Saturday, March 6, 2010

Productive Inactivity

I've been conspicuously absent from blogging this past week. (Thank you for noticing, Silke!) The good news, if it constitutes news, is that it was with good reason, as I've attempted to rein in an increasingly unwieldy and destructive obsession with procrastination.

Yes, like many of you, I suffer from a malady of mind over matter - as in, no matter how much I mind, it doesn't seem to matter. It is an exhausting malaise, both consuming waking thought and penetrating the dread of inadequacy deep in one's dreams. I am no delicate rose petal. I've borne my share of life and grit, of disappointments and failures - personal, professional, scholastic, the list stretches on - but addictions I've managed to abstain from, largely. From what I've read and witnessed, procrastination is very much an addiction, like those of alcohol or gambling. The only remedy is abstinence, of drink or casinos or, in my case, "productive inactivity", as I'd like to call it.

It's not that I do nothing - surely not, productive inactivity abounds - but that what I'm doing, no matter how important, is not the most important thing I should be doing at that time, until such a moment as I have no choice but to do the urgent activity I've been avoiding, and at a tempo that makes failure more certain.

Early this week, I contacted a friend and mentor on this issue. Primarily, my focus centered on my studies, which tend to bear the brunt of the illness.
The bane of my existence is procrastination. I waste so much time. It's like an addiction. I had it when I was younger, but recently it's become very difficult to force myself to do things I need to do. I end up doing the bare minimum at the last minute. I've almost trained myself for exceptional short term memory. I pick things up much faster than others, I make rapid connections between subjects, but then I don't have the follow through and depth, because that requires sitting my butt down for several hours at one time.

I can't keep living like this. Any suggestions?
While some have suggested that procrastination is an issue of proper motivation, gloominess or depression, or fear of failure, my friend (and mentor!) opined otherwise. Without posting his comments wholesale - private discussion that it was - he suggested an alternate cause - perfectionism. "Turn off your brain", he advised, "and just do the next thing that has to get done and don't worry about it being done the perfect way at the perfect time."

Well, that's a concept! Have you ever thought to do something - fishing, let's say. Sure, you could just drive down to the nearest lake, dig up a worm, tie a spool of nylon cord to a stick, throw the business end of this contraption, worm first, in the water and wait for a bite. Or, you could spend a week researching the subject online, reading the latest fishing gear reviews, examining reports of trout and salmon spawning conditions, mercury toxicity levels in one fish or lake versus another and so on. You map the entire trip out in your mind, down to the zipper quality on your brand new fishing vest - and still you are not ready! There is so much more to do before it is all just so, just perfect. Neurotic, yes?

Welcome to my life. My friend (and mentor!) had nailed my affliction to a post, where it hung, naked and squirming in despair at being so brazenly apprehended. An example, perhaps? I must be the slowest shopper on the planet - a former flame once remarked that I was likely to die of starvation making the choice between white or brown rice. There's a lot to consider. Brown rice takes longer to cook, it is healthier for you, but I can't remember how it tastes. White rice I've had plenty of times, but to cook it properly, without it getting all mushy, one needs a rice cooker, just to be sure. Brown rice tends to be more expensive, and is the difference in cost really worthwhile, given the ancillary health and taste benefits? Larger volumes can reduce the per unit cost, but can I justify a higher expenditure through a commitment to eating rice three or four times a week? I try to imagine the various scenarios under which I will be eating the rice - while watching TV, reading a book, scanning blogs online. What will I eat it with, the rice? How about hot dogs. I better get a pack of those, but only so many kosher ones are available, and what will I cook them in? The conversation goes on and on, as onlookers gaze at my poking the bags of rice - I think one has more than the other - and we haven't even gotten to the rice cooker yet. (I'll save you that melodrama, as I just recently purchased one, and it is splendid - a word I don't use lightly.)

So, for the past week, I've attempted to shut my mind up and simply do, whatever is necessary, in the order it first appears. I'll delay any final verdict - Rome wasn't built in a day, as they say. Fear not - I hear you quaking, do not deny it - for I have left time to read, as I have non-stop this weekend, and to blog, as I'm now doing. Procrastination cured? Time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to read that you were well while silent ...
    as to procrastination due to perfectionism one remedy is to force oneself to focus on small steps one at a time i.e. decide on the next one only after the preceding one turned out to be satisfying. Dreaming up the big scheme/outline/frame of the project should be strictly separated from the doing. The drawback of course is that it makes things progress extremely slowly and thus is of only limited suitability for things you have to do for a living.
    As to your fishing expedition it would mean dreaming yourself in full gear at the best stream the world has to offer, then switch to focus-mode, get in your car and look at this place in the country side that started the dream for you or any other random place you heard about and lo and behold there you might find (lousy) gear to rent and give it a try right away - if not you at least had a chance to sniff some different air.
    "the best way to prepare for something is to start doing it" (Laurence Olivier?) is what I keep telling myself over and over and sometimes it works.
    Silke
    PS: sorry to read that you gave up on the project to become the best rice cooker of this world ;)

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