Friday, December 4, 2009

The Bridge Uncrossed

A guest post from kindred spirit, Lazy Mom

Procrastination is often mentioned as if it is a bad thing which I find odd when there are so many things in life that are REALLY a waste of time...such as cleaning and thank you notes and NO ONE says one negative word about them.

Other than the thousands of hours I have saved by NOT scrubbing my kitchen floor on a regular basis or lighting scented candles or worrying about the grimy build-up of dirt on the carpet near my front door (which apparently horrifies millions of women) procrastination has also been a constant source of happiness in my life.

I learned procrastination from my parents. They loved to sit on the shady brick patio which led out to the backyard from the kitchen with their coffee and cigarettes and watch the endless array of children and animals and neighbors. The patio--with its director’s chairs and the Sunday Times spread out on the slate coffee table and the conversations about Nixon or Norman Mailer or where to buy the best panettone in the Village—was the place to be. Everyone would come by with stories to tell or projects to discuss or theories to expound on. The weekend would go by so quickly and with so little getting done.

We were not like other families. Our weekends were not for chores or church or other activities—they were for sitting and talking and eating and drinking coffee and smoking and catching up with friends. They were for seeing who could KICK the basketball into the hoop….about who could make the best volcano out of an orange juice can, some plaster of Paris and a hole in the ground. They were about making a makeshift badminton court with a volleyball net, with a mix of tennis, squash and actual badminton racquets and then having endless “world championships!!!!”

My family had made procrastination an art form and I continued the tradition not in a backyard but on the streets of the city. It was my lazy summer wanderings around NYC that led me to the man who reintroduced me to my husband who later became the father of my idle and ideally beautiful girl. See procrastination is very helpful.

The self-help gurus are missing an important point about procrastination which is that it is a gift. Procrastination is the gift of time. Procrastination is actually one step beyond the advice of don’t cross that bridge until you get to it. Procrastination is--why bother with the bridge—let’s fish on the bank and plunge into the cool river water for a swim and relax in the sun. So many things are gained when you let go of a schedule, of a time line, of too many commitments…

Coffee anyone?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Products for Procrastinators

I ran out of gas again. While walking to the nearest gas station my daughter said "Mom, why don't you just keep a gas can in the car?". I told her that it's funny she should ask that because I lied on my blog and said that I was going to do just that. "But why don't you just do it?" she asked logically. "Because it smells" I told her. So I got to thinking about what a killing some Acme company could make, if the developed products specifically for procrastinators. Like an odorless gas can, for example. Or a service that could take care of all those loathful tasks that procrastinators always put off, like renewing our car registration, replacing our EZ passes, etc.

Perhaps the reason there are no products and services for procrastinators is because developers are not aware of the market potential. Why is this? Because we are not proud enough. Procrastinators need to come out of the closet and let their demands be known! We are here, and lord knows we'll never get around to making these products ourselves, so Acme get busy!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Procrastinators may not be the best pet owners

While it is true that pets can provide an endless source of procrastination, they are not always the best choice for procrastinators. Pets need to be cared for, and sometimes, well, we may put that off. The results are sometimes tragic.

Last week, my cat met its untimely death. Its death was not technically my fault. It got hit by a car. I was not driving the car. But after we adopted them several years ago (it had a brother - that one just disappeared) and they started ripping up all our furniture and sweaters, etc., we planned on getting them de-clawed. But that never happened. Instead, we sort of encouraged them to go outside. The rest is history.

I don't really like cats. In fact, for a split second, when I saw the cat laying on the road before work, I thought perhaps I could get away with pretending I didn't see it. But I forced myself to walk down and confirm that it was in fact dead. My daughter is a bit of a drama queen, so I didn't really want to have to deal with the crying and carrying on first thing in the morning, especially since she really cared very little for the animal while it was alive. So I scooped it up, placed it a box, snuck around back, left it on the porch, and left a note for my husband to please "deal with it".

That was on Thursday. On Sunday, my husband remembered that he never did "deal with it". It had rained quite a bit since the hit, so the box was now soggy, and body was now a bit decomposed. We tried to dig a respectable grave, but we live in a land of rocks, and it was pouring out, so we just couldn't manage to dig it big enough to fit the entire box in. Instead we got it in as far as we could, stacked rocks on top of the box, and then covered it with leaves and branches. Hopefully it will settle before Spring.

