Procrastination Station: Part II – The Law of Intertia, the Lie of Multitasking, and the Truth of Discipline

So in the last post, Procrastination Station: Part I – Priorities, Productivity, and Eating Crow, we talked about some of the effects of procrastination and lack of productivity. And we were left with a question: how can we get the train from Procrastination Station to ProductivityVille?

Answer: We have to buy a ticket on the Determination Express and ride the line of Hard Discipline. Okay, admittedly, I got caught up in the train lingo, what can I say? I enjoy a pithy metaphor. And no, the irony does not escape me that, not surprisingly, it has taken me more than a week to write this conclusion. Nevertheless, in this post, I have set out to nail down some specifics that I am learning about combating procrastination as it is a continual struggle for me on this journey of writing SurpriseYou’reAdopted.com

  1. Realize What’s Fueling Your Procrastination. On the surface, it’s easy to attribute procrastination to just laziness. And I am willing to concede that sometimes, the chores that we have to do or responsibilities that we have to take care of are just not as fun  or as easy as ignoring those things and vegging out all day. I think we can all agree that Netflix is more appealing than writing your term paper, or finishing that PowerPoint deck for work on Monday. But more often than not, there’s usually another layer of something holding us back.
  • Is your procrastination coming out of fear? If I’m being honest, for me it always comes back to some kind of perfection paralysis fear. My post is not going to be perfect, my approach is never going to be just right; I could always be doing more, it’s never going to be enough, why even bother trying at all?
  • Is your procrastination coming out of being overwhelmed? I know that a large part of mine is. Right this very moment I could list any one of ten different people that are doing leaps and bounds more than me with this writing thing. Often, we can get caught up in not knowing where to start. I might have writers block, or even a mess of ideas that I have no clue how to organize that feels insurmountable.
  • Is your procrastination coming from a disillusionment that you have more time than you think you do? This one gets me all the time. I will never be early for anything I do in life because my brain always assumes that I have more time than I think. But again, this is a part of growing up: realizing your real parameters, preparing for the inevitable roadblocks, leaving yourself extra time to accept the unexpected.
  1. Acknowledge the Source and Move On…the Key word here being MOVE. I wish that I could sit here and tell you that there is a magic remedy to these roots. There’s not. We’re all scared of failing something. Guess what? We need to start anyway. You may not end up with a perfect PowerPoint deck for work, but I can guarantee you that in most circumstances, your boss will notice if you don’t get it done at all. You may be putting off that term paper (or blog post) because you’re scared of bombing it and failing that class (or writing useless crap that gets you nowhere), but you will definitely fail if you turn in nothing at all.

On this topic I am throwing down the gauntlet to declare that good things don’t come to those who wait, they come to those that will themselves to start. And as far as the disillusionment of having time on your side, I’m here to tell you that Murphy’s Law is real and it is the rule, not the exception. So we need to start training ourselves to hit the GO button. I say ‘training’ because it’s like a muscle, it takes practice, dedication, and consistency. Doing something is better than doing nothing. And true, you may not get exactly where you wanted to get, but on the other hand, you will never get anywhere at all if you don’t start, and then you will never know what could have been. I may not know exactly how to get through that post, that work project or that paper; but I know how to turn off the TV, I know how to start the computer, I know how to create a fresh document. So break it down into smaller steps that you can do, find the little wins along the way, and eventually it will all add up to the big W.

Additionally, when we put off our responsibilities, we ultimately rob ourselves of the prime circumstances to produce our best work. Now I’ll be the first person to admit, I need a deadline, I need the pressure of a time limit, that helps me…at least I think it does. Truth: I have always been a terrible procrastinator, so I tell myself that I work well under pressure because I’ve never given myself another option. What could I do with an extra day to edit? Would I be a less neurotic person with lower blood pressure and a better product? I’ll tell you what, I’m working on finding out.

  1. Realize that the Law of Inertia is Real. For those of you that zoned out during eleventh grade physics, the law of inertia states something like “a thing in motion stays in motion and a thing at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.” And for those of you that actually paid attention and did well in physics and then went on to do something fabulous with your lives like actually studying science and are sitting there thinking that I have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m willing to concede that, but gimme a break, alright? I’m doing the best I can, I’m obviously a writer for a reason.

Where was I? Oh yeah…inertia. In Part I of this set, I talked about not having written my blog for a good six weeks. And reality is, halfway through that, I hadn’t written in so long, that I lost my momentum, and it only further added to my dilemma. Now I had to share why I wasn’t writing, write something remarkable to come back, figure out how to not get off track again, honestly the whole thing just feels massive. The point is, starting up from a state of rest is tough, and often a much bigger challenge. So do yourself a favor and don’t waste your momentum, do everything you can to keep it going.

