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

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In Defense of Blogging

My husband is bored with my blog.  He's had enough of procrastination, posted and real-life.  He is of the opinion that writing about procrastination is getting in the way of writing.  He could be right.

I am spending an average of an hour and a half per day writing these posts, and solving the intermittent technical glitches that interrupt their publishing.  At the rate of two pages per hour, the blog may be "costing" me about 15 pages a week.  Not that all of those 15 pages would be ultimately usable.  But they probably need to be written anyway, as what poet William Stafford called "scaffolding" erected in the process of writing a finished piece.   

On the other hand, I am reluctant to abandon or foreshorten what has been a useful vehicle.  This blog has allowed me to reflect on why I have put off things I want to do and things I have to do, and failed to finish so much of what I have started.  It has prompted me to read more widely and deeply about procrastination, to discover what research is being done and what it reveals, and to identify some strategies that may prove valuable.  I am clearly not done with this subject, as the problem itself has taken deep root in my life.  If we use the "pregnancy weight" maxim--"Expect it to take as long for the weight to come off as it took to put it on"--I could be at this for years, if not for life.  

Blogging about procrastination has also gotten me writing regularly, and with purpose.  No small accomplishment, given my previous starts and stops.  Something about the public nature of the venture--even if my "public" is small, and sporadic, and seeded with friends and family--and the commitment I've made to regularity keeps me juggling obligations and schedules and unseen occurrences to make sure I get this done, five days a week, every week.

And then there's the fact that I enjoy doing it.  The process itself, as so many of us have discovered, is fun!  I look forward to opening the blog "dashboard" and finding out what I have to say.  And I like having a Google presence in addition to my 2004 dismissive mention on the Dummocrat site.  I love hearing from readers who like what they've read, or take issue with it.  I love seeing my "visitor map" sprinkled with dots all over the globe, and imaging the reader in Sweden, or the Phillipines, or Kansas.  I enjoy learning the new skills and tricks involved in blogging, and feeling a part of the community of bloggers, so many of them contributing work I respect, and admire, and am made wiser by.

So, for this day anyway, I choose "to blog."  And recognize that my husband is not really "one of us," the procrastinators of the world.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Practicing for Flow

This morning, I flunked yoga.  Too tense.  Striving too much.  Moving away from ease and into stress and distress.  And, clearly, I should not be grading myself in that arena, which reveals how little I know about relaxation.  

So Dr. Neil Fiore, whose book The Now Habit:  A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play we have been "studying" in Procrastination 101, has much to teach me in his 7th chapter, entitled "Working in the Flow State."  Dr. Fiore refers us to the work of Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his book Flow:  The Psychology of Optimal Experience for background on the flow state, and research on its benefits.  But for our purposes here, the important ideas concern procrastination, as Dr. Fiore applies the theory.

Fiore tells us that the "critical, logical left-brain faculty," working in concert with our reptilian, fight-or-flight stress response, feeds procrastination.  Especially for those of us who rely on creativity for our chosen work, that linear thought process that is the hallmark of the left brain must be suspended if we are to begin, and proceed through the first draft of a project. 
Trying to cram all the emotion and experience of spontaneous creative idea into a linear form is one of the major causes of creative blocks and procrastination.  That’s why it’s important to know how to use more of your brain, and how to shift into the flow state.
Once we have managed to get out of our own way enough to produce something, only then does it make sense to recruit the "inner editor" feared by so many writers, and have her/him take up the task of bringing order and polish to what has been created.

How do we go about "protecting" the "early renderings of a project. . .from overly critical comparison with the ideal and ultimate goal?"  Here's where the flow state comes in, providing "a magical bridge from anxiety to tranquility and safety," and "replac[ing] guilt and stress with stress-free focus on the present."  In order to learn to focus, and to achieve this desired creativity-friendly state, Dr. Fiore advises two weeks of daily practice of a 1 to 2 minute mini-relaxation exercise, which we can then use before beginning work, after finishing our commute, before and/or after stressful phone calls or meetings, or at any time when stress arises in our working lives.  He also suggests, for those who are not adept or experienced at relaxation (Could he be talking about me?), a lengthier relaxation exercise to strengthen the habit.  Both exercises can be downloaded from Dr. Fiore's website, as part of a Reference Guide PDF (under the advertisement for the audiobook verson of The Now Habit), for recording in the user's own voice.  

