“If writers really
wrote about what they know,
they’d write less about sex and more about procrastination.”
-- David Kipen, book reviewer and critic
Lesson 1: Procrastination is the fine art of avoiding tasks and activities that are unpleasant or boring, or make you feel incompetent, or for some reason frighten you. For some reason, our culture considers procrastination to be a bad thing.
Lesson 2: Activities fall into two categories: things you should do but don't want to, and things you want to do but shouldn't, at least not right at this moment. Activities in the first group are considered productive and therefore worthwhile; they move you toward a goal. Those in the second group are called time sucks, and they don’t get you anywhere. Or so the common wisdom goes.
Both kinds can make you feel uncomfortable. The difference is when. With productive activities, the discomfort is part of the process of doing them. When you've finished, that changes. You have a sense of accomplishment, which feels good. Time sucks, on the other hand, are enjoyable while you're doing them, if you don’t count the nagging guilt. But afterward you feel bad as you realize you've just blown a whole hour, or a day, or a week.
Lesson 3: Time sucks aren't all bad. Sometimes you need a few minutes to pull away, to ponder an idea, to think something through, to clear your mind, to recharge your batteries so you can better perform the productive activity you're avoiding . . . er, taking a break from.
Lesson 4: Here are some of my favorite ways to procrastinate. I call them the Three S's.
Solitaire -- Who was the genius who figured out how to stuff a deck of cards inside a computer? Solitaire offers an endless supply of games that let you while away the time without leaving your desk. And if you want to look busy when someone approaches, it's easy to pull up a spreadsheet or Word file and create the illusion that you’re actually working.
Social media -- This veers back and forth between being a productive activity and a time suck. For writers, self-promotion is the name of the game if we want to sell our work or find readers, and social media is currently the way to do this. But once you've logged into Facetwit or Linkspace, it's easy to get distracted. Look, new photos of my adorable niece. And a tasty-looking recipe. And link to a political article that will take just a few minutes to read . . .
Sleep -- A writer friend assures me, "Sleep is for sissies." Well then, I'm a sissy. I love sleep. Eight hours a night. A quick little nap in the afternoon. Relaxing, refreshing, restorative. Even better sometimes is that lovely hypnogogic state when you hover between sleep and waking, your mind in dreamland yet aware of the real world. That's when solutions appear, ideas slip in, and characters begin to talk. Maybe sleep isn'’t a time suck after all, though probably it shouldn't take me an hour to get out of in the morning.
All right, class dismissed. Thus endeth today's lessons. Maybe I'll come back with more – if I manage to get around to it.