I’d like to keep, maybe with the volume turned down a tad.  In fairness to my more natural setting, I should also note that I’ve discovered that procrastinating serves a real and valid purpose – because not procrastinating is exhausting. All this doing stuff really wore me out.

At least now that the week’s up, I can indulge in a nap without worrying about whether I’m getting some rest or just procrastinating doing something more worthwhile. Phew. The pressure’s off.