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

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Of Dread and M&Ms

In the world of book publishing and book promoting, a classy blurb from a well-known personage is gold.  (I know this because my husband writes books, and I listen in.)  On the back cover of Rita Emmett's The Procrastinator's Handbook:  Mastering the Art of Doing It Now, Harvey Mackay, author of Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive tells us that 
'A journey of ten thousand miles begins with but a single step.'  Rita Emmett will teach you how to power walk.
Frank McCourt, author of Angela's Ashes and 'Tis, calls Emmett's book 
light-hearted. . .the kind you should have by the bedside as you await the arrival of a tardy lover.  
And his credentials?  He took twenty-two years to complete Angela's Ashes.   

I am one chapter in to said "light-hearted" primer, and not yet power walking with sharks.  I did fall asleep awaiting my husband's return last night, but not before I had switched to reading a murder mystery.  Emmett's Handbook was, technically, by the bedside.  But, to be honest, I wasn't all that clear from McCourt's recommendation what sort of benefit it might be expected to provide.  Understanding of the lover's tardiness?  Self-improvement by osmosis?

Anyway, I have gleaned two promising pieces of advice from my late-night perusal of chapter one, which bears the title "Tackling the Dread."  The first is a variation on Brian Tracy's frog-ingesting admonition.  Where Tracy would have us begin with the most important task, Emmett directs us to start with the task we find the most distasteful, or terrifying, or otherwise repugnant.  This "get it over with" philosophy lures us with the mecca of relief at the conclusion of such an assignment, and the feeling of accomplishment that follows any dragon-slaying.  Visions that come to mind are diving head-first into icy water, and baptism by fire.  Oh, and cowering in bed with the covers over my head, refusing to meet a day that begins with my worst nightmare.  

I do see the merit in both Tracy's "Eat That Frog" and Emmett's "Tackl[e] [that] Dread" approaches.  But at my present kindergarten level of procrastination recovery, I am employing my own, less onerous method:  "Start Somewhere! Anywhere!"  The beauty of this strategy is that no time is lost weighing the relative importance or revulsion associated with the various tasks with which I am confronted.  And I can't make a wrong choice about what to do first.  Any movement is rewarded.

Which brings me to the second of Emmett's intriguing prescriptions, one which I am ready to adopt with enthusiasm.  She spends a fair amount of the first chapter discussing the importance of rewarding ourselves for task completion.  And she's not just talking intrinsic rewards--the kind the latest child-rearing experts are selling, where our kids will supposedly thrive on being good for the sake of being good, instead of being ruined by bribes and threats.  No, Emmett wants us to work for payoffs, sing for supper, clean our desks for lattes.  Now that's my kind of program.  (And, by the way, the M&Ms and "stamps" my daughter is employing as she toilet-trains her toddler seem to be "turning the tide," so to speak.  Long-term consequences of this tactic remain to be seen.)

Emmett closes her chapter with two assignments.  The first, for "extra credit," instructs the reader to make a list of 
  • Little Rewards (for completing little jobs)
  • Big Rewards (for completing big jobs)
  • Great Fabulous Rewards (for completing life-changing accomplishments) 
 And the second, for "extra, extra credit," is to
  1. Buy a timer.
  2. Select one task to do that you've been putting off.
  3. Set the timer for one hour.
  4. Work at that task.  No breaks.
  5. Pat yourself on the back.
Of course, I'm starting with the "extra credit" assignment.  And if I blend that process in with my "Do Something!  Anything!" approach, and suitably lowered standards, I just might earn a Great Fabulous Reward before noon.

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