One of these days I’ll mend the roof…
Welcome to my new blog. I’m kicking off with a piece about procrastination, the bane of everybody with a project to complete. It seems highly appropriate, given that the old blog died for lack of my attention. Are you a procrastinator? If not, I’m deeply impressed. I’ve never been any other way.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a liability. I don’t flout deadlines or casually mess people about. The only time I have ever failed to appear at an event was when my laptop repeatedly fried and was being fixed for over a month, depriving me of necessary research time – and on that occasion I warned people of the situation well in advance. I’ve been told I have a very professional attitude. And yet… I know I could have been more productive. This blog is called To the Attic because at time of writing, I’m still waiting to get my writer’s hideaway (in the attic, where else?) fitted up. It hasn’t yet happened, partly because of things I could have done earlier, but didn’t. In time, I hope I’ll be blogging in my lovely new space dedicated to writing…but there’s no such space now.
As an example of how procrastination eats away at projects, let me tell you how the previous website died. The root cause was that (despite the kind encouragement of the friend who set it up for me) I never felt competent with the software. I could have fixed that by investing more time, but I procrastinated. Lack of confidence soon grew into neglect, which further reduced confidence – the classic vicious circle. In no time at all, guilt was added to the toxic mix and – well, anyone who’s procrastinated and agonised over some task can fill in the rest. The cruellest thing about procrastination is that not only do you neglect what you should be doing, you also fail to enjoy the extra free time you’ve gained. Instead, you poison that free time with guilt.
Breaking the vicious circle: what’s going on when you procrastinate?
Sometimes procrastination signals that you really have bitten off more than you can chew. You can ease the situation by (a) deciding not to do that task, (b) delegating it, (c) breaking it down into smaller steps, or (d) enlisting the help of someone who can hold your hand during the most difficult bits.
In this case, my best courses were (c) and (d). Enter Kev Cook of Strode College, Street, Somerset and his 2-day course on WordPress (thank you, Kev!). I panic easily, so I needed someone actually in the room with me to put me right. The ever-patient Kev got me started, but then it was up to me to carry on.
Sticking with it
I have finally grasped something important about procrastination: it’s a kind of addiction, in that it never entirely goes away. To stay ‘clean’ you have to stay vigilant, and nobody can do this for you. Build a site for you, yes. Help you with unfamiliar software, sure. But battle your procrastination? Only you can do that and you never do it just once. It’s ongoing.
Things that may help
Don’t judge yourself harshly for procrastinating. It’s only one aspect of you. It’s far better to do something, no matter how small, than beat your breast in anguish, telling yourself how awful you are.
Be willing to be repetitious. Some things we have to do over and over before they embed themselves as habits. Don’t be discouraged by this – it’s normal, and doesn’t mean you won’t succeed.
Have patience with yourself. Because procrastination can be addictive, you may never be quite as free from it as a natural non-procrastinator (who are those people, by the way? How do they manage it?) but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a huge difference to your productivity. As with other addictions, each time you experience but resist the urge to procrastinate, you build new neural pathways in the brain. Continue to resist and the old pathways gradually fade, making things less of a struggle. Don’t expect to do this every single time, or to do it perfectly. That way frustration lies. Just keep on keepin’ on.
Don’t be grandiose. Don’t squander small but useful chances to get ahead because you fully expect to sit and write for several hours in a few days’ time. You may be able to do that when the time comes, but don’t expect it and don’t rely on it. ‘Little and often’ is less threatening to the procrastinator. It’s also less risky. This applies especially if you’re the sort of person who sets epic deadlines (‘10,000 words by tomorrow!’) and then doesn’t keep them. Perhaps at 1pm you are called and asked to pick up someone from the hospital. Perhaps you are free and able to write, but your habit of procrastination, strengthened by indulgence for the last five days (or years), has you jumping through familiar hoops, following the script during your long-awaited, precious writing time.
This is a terrific call to arms against the dreaded foe Resistance, of which Pressfield says: ‘Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance [his capital R] because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.’ Yes, indeed, and it doesn’t only apply to art. Pressfield’s ‘activities that most commonly elicit Resistance’ include:
- The launching of any entrepreneurial venture
- Any diet or health regimen
- Any program of spiritual advancement
- Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals
I’d put money on it that most of us recognise those particular procrastinations, either in ourselves or in others.
Don’t be put off by the cheesy title and cover. Rettig brilliantly analyses what makes people procrastinate and underperform, and has plenty of practical, doable suggestions for getting out of the loop. Her language is more conciliatory than Pressfield’s, partly because she believes our main reason for closing down is a kind of macho/masochistic perfectionism. Not to be confused with high standards or professionalism, perfectionism is the crazy line of reasoning that goes, ‘I should be able to write four short stories this week, even though (a) my demented grandma is coming to stay, (b) the boiler has broken down, (c) my laptop has been stolen and (d) I’ve broken both arms.’ Her message, in a nutshell, is: ‘Don’t bully and deprive yourself. Don’t set impossible goals. Instead, equip and look after yourself. Delegate. Set up systems that support you, so that you can flourish.’ It sounds simple, but summing it up like this can’t do justice to the thoroughness and helpfulness of her approach, so check the book out for yourself.