I'm definitely thinking twice before the next one....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Keep Your Studies Off My Self

Let's face it, I'm fort-five at the apex, facing downhill, and it ain't all pretty. But according the recent Stevenson and Wolfers study my failure to achieve bliss is due to, The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness. The study authors claim that in the 1970s men reported to be generally less happy then women, but now the reverse is true. But I don't buy it. First of all, happiness does not lend itself to narration, for either gender, so the question is hard to answer honestly if the questionee is not happy at that particular time. This is particularly true for men. Women often reflect and ask themselves if they are happy. But you ask that question to men, and you are going to get a different answer depending on whether their most recent needs have been met or not, and we're talking here, basically, whether they've been fed, laid, or their digestion system is operating properly. For women, there's a few more factors, and the range of factors have most definitely changed since the 1970s.

So I would argue, that generally people are less happy. Perhaps that's because we've traded quality time for crap. But whatever the reason, the state of the world, or the degree of equality for women, is not responsible for my personal satisfaction. I know what I want to make me happy, but I also know that you can't always get what you want, and therefore must learn to be happy in spite of it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Procrastination Pay Offs

"Do you know anything about child psychology?" asked an anxious, young mom outside ballet class. She seemed confused when I started laughing hysterically; I could see she was desperate so I quickly replied "I only have one and she was an accident", freeing her up to seek advise elsewhere. But the stress melted off her face and she started laughing too. I suppose the realization that for some, parenting was not only not scrutinized, it wasn't even planned, was somewhat liberating, and set aside whatever issue she was fretting over (what it was, by the way, I did not bother to ask).

Accidents are modi operandi for procrastinators. My accidents certainly have caused me a lot of angst as well as cost me a lot of cash. However, some of the best things in my life have also been the result of accidents, including my greatest mistake, motherhood. Sometimes procrastination pays off.

"Accident is the name of the greatest of all inventors."
- Mark Twain

Thursday, October 8, 2009

It Ain't Easy Being Proud

I could easily attribute the paucity of posts I’ve made since I started this blog to procrastination. But I must admit that I’ve been having a hard time being proud. Yesterday, for example, I ran out of gas, this time on a major highway, with children in the car. Luckily, this time it was at the top of hill, going down, as opposed to last month, when I was in the middle of a steep hill, going up.

The number of bad situations I’ve been in as a result of my procrastinations and the list of what I didn’t do this summer is mind-boggling, so I’m ashamed to say, that I may have fallen off the proud procrastination wagon, hard. The self-flogging spiraled out of control on the first day of school as I watched my daughter get on the bus in ripped up jeans and chlorine-damaged hair that hadn’t been cut since last winter; I just thought to myself what a loser I am because I can’t manage to get my daughter’s haircut or keep up my garden or clean out my basement or garage or closet or paint my deck. I try to justify these failures (I shouldn’t paint the deck until we get a French drain installed, and I can’t do that until I clean out my basement and have a yard sale so I can pay for it, but I can’t clean out my basement, until I clean out my closet because I can’t find any of my clothes that I fit in but if could just lose 15 pounds instead I could wear storage and dump my whole closet…..etc.)

But this morning, after I finally made it down to the river for a short run, I first started to lament at how lame this exercise attempt was; only 25 minutes before I had to get back and wake up sleeping beauty. But then the sun came up and I screamed at myself to stop it – I’m out jogging as the sun is coming up – so I’ll run 2 miles instead of 3 – I’m here and I’m proud of it. And I started thinking about the real reason why I didn’t do anything I intended this summer; my job has been kicking my butt. It’s not my fault, it’s not my fault, it’s not my fault (since Robin Williams isn’t around to cure me, I’m doing it myself). I'm keeping my head up (and carrying a gas can in my car).

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mastering the Art of Not Doing it Now

Approximately seven years ago, I picked up a copy of The Procrastinators Handbook, subtitled, Mastering the Art of Doing it Now, by Rita Emmett, at a yard sale. During those seven years, it has never moved off my night table, but neither has it been opened. I actually had forgotten about it until last October when a dear procrastinator friend stopped by for a brief overnight visit on her way to a conference at Princeton. After several hours of frenetic chatter, moving among topics like a pinball in Tommy's machine, we finally were ready to surrender to bed. She asked if I had a good book she could borrow1. So she followed me into my bedroom, and as I reached for a book in the middle of my nightstand stack, the Handbook revealed itself, stained with coffee and wine and covered in dust, sending us into fits of hysterical laughter. Cost of the Handbook at the yard sale: $1, shared fits of laughter over its understood futility: priceless.

