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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Monday, January 28, 2008

Procrastination, the Great Motivator

I woke up very early this morning conscious of that odd peach-colored glow in the sky that tells of snow on the ground. Snow is not all that common here, so it still brings both delight and frustration.

We are prepared for storms. Even heavy ones. All the cars have snow tires. Grandson is properly trained in driving on ice and snow even though he grew up in Southern Arizona. There's extra wood and lanterns in the garage, and a cook stove. Even some bottled water, although we're not likely to ever need that, even though we're in earthquake country.

We sound like we're an organized family. Unfortunately, the reason we're so prepared has much more to do with the nasty wind storms in December when it was predicted we would lose power, possibly for several days. The wind was already blowing when we hastened to buy wood and extra flashlights. But that storm turned out to be very light here, compared to the devastation it wreaked not so far away. And all that stuff we have at the ready is left over from the storm that didn't really happen. Back then I laughed at my husband who complained he'd done all that running around for nothing. Today he's saying if anything happens we're prepared.

And the reason I'm just now writing this blog is that I was up very late late night trying to finish some tasks that are long overdue. And admittedly, I knew what I planned to say, but after all, what fun would it be to write an article about procrastination ahead of time?

Today is like yesterday. I have a list of tasks that absolutely must be done today. Every one of them is something I had hoped to get done sooner, but didn't. Somehow, even if I have to work late into the night, they will all get done. Except for the ones that maybe can wait till tomorrow.

We writers talk about being deadline-motivated. Procrastination is often the same thing. We know there's something about that pressure that can force performance on the brain cells when otherwise they keep telling us they only want to do Sudoku, scrub toilets or play in the snow. Unfortunately the other part of procrastination is that, being so easy to do, more stuff gets put off than gets done, because we all have too much to do anyway. So pretty soon we have such a mountain of things to do that we know we can't climb it. And the danger is, by then it will look so overwhelming, we won't even try.

I seem to work best that way, though. I think it comes from years and years of having to work that way when I was a social worker. There were some things that could be scheduled, but our job was all about crisis. No matter how we prepared, crisis could constantly throw kinks in our schedules. There were many times when our unit was down two or three workers and a hiring freeze, and we had no choice but to take on the extra load. We quickly got to the place where we did what had to be done and everything else got put off till tomorrow, which for some magical reason was supposed to be better. Then when better finally arrived, someone else would quit, or that stat would issue a proclamation that court reports were now to be fourteen pages long instead of eight, and this change would result in better protection of children. There never was any catching up, and case loads just kept getting bigger until they were ten times the size of the recommended case load. That was when I decided it was my turn to quit. But the habits lingered.

The truth is, sometimes that's the only way things can get done. I've been burning this double-ended candle for the last year, and if I really give myself proper credit I have to admit I have accomplished a lot. Not everything I wanted to get done, true, but I suspect my To Do list was always too long. Every day there is always a stack of things that get shifted to the next day. Some of them, it's too late, but usually those are the things least needed. But I almost always make my major deadlines. Some things even get done early, but that's usually because they're more fun, or occasionally because I just want them out of my way.

The downside of this is guilt-motivation. Heart beats wildly with the fear of failing a deadline. Self-esteem suffers under the burden of blaming. And usually this guilt tells me I goofed off all day and didn't live up to any of my obligations. Very uncomfortable. In reality, I did do some goofing off. But not all day. I used to call that taking breaks. Part of the procrastination syndrome seems to be keeping the load of guilt built up high enough to be just plain mean to oneself. To do this, one must actively negate accomplishments while pointing out everything that didn't get done.

I have decided that since I am deadline-motivated, and this works for me most of the time, then it must be good. I need to recognize it for how it works, but take out the bad parts.

So I have learned to divide my to-do list in two columns. The left side is the deadline list. Today's Must Do's. The right side is a list of things coming up that need to get done, but not necessarily today. While I'm working on those Must Do's, I try to pick up a few from the Coming Up list, and surprisingly I actually do get some of those done too. I can allow myself to be deadline-motivated about the things that must be done, but not brow-beat myself about the others that don't have the same urgency. And I can go back over my list at the end of the day and see me major accomplishment actually did get accomplished.