  1. Realize that Multitasking is a LIE. I know that there are a million books and articles out there about multitasking, and that it’s a great “skill” that we all like to put on our resumes. But honestly, I think that in this age of phones that can play music, computers that can surf the net and live chat, and Pert Plus 2 in 1 conditioner, we have bought into a rouse that multitasking is a skill that we can not only accomplish, but are expected to master.

Maybe our technology, and possibly even our shampoo can multitask, but we humans certainly can’t. What we call multitasking is really just interrupting ourselves from accomplishing any one thing at a time in a timely manner. Several organizational studies today show that multitasking is the antonym of focus and the nemesis of productivity. I NEED to learn how to focus again. Even just in the time-span of writing this post, I have checked my phone twice, gotten up to add sugar to my coffee, started three other posts, and contemplated going on Pinterest to research my Thailand trip (Reality Check: I have procrastinated finishing this two-part post so much that I am now sitting in Hong Kong International Airport three hours away from landing in Bangkok). Not to mention the fact that I don’t ever write in straight sequence, when I write, I spill all of my ideas in random order and flesh them out in random order as well…sorry if that’s apparent. If you’re like me, getting distracted by everything that you have to do and then trying to do it all at once, we need a new plan. So by all means, make a list of everything that you have to do, and tackle them, but take them on one at a time. Practice finishing each one and then moving on to the next. It will be hard at first, but you will be more productive. Getting four things done on a list of ten is better than tackling all ten and getting none of them finished at all.

  1. Remember What the Real Goal Is. We have to figure out how to do the hard job of reminding ourselves that we want the overall result more than we want to spend the day watching Netflix. We have to learn to remember that sometimes the destination IS worth more, knowing that our end goal is worth more than the reward of instant gratification. We have to remind ourselves that we chose the thing that we are putting off because we actually DO want it. We chose to get that degree, to go for that promotion, to run that race, to lose that weight, to write that blog.

Plato once wrote, “The first and best victory is to conquer self.” There’s also a saying somewhere by somebody that goes something like, She that knows discipline knows freedom.” This is the Truth of Discipline. Discipline is the key to freedom, the key to unlocking the person you have inside. Discipline is the key to our potential. Discipline is choosing your goal over instant gratification time and time again. This means committing to the right road rather than the right now, to accomplish something that means a great deal more to you. And after a while, you realize that choosing your goal is choosing yourself. Safe Travels!

“There are no short cuts to any place worth going.”
— Beverly Sills

“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.” — Lao Tzu

“We are what we repeatedly do, excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle

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Procrastination Station: Part I – Priortities, Productivity, and Eating Crow

For those of you that have been following my blog, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted anything in about 6 weeks or so. I can’t really explain why, I haven’t exactly unpacked that thoroughly yet; but I can tell you that starting up again has been a quintessential Achilles heel and my own personal form of torture.

It’s easy for writers to have ideas, it’s difficult to actually make them into real words that flow together in a succinct piece. Honestly, I truly believe that the hardest thing for writers to do is write. See, an idea is perfect before we ever mess it up by trying to flesh it out with words – words that might not be as right or as perfect as our ideas seem to be. As soon as you start to put words to an idea, you are committing to a direction, narrowing down how it comes out, making choices with every key stroke, hoping that they are the right ones. Speaking of making choices, this brings us full circle back around to my very first post on perfection paralysis, and a very specific tool of paralysis that I would like to explore: procrastination.

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Procrastination is the opposite of productivity. Or more to the point, procrastination is a lack of productivity towards what matters. I specify “what matters” because I think it’s important to highlight the fact that one can be very productive, without actually working at all towards the goals that we have laid out for ourselves. Do you know how many times I have cleaned the house and done the laundry just to get out of opening my laptop to write?

Everyone has struggled with procrastination at one point or another and has suffered the effects of this self-made toxic swamp. Our train pulls into Procrastination Station, which seems to be this really awesome and attractive party town, and before we know it, we’ve been roofied by Netflix, robbed of all our time and energy, and left with no fuel to get out. As if this isn’t bad enough, the effects of procrastination usually turn us into the worst version of ourselves.

I would like to take a moment here and point out that I believe that the effect of procrastination on us is directly related to our level of maturity. I will elaborate: we didn’t care about procrastination as kids because back then we believed that our time was limitless – ergo, priorities are not something that are understood until later on in life.