So I just cracked it open. I don't want to bash the book; motivators mean no harm. Most of them claim to be recovered procrastinators; an obvious attempt at seducing you too into recovery. But they never really qualified as procrastinators in my book; if they did, they would know all these "techniques" they promote are useless. Take this tip for example, that Emmett claims will help you overcome "Hypocritical Procrastination": "Once you start to focus by setting a deadline for a task or making a commitment and writing a it on a to-do list, the other "important" things, which generate this type of procrastination, tend to fall away". Oh-ho-ho-no they won't. Those other "important" things need to move on up in importance in my book. After all, what qualifies itself to go on the list? I know about list-making; in an attempt to finish my dissertation, I went to years of therapy, a.k.a, "list-making 101". I learned how to prioritize, sub-prioritize, assign categories based on deadlines, create checklists, apply motivators, etc. I became a list master, but they never worked. The fatal flaw of this process is that it under- estimates the powers of procrastination; placement of an action on a list presents the procrastinator with the ultimate challenge, to not do them. Conversely, all the "unimportant" things you didn't put on the list, like watching your daughter break her hula-hoop record or watching your yard get covered in cherry blossoms, keep getting done. Maybe the art one needs to master, is not doing it. I do believe the first step, as Judith Warner's daughter's playmate's dream Dad recently suggested, is to adjust one's expectations.

1Note: Procrastinators are often afflicted with a related "disease"; ADD or more fondly, monkey brain. Whatever you want to call it, its hard to stop all the voices, so we usually need to read to get to sleep. But that is the subject of a future post.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Proud Procrastination Principles

Entropic forces tend to move us procrastinators into the same shiftless circles, so I know a lot of other procrastinators. Most of us, much to the chagrin of the Achiever, get by, and some of us are even fairly successful. Then we are not really procrastinators you say? You have no idea. Let me give you some examples of procrastination that will make your head spin:

  • I have brought clothes to the cleaners and never picked them up at least 7 times.
  • I never picked up a beautiful Karastan rug from the rug cleaners, despite the fact that it was right next to the pet store where I bought my dog food.
  • After passing my comprehensive and proposal exams, conducting my research, and writing my dissertation over 1000s of hours of nap times, grandparent drop-offs, and vacation days, I never defended my PhD.
  • I have lost several teeth because I failed to go back and get a permanent cap after my temporary caps wore off.
  • Almost once a year, I get tickets for failure to renew my car registration and inspection.
  • I have run out of gas more times that I can remember.
  • My dearest fellow procrastinator has spent 100s of hours learning how to build and design amplifiers, but his home system has been sitting in disrepair for 7 years, despite the fact that he owns 1000s of CDs and playing them has been relegated to a boom box.
  • The same procrastinator has thrown away several sets of dishes rather than wash them.
  • My undergraduate best friend and procrastinator pulled a 4.0 for 3 1/2 years straight and then quit.
Let me know if you want me to keep going, because I can. So how does the procrastinator get anything done? Why haven't we all died of starvation while lying in a pool of our own filth? Nobody ever tries to answer these questions. Instead, their are numerous books, websites, self-help programs, all providing us with the answer to the question "why do we procrastinate?". Do we really need to pay somebody to tell us the answer when we know damn well that the answer is that we just don't want to do it. So perhaps its better to ask, why do we do anything? The answer is a combination of pure survival instinct, desire, and fear. For example, survival motivates us to keep a job so we can feed ourselves, desire for the things we want, like a house and a car, motivates us to have a good job, and fear of imprisonment for failure to pay our bills and taxes, motivates us to, eventually.

So the key to pride in procrastination, is careful selection of the things you won't do. You shouldn't put on your anti-resolution list, for example, "Enroll your child in school". This is illegal, so fear should be a motivator for school registration. Likewise, you shouldn't put "Go to work" on your list, because if you quit your job you can't buy food or pay your mortgage. The things I have placed on my anti-resolution list so far, will not threaten my survival, leave me unfulfilled, or make me fear for the consequences if I don't do them. So why would I want to do them in the first place? Because I should finish what I started? If that's the only reason that is why they are going on the anti-resolution list; to finish them, achieve success, and be proud. So my fellow procrastinators, fear not, there is plenty to not do, just chose wisely.


Spring is a great time of year for everyone, but it is in this season that procrastinators have their biggest edge. 'Round about springtime, non-procrastinators start to measure themselves up against their New Years Resolutions, and begin their downward spiral that extends into fall, when they start composing their lists again in anticipation for another "new year". For procrastinators, however, thoughts of putting together a list of potential self-improvements have either been long gone, or haven't even been formed. Rather than mark their failings and deficiencies on an annual basis, procrastinators continuously self-deprecate; regrets build up over a lifetime, so there is no need for springtime panic. While our failures do make us strong, not failing can make us even stronger. That's why this year (or decade, or eon) I have decided to create a list of anti-resolutions; by not accomplishing them I will thereby succeed. The list will likely increase over time. But for now I will start with:

  1. Defend my dissertation.
  2. Organize my files.
  3. Landscape my yard.
  4. Run the New York City marathon.
  5. Get in touch with long-lost friends.
Every failure a success. Procrastinators, just don't do it.