Right now it's hard to be positive about this approach because there's no way I have enough hours to get done even what must be done. Other writers will appreciate this dilemma because they go through it too. The things I had to put off till I had more time have gotten tangled with the things my editor had to put off till she had more time. So now, instead of the time I had allotted for edits last fall (which got filled because I got tangled into coordinating contests and other such things) I'm doing edits on two manuscripts while coordinating contests and preparing promotion for a release coming VERY soon. I should have used my time more wisely last fall.

But if I just take the time to view the situation realistically, I can see this is just the way it was going to be, no matter how well I handled things last fall. Some things, like edits, simply can't be done ahead of time. You don't get them until you get them. And in reality, I do use my time pretty well. It's just that all minutes are last minutes.

So maybe I should just dump it all and go play in the snow. It looks lovely. Fortunately for my procrastination planning, though, I'm not all that fond of being cold. Snow is for looking at and for reminding me how happy I am to be inside slaving away at the last minute. I'm a writer. That's the way things go with writers. Fear of missing deadlines heats up the brain cells better than any other writing method.

Pathetic, isn't it?


At 12:24 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

I like how you turn procrastination into a postive. And you're right, some of us need that extra jolt that comes as a deadline looms.

At 2:13 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Hi Delle and Maureen.

I'm with you Delle, in that I tend to get more done when I have more things to do!?

I'm really hoping that once I sell the deadlines are going to push me to another level when it comes to writing faster. My self-imposed deadlines work for a few weeks, but then a little voice in my head says, "you know, you don't really have to get this done right now. It's not as if someone's waiting for you to send it."

And then there are the people who never procrastinate and they get more done in two hours then i can get done in a day. I try not to compare myself to those people but I was at a chapter meeting on Saturday and the room was filled with overachievers. :) I felt like a complete failure. In the end though it motivated me to write, write, write and I am ahead of schedule and it's only Monday!

We should have a NO PROCRASTINATING day every month or better yet, every week!

At 2:42 PM, Blogger Jill Monroe said...

Delle - I have a HUGE problem with playing Farm Hustle, so I understand the sentiments of this blog perfectly!

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

Farm Hustle? my time waster is Jewel Quest Solitaire.

I hate to procastinate but I do it all the time.

My former boss tells the story of prioritizing and making a folder called "Do Right Away." Well, when she returned from 3 mos maternity leave she found her Do Right Away folder, still full...and no harm done.

Somehow that doesn't help keep me from procastinating!!!

At 4:01 PM, Blogger Delle Jacobs said...

Don't tell me about any new games! Sudoku is bad enough.

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

I do what I'm supposed to do as long as I know how to do it. Unfortunately, writing so often falls in the, "I have no idea how I'm going to do this" category.

At 8:45 PM, Blogger Gillian Layne said...

It's not pathetic! Sounds like you're really busy because you're offering your time and talent to others as well. Good for you!

And I think Theresa's idea is great. If we just knew we couldn't procrastinate one day a week...

At 10:53 PM, Blogger doglady said...

No procrastination day sounds great. You know the old saying 'They tell me to take one day at a time, but lately several days have been ganging up on me at once!" That is how my life seems to go. I am trying VERY hard to leave work at work and let home be a safe place for me to do my other job - write. It is not always easy. I do finally have the bosses at work trained. I do NOT answer my phone on my two days off. I do NOT respond to frantic messages to come in to work on my days off. Period. No discussion. They recently put a new assistant manager over the bakery and the donut maker didn't show up one Sunday. She asked the guy who had been over our area before if he had my number at home. He said "Sure. But it won't do you any good. She won't answer. This is one of her writing days."

Sounds great, right? Yes, it would be if I actually spent all day two days a week writing. Unfortunately laundry, cleaning, dirty dishes, etc. all seem to get in the way.

I like the idea of the two lists - MUST do today and ongoing projects. I just need to get more organized in my writing time.


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