I am possessed of a lovely combination of creative energy and fairly solid analytic prowess that can either result in works of absolute and stunning genius or leave me with half-finished articles, novels and paintings, while I play my guitar (badly) with NCIS, Deadliest Catch or the Ghost Whisperer running just a few feet away. I have yet to produce anything of stunning genius, so I guess it’s the latter.
I am something of a mental pack-rat, collecting anything and everything that might someday be of interest, and then spending hours, days, and even weeks searching through the scrapheap of my mind to pull together a single, cohesive, and publishable (do I hear a chorus and harps?) idea.
And yet I feel compelled to defend my system, such as it is, because it works. I am surprisingly productive, although it’s often hard to tell in the moment just what, exactly, I am accomplishing.
So now I sit—with two articles due tomorrow on a pretty complex medical topic, complete with references, tables and figures—my nimble fingers sliding across the keyboard with the ninja-like agility, watching the words form on this, my blog post on how I’m not, at this particular time, writing those articles.
I am, however, defrosting a pork roast and running laundry. And I did scrub the bathtub for the first time in 3 months so it sparkles. I also stopped briefly on my way upstairs for laundry to play my guitar (still badly—nothing changes there) and then put a quick call to a friend, knowing it is never a quick call. Luckily for me, she didn’t pick up, and so now I can continue writing…and here I go.
This morning I read a post about how ineffective multitasking is. You don’t need to tell me. I’m going to take a break to make a sandwich….
Many articles have been written on the focus of the creative mind—clearly the side that needs a little harnessing—and yet the suggestions all lay around in my brain like a pile of bills you never open. I know what to do, I just don’t do it.
Still, I don’t miss deadlines and my work does get done, so I must do something right. And here it is: the procrastination solution. By this, I don’t mean I’ve solved my procrastination problem, I just use it to get things done.
Here’s how it works. I have my list of things to do. Many of these items are carried over from last week when they didn’t get done. I created a few false deadlines, hoping I might get some things done early, but I never do, so they’re still there now. But the priorities change. When it’s early, it’s code yellow or green or some pretty innocuous color that I don’t pay much attention to. Once I’ve missed early, it becomes a nice, rosy pink, meaning it would so lovely to accomplish this particular task at this juncture in time. That’s right, pink stuff never happens either.
Then I add to my to do list all the dumb little things I would love to do, like order a new pair of shoes from that catalog, or meet a friend for dinner. Adding these to the list means that at least something gets done. Yes, now I feel victorious! I painted my toenails and checked that off. I feel charged. Energized. I can tackle anything. Like a new song I will never play very well. Time to search youtube for a lesson…
Okay, so I made a few checkmarks today, which means I’m having a productive day and I know it. Now I can churn out those two articles I planned on finishing in a few hours. It’s only 2:15. Between now and 6PM, I check my email twice and empty the receipts from my purse, but by dinner I have most of one article done. The pressure is building, and so, like a marathon runner, I pull out my last bit of mental focus and manage to get it finished by 6:30 and eat a quick, somewhat anxious dinner. I only have about 4 hours before the daylight in my brain goes fully dim and I am capable only of activities like watching TV (and playing the guitar badly, of course–that never grows old.)
The stress I have now created for myself actually puts adrenalin in my system and ferments a unique level of focus I can only achieve when I have procrastinated just long enough…and in a positive fit of intellectual fortitude and rare discipline, I concentrate fully and manage to write the second article by 10:15 PM. Only 14 hours after I began my productive workday! And it’s a pretty good article, with surprising clarity.
And the best part is, I got so many other things done too! I fully stand by the procrastination process. Tomorrow I have bills to pay and a new outline to draft and groceries to buy and a book club meeting, and yes, another article to write! And as I climb the stairs on my way to a good night’s rest after a good day’s work, I see my guitar winking at me from the corner.
“There’s that Chrissy Hynde riff we wanted to learn to play…” she reminds me, and I think ah, yes, I’ll think about that tomorrow, because after all, tomorrow is another day.
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