Everything lately is leading me in this direction.  Can calmness have a "siren call?"  

Monday, June 28, 2010

Done for the Week: Still Revving Up

This week, I am dog-sitting for my daughter, and should have some time to get started on last week's focus goal, which was to figure out how to get some more satisfying writing accomplished.  I intend to get on that as soon as I recover from 8-1/4 hrs. babysitting a lively almost-three-year-old.  Here's what I got done last week, while I wasn't addressing my focus goal.  

Done List--Week of June 21-27
  1. Finished Week 6 of revised 14-week Sprint Triathlon training plan--returned to tentative running, after injury; too soon, as it turns out
  2. Finished Finding Nouf, by Zoe Ferraris; Lark and Termite, by Jayne Anne Phillips; 
  3. Took my blood pressure daily
  4. Attended Religious Leaders Caucus
  5. Attended organization's Leadership Assembly
  6. Participated in out-of-state visit to transitional jobs network
  7. Published 5 blog posts
  8. Meditated 3 times
  9. Wrote notes to three friends
  10. Wrote  7 Gratitude Journal entries
  11. Wrote 7 Morning Pages
  12. Continued cleaning campaign
  13. Participated in 1-1/2 hr. yoga class
  14. Went out with my husband for Happy Hour; read aloud a book we started together months ago; 
  15. Registered for triathlon
  16. Scheduled doctor's appointment I've been putting off
Because I didn't get to my focus goal, nothing is highlighted in green on this list.  In red above is what I consider my most important accomplishment of the week--finally registering for the triathlon I have been training for.  It feels pretty scary at this point, but I am putting together the pieces of a race-finishing performance, bit by bit.  I think it's at least as much a mental hurdle as a physical feat.  

In fact, I am awash in mental hurdles.  So this week's focus goal is to continue practicing mindfulness while beginning to clear the obstacles that have prevented me from writing what I've planned.  If I succeed, next week's list should reflect more time spent meditating, and more time spent writing.  

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nothing Doing

Neil Pasricha's 1000 Awesome Things blog, and his book The Book of Awesome, do for me what they clearly do for so many others.  They make me smile.  He succeeds in capturing life's little jewels, and bringing our attention to experiences we often rush by and fail to appreciate.  A sampling, in list form, of such treasures, includes:  "#913 Having a whole row by yourself on the plane;" "#863 The perfect egg crack;" "#858 The other side of the pillow;" "#838 The smell of freshly cut grass;" and "#796 The sound of rain from inside the tent."  

I don't always "grock" to Pasricha's particular sensibility.  For example, he lost me with "#789 Putting potato chips on a sandwich," and "#612 Finally farting when the guests leave."  (Sounds like a guy thing to me.)  

But the one that really reached me recently was #483 Do Nothing Days.  First there was the mesmerizing illustration, reproduced here in miniature.  How could you not want a day that made you feel like this?

And then there was the description:
No homework, no dinner dates, no sports practices, no visiting mates. It’s just you and you sharing a nice peaceful moment of alone time.
Pasricha goes on to recommend that 
[w]hen you’re lucky enough to score a Do Nothing day, do yourself a favor and do nothing. Give your brain a break and slip into [the] easy bliss of lying in crumpled sheets, taking a long bath, and ordering out for dinner. Ditch the guilt while you swing in a hammock, cuddle with your cat, or curl up on the couch in front of the TV.
 He closes with:
Once in a while it’s good to enjoy a completely unproductive daydreamy day with a slow smile and no worries.
This post nine days ago inspired many enthusiastic comments from Neil's readers, and my realization that Do Nothing Days are what I crave.  In my present stressed out state, the very idea is intoxicating, my new drug of choice.  I have decided to try to have at least one a week for the foreseeable future.  We'll see if I can stick to it.  And if the universe will cooperate.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Reaching My Speed Limit

Rushing through traffic yesterday in the clogged lanes brought to us by stimulus-money-inspired road construction gone amok, I was led to contemplate the unpleasant experience of hurrying.  Something I'm doing too much of lately.  Hurrying, that is, not contemplating.  (And "late-ly" is how, and why I'm doing it!)

