Never put off until tomorrow what you could do today.
Really?! What did Thomas Jefferson know anyway?!
I’m a chronic procrastinator and, generally speaking, I’m pretty much OK with it. I’ve been perfecting my procrastinator’s tendencies for 42 years now, and, trust me, I’ve taken it to an art form. The truth is that, as long as I meet my important deadlines, the ebbs and flows between the more nothing-to-do time frames and the frenetic, too-much-to-do periods have become my own personal life pattern and I’ve just decided to think of procrastination as a companion to the trendy, Zen-ey Present Moment Living philosophy! Yeah, that’s it! I believe that just about anything that could be put off until tomorrow ought to because it will give you more time to do something totally better today! When you do a Google search on procrastination, however, the results come up characterizing it, overall, as this really negative trait. Weird, I think, considering that most people I know are procrastinators. An article from Psychology Today makes procrastination sound like a completely terrible disorder:
There are many ways to avoid success in life, but the most sure-fire just might be procrastination. Procrastinators sabotage themselves. They put obstacles in their own path. They actually choose paths that hurt their performance.
Sabotage? The article goes on to describe the 10 things that you need to know about procrastination and, if you are a happy and content procrastinator whose life has not yet been ruined by your dilly-dallying, you will be totally depressed by the time you get to number nine. When you get to number ten, you’ll be trying to find a shrink–indeed, I suppose that might be the whole point of the article. This author sees procrastination as an awful, self-destructive learned behavior. As a creative-minded person, the statement that really aggravates me is this one:
Procrastinators say they perform better under pressure, but that’s just one of many lies they tell themselves.
More about that later.
The economist, George Ainslie, is a leading commentator on procrastination and, instead of a learned behavior, sees it as a component of human nature, saying that it is “as fundamental as the shape of time and could well be called the basic impulse.” He wrote a very heady and academic article all about his theory that procrastination is really an impulse (which he calls hyperbolic discounting), and it is neatly summed up as a condition whereby a person will take a smaller and sooner reward over a larger and later one. I’m not so sure I completely agree that that is the most important part of the procrastination scenario because I don’t think that the reward is always compromised by procrastination. I tend to connect more with his acknowledgement that the lives of procrastinators demand very attuned abilities to weigh the importance of the present moment event that initiates the procrastination, as well as to attempt to accurately predict the amount of time it will take to accomplish the procrastinated task. (Which I would say, could allow you to do both things, whatever they are!) In an article from Work Awesome, he gives a list of five things to help you cure yourself. Again with the “curing.”
And, really, all of these “cures” sound well and good until you try to plug them into the life of someone who has a more creative-oriented and full-time freelance career. There is a built-in procrastination requirement for those whose working obligations follow a feast-or-famine trajectory and anyone who lives this life knows that the job you work on first is often the one that is bringing in the next check. Creative types also suffer from a condition that I found so delightfully described in the new collection of essays by Pam Carriker, Art At The Speed of Life. Mixed media artist, Cate Coulacos Prato calls this condition Artist Attention Diversion Disorder (AADD). I’m 100% sure I have it:
You won’t find this disorder in a psychiatry reference guide, but it exists. AADD is the curse of anyone whose mantra is, “So many supplies, so little time… oh look, there’s something new I have to try!”
Sadly, Prato also gives a list, six ways this time, to cure it. I’d be willing to bet, however, is that this is all rhetorical for her. I don’t know one visual artist who can stick to these kinds of restrictions. Certainly not me.
Probably one of the biggest problems for a true procrastinator is the tendency to be late. I will never forget a very early episode of Oprah Winfrey where she said that if a fifteen-minute delay doesn’t cause a life or death situation, then the lateness doesn’t truly matter. This was years ago and I have no idea what she would say about lateness now, but I’ve held onto this statement like it was the word from above. In fact, I think about it every time I’m running late…. is anyone going to die? Good, because I’m running late. Then again, I’m not Oprah. But I am one of those wacky people who sets their clock ahead five minutes to try to be on time which, obviously, doesn’t work since I know it’s fast and only need to do a a quick little calculation to figure out what time it really is. One of the best things I’ve discovered lately is a description of the Chindogu Clock, which arbitrarily puts on up to fifteen minutes onto the time, but does so randomly. And, sometimes it actually has the real time.
FEAR, UNCERTAINTY and DOUBT, my friends! If you use this clock to keep appointments and deadlines, and you really care about being on time, you have to assume that the clock might actually be telling the correct time though it’s likely to actually be up to 15 minutes fast. Yikes! All that anxiety should give you a good kick in the pants to get moving, because you can’t really trust the clock to be anything but on time, even though it probably is fast.
Which brings us to anxiety. Personally speaking, I believe that some procrastination can be due to plain, old anxiety and I find that the more time I have to mull over a creative project, the less I want to do it and the more anxious I become as a result. In today’s Creativity Portal newsletter, there is an interview with the author, Dr. Eric Maisel on mastering creative anxiety. I like Maisel’s approach because he looks at anxiety as almost a positive thing in the lead up to a creative endeavor and, instead of trying to eradicate it, suggests strategies for managing it.
If you want to create, you have to a buy a ticket for exactly that ride. Rather than strenuously defending yourself against the experience of anxiety, an effort that will prevent you from taking the kinds of risks that the creative process and the creative life demand, you accept that anxiety is part of your early warning system and your genetic inheritance and you learn to deal with anxiety rather than trying to avoid it or deny it. If you strive to acquire a more detached, philosophical attitude, work to get a grip on your mind so that you create less anxiety, and master a few anxiety management tools, you will dramatically reduce your experience of anxiety and effectively handle the portion that remains.
I don’t plan to try to cure myself and that’s that. I do my best to prioritize what must get done and I am always on time for the things that truly matter. But I finish things like my taxes just thirty minutes before my appointment, and I won’t go to the supermarket for toilet paper and dog food unless we are also out of tissues and the fixings for peanut butter sandwiches (which, by the way, my dogs couldn’t be happier about). And I really don’t feel like I’m lying to myself when I say that I do some of my best work under pressure. One of my best selling titles is If I Were A Tree. It was a frantic antidote to a much longer and much more tedious project that preceded it and I wrote it in about two hours and had it off to the printers within a couple of months. I almost hate to tell people that.
After my tax appointment extravaganza last week, I had lots of things to do this weekend–clerical and administrative things as well as domestic stuff. I figured I’d have Monday to do that stuff (plus my blog!) and, instead this is what I did: I sifted through my most recent batch of books from Amazon and read a great selection called Living Out Loud by Keri Smith, cover to cover. It was so inspiring that I finished a painting for the Marfan’s HeARTworks gala and I worked on, but didn’t finish, three other paintings and four journals. I even made myself a snappy, new bag for my sketchbook supplies out of something that was on its way to the clothing donation bin.
Normally, I would have this blog entry up by noon but I was out running on a beautiful and chilly morning that reminded me March is most definitely leaving like a lion. There is one thing I don’t ever procrastinate on and that is exercise. After everything in this world is said and done, the one thing you can never disconnect yourself from is your physical body and this is where I will move time and space to stay on time, on task and keep healthy. The rest of it? Well, I’ll leave you with a quote from Mark Twain.
Never put off til tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.
Spoken like a true procrastinator.
TRY THIS WEEK: I’ll tell you tomorrow.