August 31, 2018

Why do today, what you can do tomorrow?

So, I've learned something about writing regular blog posts. I suck at it. So much so that I've gone three weeks without something notable to talk about. Not that I've been lacking for ideas of course - I just have thought to myself every day that "Oh, I can just do it tomorrow!" Well, that turns out to be the wrong mentality, and leads to an endless amount of procrastination.

So this "Procrastination" thing... It's something that happens to everyone I think. Well, at least there's enough memes on the internet to suggest that it's a serious problem...

Yup. That's one.

Oh look! Another one!

From what I know about getting work done, everybody shares just a bit of being lazy. But what is it that brings on this procrastination? Why is it that we take one look at that assignment that's due - or that large research paper that we should be writing and think to ourselves "Eh, I'll do it tomorrow"?

A quick google search brings up an article from Psychology Today, listing the top five reasons that people procrastinate:

  1. The absence of structure
  2. Unpleasant tasks
  3. Timing
  4. Anxiety
  5. Self-Confidence

Each one of these truly insightful bullet points is backed up by significant research - which talks about how (and why) it's in our brains to say "Let's just wait a bit longer." And while these are good points - I think that there's something missing. Many of my projects do have structure, deadlines, and direction. Many I'm excited about, and want to work on! They all have immediate rewards, aren't particularly difficult, and I sure as heck don't have anxiety or self-confidence issues about doing my homework. So what is it? More google is necessary.

And I've found it. In the Forbes article "Why do we procrastinate" it says:


Yep. That's it. I'm lazy. But wait - then why do I procrastinate by, say, cleaning my bedroom, or learning about things on the internet? I wouldn't call that (precisely) the behavior of a lazy individual...

I think that for me, the root of my procrastination has to do with what I'm feeling like working on at any given time period. Some days, I just feel like it's exciting to work on one project, and less exciting to work on others. My interests drift from one project to another. My interests aren't constant. Thus, I believe that my procrastination is rooted in my fleeting ability to be interested in whatever I'm working on. Hence - why I always have so many projects I'm working on.

While having a large number of projects can be fun, and certainly has the ability to be engaging ("Oh, don't want to work on this today? Let's work on that instead!" my brain might say), it can sometimes be much more of a curse than a blessing. With so many projects, you're often left juggling too many tasks, or too many ideas.

Ian Somerhalder, the writer of Lost (and the Vampire Diaries) said once:

I kind of think too much, I try to do too many things at once.

That's the risk that you run when working on so many projects - trying to keep that many irons in the fire so that you're ready to strike with the right one when it gets hot (Yes, I think that metaphor was a bit of an over-extension as well).

So how do I deal with this added stress of having too many projects - so that I can find something to work on when I don't want to do anything? I use a todo list. Well, it's a bit more than that. What I do is I try to reduce my cognitive load - the things that I'm carrying around in my head at any given time to the things at hand. I keep notes (hundreds of sticky notes) on every thought that I have, so the paper can remember for me what I certainly wouldn't be able to juggle on my own. For me, my calendar and numerous trello boards filled with cards, my todoist lists and sticky notes, my pages of sketches and handwritten notes, and even some random text files with ideas serve to be a place where I can put my memory when it's not in use.

And for the most part, it works.

It's been a long time since I've felt stress about having too many projects going. I can't imagine a world in which I don't have something that I could be working on that I enjoy. These days, I find that often I have to force myself away from a project that I'm excited about to work on something that is less exciting (because it's due the next day, or is more academically interesting). I find myself waking up earlier, more excited for the day because there's something that I've always wanted to work on at the top of my todo list for the day. That's planning for you. Always have something fun to do.

Some people might, and probably will, say that this is too optimistic a view of how you can live your life. These people might say "You can't possibly always be excited about doing things" or "Isn't there anything that you aren't excited to do! Some tasks are unpleasant." And they're right. There are unpleasant tasks. There are tasks that make me anxious, where I don't have self-confidence, where there might be an absence of structure, or time might prevent me from doing other things. These things happen. But if you find these tasks happen one day out of 10, if you can devote just an hour each day to doing these things, and keep on keeping on, then you'll be fine. It all just works itself out (with a bit of work on your part). And you can get back to the things that you enjoy about life.

So then, we must ask the question: Why haven't I written a blog post in three weeks? And why is it that we now get some crappy writing about procrastination, and keeping a todo list?

Well, it's my blog. I can write whatever sappy heartfelt ode to todo lists that I like. And I finally had something that I wanted to say - today, writing a blog post seemed like fun, it didn't feel like a chore - it felt like something that I wanted to do. So I did it. And why not?