My middle child, who--fortunately, mostly--does not share my genes, is constantly haranguing me about walking too fast.  His reflex response to all requests from me is some variant of "Wait up" or "Calm down"--even when I think I'm relatively calm.  When he was a small child, The Hurried Child:  Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon, by David Elkind Ph.D. was a decade or so old. Its ideas had percolated into our cultural consciousness to the extent that I referred to them without ever having read the book. And I used to say that this little boy of mine was "The Unhurry-able Child."  I am still trying to learn what he can teach me.

By now, we have graduated to something called the Slow Movement.  (Neither constipation, nor the adagio part of a symphony.)  Articles and websites and bookshelves abound with calls to convert to "Slow Food" and "Slow Travel;" to educate our children in "Slow Schools" and move to "Slow Cities." It has been twelve years since Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey gave us Slowing Down to the Speed of Life: How To Create A More Peaceful, Simpler Life From the Inside Out. And longer still since Dr. Gershon Lesser coined the term "hurry-up disease," which he warned puts us at risk for hypertension and early coronaries--products of literally speeding to get through (with) life.

So why are we still rushing around?  And how do we stop?

At Slow Movement, a website dedicated to promoting the voluntary simplicity and downshifting at the heart of this cultural sea change, they make the argument that slow is all about connection, to place, to life, and to each other.  And that fear of death and dying are at the root of what physicians have come to call time urgency impatience a hallmark of the dreaded, and unhealthy Type A personality.  In our acronym-crazy argot, this malady has morphed into "TUI," or its variant "TUP"--Time Urgency Perfectionism, said to afflict women disproportionately.  Blogger Wendy, at Chronicles of Chaos, writes humorously of finding a diagnosis for a condition that had convinced her that "something was wrong with me."

Wendy dismisses the simplistic advice for improving the situation found in the Boston Globe article that put her onto the whole concept--namely 1) taking a one-minute break for a funny email, or dancing (too little to make a difference); 2) reminding yourself to slow down (not likely to help someone addicted to hurrying); and 3) retreating to a no-tech zone (but that's where she finds funny emails and escape from the pressures of her life).  Standard lists of suggestions, like this from  
MySelfDevelopment, include:
1. Set priorities. Make a conscious decision about what you consider important, and let your schedule (and your attitude) reflect your intentions. For example, if relationships and health are high on your list, turn off the TV to free up time for taking walks with friends.
2. Do one thing at a time. When you multi task, it becomes impossible to concentrate, feel deeply, or think clearly. “Doing two or more things at the same time splits our consciousness in two or more ways,” observes meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran.
3. Wake up right. “Set your alarm clock early, but don’t get up when it rings,” suggests Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., author of The Last Self-Help Book You’ll Ever Need: Repress Your Anger, Think Negatively, Be a Good Blamer, & Throttle Your Inner Child. “Lie there a few minutes and practice the savoring response: Think about who and what is worth getting up for and the privilege of being awake in such a rushed yet wonderful world.”
4. Take off your watch. “People hurry up when they see a clock, which is why stores don’t have clocks–they want us to linger,” says Honore, who experiences less anxiety since he unstrapped his own watch. Because there are clocks everywhere–in cars and on cellphones and computers–he’s still punctual, but no longer feels like a slave to time. Test this yourself by going “watch-free” on evenings and weekends.
5. Listen to relaxing music. “Your body synchronizes to the rhythms around you,” says psychologist Sharon Heller, Ph.D., author of Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight. Look for music that’s paced to a relaxed heartbeat, about 60 beats per minute.
6. Resist road rage, “See every traffic jam as a meditation assignment,” Pearsall advises. There are few better opportunities to practice positive thinking and forgiveness or perform your deep-breathing exercises.
7. Find your center. Techniques such as meditation and yoga allow you to access patience. “Practices that bring you into stillness and quiet turn off the stress response,” says Peg Bairn, N.P., director of training at the Mind-Body Medical Institute, and an associate in medicine at Harvard Medical School. “They help you recharge your batteries and come back into alignment with who you really are.”
For myself, I will think seriously about these strategies and experiment with their use.  In the meantime, two behavioral changes beckon.  First of all, I will set and adhere to firm deadlines by which time I must leave the house for scheduled meetings, work hours, appointments, and other events.  I most often find myself hurrying when I haven't left enough time to get where I need to be.  Secondly, I will keep, as Gretchen Rubin advocates in her Happiness Project blog, gas in my car--and ask those who share it to help out with this.  Jumping into a vehicle which has been left, by me or by others, on fumes in the driveway has contributed much anxiety to my days in recent months.  This is partly a result of post-Katrina gas prices, which have made filling up a thing of the past.  But it also comes from failing to plan ahead, and a kind of magical thinking that seeks to ignore the fact that I'm going to eventually--and before the week is out, probably--have to spend a certain amount to fuel my necessary travels anyway.  Rubin calls this "underbuying."

