Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Fine Art of Procrastination

I find the most absurd ways of procrastinating. There's the obvious: playing 20 consecutive hands of Solitaire, or watching TV. There's the "I'm getting organized. No, really" category: fiddling with my to-do lists in Remember the Milk, sorting out that drawer used for tossing miscellaneous papers over the past six months, inventorying printer inks. Finally, there's the "Don't bother me with work, I'm learning stuff" excuses: RSS feeds on technology, podcasts on *ahem* being productive or organizing one's life, reading books about the zen of organization. Part of my mind tells me that if I had the right journal, a better pen, the perfect task software, or an improved organizational plan I could get great things done.

But the rational part of my mind knows that the only thing getting in the way of my productivity is me. Putting a blog entry together requires typing one sentence, then the next, then the next. Creating a research paper involves actually doing the research, then writing things down. It's not rocket science. (I've always wondered what rocket scientists say when they want to indicate that something isn't mysteriously hard.) Creativity is hard, though, and we all have our avoidance mechanisms. The rational part knows what the lazy, procrastinating part is doing, but it sometimes powerless to stop it.

I tend to think that part of the solution is to develop good habits. (Naturally, there are blogs, podcasts, and God-knows what else to help develop good habits. Resist, lazy part of the mind!) Set aside certain times when I'm likely to be (a) productive and (b) uninterrupted, and use that time to put together sentences. Not every day will lend itself to keeping to the schedule - life is nothing if not unpredictable, and work colleagues tend to drop in just at the time I've gotten started on a project, as though they know how to wreak the most havoc on my day, but getting a better routine isn't an impossible job.

I've been hearing this advice for some time now, from Mur Lafferty's I Should be Writing podcast to Merlin Mann's advice, most recently on his podcast with Dan Benjamin, Back to Work. (Mann and Benjamin are aware of the irony of having a time-sucking podcast about being productive, but that's what lunch breaks are for.) It just takes a while for the advice to sink in. I'm sure there's some scientific explanation based on survival characteristics and evolution: primitive man needed to conserve energy for hunting and gathering, so those with the lazy gene survived better than the gung-ho Neanderthals. True or not, it's just an excuse now.

I think I've earned myself working a Sudoku...

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