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You remember when you were a teenager and you had absolutely no issues whatsoever spending an entire day in your pj’s marathoning America’s Next Top Model? Those days were great. We ate whatever we wanted and couldn’t for the life of us understand why on earth our parents – who, in the all-wonderful privilege of adulthood, had no one telling them what to do – insisted on getting up and, ya know, doing things. Why would anyone choose to run errands, garden, or clean the garage when you had the option of staying in bed?

What ever happened to those carefree days?

You grew up, that’s what happened. Congratulations, you’re an adult. When we are young, we see time as this infinite, slowly moving thing that’s only there to torture us with how slow summer vacation can come. But somewhere between our last precious summers as adolescents and the first time we realized that we actually need to schedule hang out time with our family members and friends weeks ahead in our calendars, we grew up. See, maturity comes with recognition of our own mortality, and thus, knowing that you have a limited amount of time to do the things you want to do. Growing up means that you realize that even if you live to be a hundred years old, you can’t do it all.

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There are so many things that I would love to be, careers that I would love to have. If it were up to me, I would be the wandering artist and the tenured professor; I would be the at-home mom that’s there for everything and the kick-ass business woman who works 29 hours a day and still has time to go to the gym; I would live a lifetime as a city mouse and a lifetime as a country bumpkin. But alas, having a limited amount of time on earth inherently comes with the inevitable truth that we have to make choices. Choices means prioritizing. Often times we get confused and caught up by our multiple desires, and we think we must be crazy because we do want it all, and everyone else that’s content must know something that we don’t or they must have less that they want out of life. The truth is, having priorities doesn’t mean that we don’t want multiple things, the very definition of picking priorities means doing the adult task of deciding what we want most.

But back to the main question: Why does a lack of productivity have such a negative effect on us as humans? The truth is, when we are not productive, it holds up a mirror to our own mortality; it reminds us that our time is limited, and thus lowers our self-esteem by instilling in ourselves a disappointment for not having utilized our time to the fullest. So what do we do? We metaphorically kick the dog, or realistically, yell at our spouses.

Procrastination doesn’t just have a negative effect on our overall goals, it affects the people we love. I picked a fight with my husband yesterday simply because I had wasted my entire day watching Sex and the City reruns. Was laying in bed all day in my pajamas listening to Sarah Jessica Parker wax poetic on her glamorous yet imperfect love life in Manhattan glorious? YES. Did it help me get any closer to my writing goals? Any closer to publishing a post? No. Did I feel like a miserable blob when I rolled over and realized that the sun had gone down and the entire day was practically gone and I had accomplished nothing. Yes. Obviously I did the healthiest thing I could think of and I blamed my husband…if he had not been busy watching football we could have gone to the store much earlier together.

TAKE NOTE MEN: We watch smutty TV all day because you watch Football!!! It’s YOUR fault I haven’t showered, or gotten dressed or done my weekend laundry!!!

Am I right ladies?! I mean how dare he sit on his own couch in his own house watching football on the one day he has off after working an 80-hour week?!!

That’s right, I completely decided to ignore the fact that his own activities had no bearing on the truth that I was a total waste of space and oxygen and human existence yesterday.

Real love and real friendship is someone telling you the truth. Sometimes we can love and hate people for the same thing. Yesterday, my husband saw right through my smoke and mirrors and called me out on the fact that I wasn’t really angry at him, I was angry at myself. Sometimes I hate that he’s as smart as I am. On top of that, I was even angrier at myself because I couldn’t even argue that I was taking in new story material…I was watching reruns! Writing this all out makes me realize that I probably still owe him big for my ridiculousness yesterday. However, that’s relationships and forgiveness.

My new friend Parita, owner of the blog myinnershakti.com, and someone I look up to, recently wrote a piece about making the best of your time here. In her article, she challenges her readers to ask yourself: is what you are doing with your time right now really how you want to be spending your day? We can apply this question here and ask, when your head hits the pillow that night, will you be happy with what you accomplished?

Recapping: maturity is what helps us to understand the need for, and identify, priorities, but procrastination breeds self-loathing for lack of working towards those priorities; this in turn, turns us into useless, dog-kicking, swamp monsters.

The question is, how can we get the train to move on from swampy Procrastination Station to ProductivityVille? Since we’ve discussed the reality and effects of procrastination, in the following post I will unpack some specifics on what I am learning about fighting procrastination and share a few key truths that will help fuel the train out of town. Stay tuned!