Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Friday, March 12, 2010

My Top 5 Stupid Procrastinator Tricks

This day is starting much too early, with far too little time to write an insightful, thought-provoking blog.  So I am employing a popular blogger tool--the LIST--to expedite things.

I am seldom up late enough these days to watch David Letterman.  I don't know if he's still featuring "Stupid Pet Tricks," or what the concept entails, really.  But I do like the phrase, which has become common place.  In adapting it to title this post, I am invoking a playful spirit of not taking ourselves and our procrastinating too seriously.  But the "tricks" I include here are real methods used to get something done; games we play, not for entertainment, but to maneuver ourselves into getting started, keeping going, and finishing up.

Top 5 Stupid Procrastinator Tricks (not in any particular order)

1.  The "Swiss Cheese" approach.

I first encountered this strategy in Alan Lakein's 1974 classic, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life.  Lakein advises its use when a task or project seems too big and overwhelming to begin.  The idea is to think of putting small holes in that giant block of cheese, one at a time, until it is completed.  Can't face the hurricane aftermath in your kitchen?  Just wash the plates.  Then later, the cups.  And so forth, for about a week or two, during which you bar your housemates from the premises, and (not exactly presto, but eventually change-o) you're done!  (So you can start again.)

2.  Mary's own "5 things" game.

I've been playing this game with myself and my children for ages.  It has as many variations as it needs to have.  In the version most often employed, we assign ourselves to pick up 5 things in a disordered room and then reward ourselves with something pleasurable, or restful, or just plain lazy, for a limited time.  Then we pick up another 5 things, followed by more rewarding.  Repeat as necessary.  This is similar to Lakein's swiss cheese method, but with looser rules.  The 5 things don't need to be related, or part of any larger, more meaningful undertaking.  Some days it's enough to ask of ourselves that we just get moving. 

3.  Timer magic.

Also useful with kids.  And also learned from Lakein, who suggests we set a timer for a short interval, such as 15 minutes, and force ourselves to tackle a dreaded assignment until the timer goes off.  Theoretically, we are supposed to find ourselves engaged in the task, and our anticipatory anxiety passed, by the time we hear that ding, so that we just keep going.  But we retain the option to quit at that point.  I've done both when I've used this technique.  I have almost never seen my children continue past the timer's release.

4.  "I don't want to do it.  I'm not going to do it.  They can't make me do it.  But if I were going to do it. . ."

This method requires a bit of a split personality.  On the one hand, we must inhabit the persona of a tantruming and highly gullible child.  On the other, we become a puppet master, manipulating the strings that make the ruse work.  Fortunately, on a good day, I have personalities to spare, and this has worked for me.  Getting into the tantrum releases some negative energy.  The resulting relative calm allows a more rational voice to be heard, the one that completes the "But if I were going to do it. . ." sentence.

5.  Costuming.

This trick is theatrical.  Here we use wardrobe and props to "set the stage."  "If I were a writer, I would sit with my laptop by this window, dressed as an intellectual at work, wearing glasses, and holding a steaming cup of coffee."  Most days, it's enough to get me started.  And because I like writing at least as much as I sometimes dread starting, I generally keep at it.  

And that, after all, is probably the most important trick--directing ourselves to do something we love to do.

1 comment:

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