Leo Babauta's recent piece Four Antidotes To Procrastination caught my eye but, oh the irony, I put off reading it. Having read it now, I like how he admits to "procrastinating a bit more than normal, and of course it doesn't feel great." He gives good reasons why he procrastinates: fatigue, overload, uncertainty. He wants "an antidote (or two) to our procrastination, because it usually means we're not doing the meaningful work we want to do in the world. It's worth figuring out."
In the margin, I wrote "procrastination is a sign of unhappiness. I want to investigate it so as to address what is really wrong." Babauta's piece suggests solutions to procrastination, but I'm pulled to try understanding the underlying problem of which procrastination is merely a symptom.
Last week I very little good writing. I watched a lot of television and felt myself slipping toward depression. I wanted to work on my daily blog posts and a big writing project to which I've recently returned, but instead flipped channels, scrolled through social media, and skimmed the news. I procrastinated going to my desk to write, but procrastination, while a problem, wasn't the root problem keeping me from "doing the meaningful work." It was a symptom of something deeper.
My issues began with getting too little sleep. I get up mornings at 4:45 but was up after ten most nights. Some people can get by on that little sleep, but not me. Lacking sleep I begin thinking of whole lists of things I have to do and spiral into anxiety. I procrastinate because I feel I can't do the things I want to do. And all of that stems from feeling unworthy, my fundamental issue.
Dealing with that feeling of unworthiness seems impossible, so I end up in front of television, phone, or computer. But when the wind changes, I do a few things that make a difference: I get rest, stop making lists, do one small thing, clear space, and remember the difference between work and a job.
Rest comes first. I'm tired and wanted to go for a run, but my job drained me and it's about all I can do to sit here and type this. I'll be in bed reading by eight and asleep before nine. I'll be more ready to go tomorrow.
Ditching the list is good. I worry that I'll forget something, but if it's important, it will get done. There are always a couple dozen things that feel like priorities, but I can do only one and I do better without the anxiety the list gives me. I'm typing this and that's enough. I don't know what's next. That can wait. Right now there's just this one thing.
Clearing space on the desk mirrors clearing it in my mind. Imagine a desk covered with laptop, three folders, two stapled articles, a dozen pages of notes and writings, a letter from a friend, an empty coffee cup, the stapler, two library books, phone, wallet, keys, a pen, and a writer's notebook. On the shelf next are the contents of a couple more folders, some bills, and more books. That's my brain sometimes and it leaves me anxious and distracted. Clearing means picking something up and finding the right place for it until I have just the tools for one job: a notebook, laptop, and one article while in my head there is just one task on which to focus. Distractions creep in, but I'm getting better at gently clearing them away. The clear desk and mind help settle and center me.
Then it's a matter of differentiating between work and a job. Work is choice, jobs are obligations, but it's mostly up to how I choose to approach the task. If I'm doing it because I ought to, it's a job and I'm likely to procrastinate. If I choose to do it as work, even scooping the cat litter can be rewarding and worthy of my focus though I'm not sure I can explain how. It's easier to see it with choosing to write this. There's no money or fame in it, but it's good work. My job tired me terribly today. This work is energizing.
Procrastination isn't the enemy. Procrastination is a symptom of me fighting something, most likely the feeling I'm unworthy. Right now I'm not sure I'm worthy of publishing this. Who am I to say much of anything? Well, if nothing else, I'm someone with a clear mind (and desk) and a focus on understanding that procrastination comes from a deeper place. That might be worth sharing.
Now, I'm ready to clear the desk and my mind of this and find more work I want to be doing. There's always the cat litter.