And now, I'm going to move slowly through this day, sandwiched between two fully scheduled ones.  Tomorrow morning, I need to be miles from here at 7:30, to meet up with my traveling companions for a full-day out-of-state consulting visit.  I need to leave the house no later than 7, in a car with sufficient gas in its tank.  Tomorrow's blog post must be written today--but not in a rush.  I will try to store up some tranquility, and to listen to my in-home spirit guide, who would have me walk slower, wait up, and calm down.  It probably wouldn't hurt, too, to wear my "Serenity" bracelet, and to squeeze in a little dancing. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Toolkit for Writer's Block: Packing for the Journey

It may not be a good idea to be thinking about writer's block, when I should be thinking about writing.  Or--novel thought (forgive the pun)--writing!  It's probably not a good sign that I am anticipating procrastinating at the outset of a major new writing project.  Be that as it may be, I have relied on others' writings about writer's block in the past, and have learned some useful approaches, which I may have to learn again.  And so I assembling this list in advance--kind of like taking a snake-bite kit into the wilderness, where I hope to avoid encounters with serpents of any kind.

1.  Successful freelance writer Dan Baum's blog post entitled "Avoid Avoidance," which I discovered in Dr. Timothy Pychyl's Psychology Today blog Don't Delay.  A quick little pep talk.

2.  Ginny Weihardt's article, "Top 10 Tips for Overcoming Writer's Block."  Nice basic list.  And we all love lists, right?

3.  From Merlin Mann's 43 Folders site, "Hack Your Way Out of Writer's Block."  A short list incorporating some standard strategies and a couple of ideas that were new to me, including "Unplug your router," which I originally misread as "Unplug your rooster."  Both good pieces of advice.

4.  Just Jack's music video "Writer's Block," for its distraction value, and whatever impetus may come from its interesting imagery, including an executioner taking out an uncooperative typewriter.

5.  Woody Allen's Writer's Block:  Two One Act Plays.  From the quintessential neurotic writer, written, as usual, from his life.

6.  Jason Rekulak's The Writer's Block: 786 Ideas to Jump-Start Your Imagination.  Amazon's editorial reviewer had this to say about this odd little book:
OK, so it's a gimmick. A book in the shape of a 3-inch block. It'll take up too much space on your bookshelf. Its 672 pages are unnumbered, making it nearly impossible to find the same one twice. It is full of contradictory advice. And once you've used the book a few times, it'll more closely resemble a splayed slinky than a block.
Customer reviews were overwhelmingly positive, and include these admonitions to
fork over a few bucks and enjoy the rewards this little block will bring you year after year
7.  And finally, this little gem--again, at Nordquist's "Writers on Writing:  Overcoming Writer's Block."
A compendium of quotes from famous writers on dealing with the writing process, and its emotional pitfalls.  

And now, it's time to turn off my router, and my rooster, and get to work.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Procrastination 101: The Unschedule

This week's Procrastinating 101 presents a tool which is at the heart of Dr. Neil Fiore's program for dealing with this pesky dysfunction, outlined in his book The Now Habit:  A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt- Free Play.

Using principles of reverse psychology, Dr. Fiore provides these instructions for employing his "unschedule"  to tackle an overwhelming (and previously procrastinated project):
  • Do not work more than twenty hours a week on this project.
  • Do not work more than five hours a day on this project.
  • You must exercise, play, or dance at least one hour a day.
  • You must take at least one day a week off from any work.
  • Aim for starting on thirty minutes of quality work.
  • Work for an imperfect, perfectly human first effort.
  • Start small.
In applying this approach, Fiore's readers are advised to follow these  11 "unschedule guidelines:"
 1.  Schedule only: 
  • previously committed time such as meals, sleep, meetings
  • free time, recreation, leisure reading
  • socializing, lunches and dinners with friends
  • health activities such as swimming, running, tennis, working out at the gym
  • routine structured events such as commuting time, classes, medical appointments 
2.  Fill in your Unschedule with work on projects only after you have  completed at least one-half hour. 
3.  Take credit only for periods of work that represent at least thirty minutes of uninterrupted work.
4.  Reward yourself with a break or a change to a more enjoyable task after each period worked.
5.  Keep track of the number of quality hours worked each day and each week.
6.  Always leave at least one full day a week for recreation and any small chores you wish to take care of.
7.  Before deciding to go to a recreational activity or social commitment, take time out for just thirty minutes of work on your project.
8.  Focus on starting.
9.  Think small.
10.  Keep starting.
11.  Never end "down."
The illustration above, reproduced (though not very well) from Dr. Fiore's book, shows one woman's "unschedule."  The shaded spaces represent times spent working on the troublesome project--filled in, as directed, after the fact.  

Fiore itemizes these five "major benefits [of the unschedule] that lead to greater enjoyment of guiltfree play and overcoming procrastination."
  1. Realistic timekeeping.
  2. Thirty minutes of quality time.
  3. Experiencing success.
  4. Self-imposed deadlines.
  5. Newfound "free time."
Personally, I am intrigued with Dr. Fiore's ideas, and inspired by his enthusiasm for his personally tested plan of attack.  (It helps that he developed his strategy in the "laboratory" of his own Ph.D. program, where he and his fellow dissertators displayed a shocking inability to apply what they had learned about emotions and behavior to their own difficulties with procrastination, as they struggled to complete the final task--the "Big D.")  

I am going to try to employ the unschedule, as soon as I figure out which of the overwhelming tasks on my plate at present is the real deal, the one whose completion I want to focus on.  I should probably read my own post from yesterday for a clue. . .

Click here for a printable blank Unschedule form from Dr. Fiore's website.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Done for the Week: Two Steps Back

At the risk of beating a dead, or at least languishing horse, I will frame this week's done list by acknowledging that my ankle/foot injury has slowed me down more than I wish it had. Those who have had the "privilege" of living or working closely with me would tell you that I don't do slow very well. Here is the list of the accomplishments I crawled through this week.

Done List--Week of June 14-20
  1. Finished Week 5 of revised 14-week Sprint Triathlon training plan, with injury-accommodating modifications
  2. Went for free injury evaluation at Sports Medicine Clinic
  3. Followed up with referral to orthopedist for x-rays
  4. Spent hours icing, resting and elevating injured ankle/foot
  5. Finished Little Heathens:  Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depressionby Mildred Kalish; Hand Me Down Blues:  How to Stop Depression From Spreading in Families, by Michael D. Yapko, Ph. D.
  6. Began shopping for and assembling triathlon gear
  7. Took my blood pressure daily
  8. Published 5 blog posts
  9. Meditated 4 times
  10. Wrote 7 Gratitude Journal entries
  11. Celebrated youngest child's birthday, at two separate family gatherings--made two cakes
  12. Wrote 5 Morning Pages
  13. Continued cleaning campaign
  14. Continued mini yoga practice
  15. Cooked two good healthy dinners, including one for Father's Day
  16. Paid monthly bills
  17. Called my Mom
  18. Attended one meeting
Last week's focus goal, in green above, was to continue my cleaning campaign.  I am chagrined to report that not much cleaning got done, beyond the barest minimum of maintenance.  I hope to be a bit more able to maneuver this week, and to make some substantial strides in this area.  I am identifying a new focus goal for this coming week, however.  I am going to try to begin figuring out how I can organize my days so that I can start writing more seriously.  

Training and preparing for the upcoming triathlon, in red above, represent, in my estimation, the most important things I got done last week--for two reasons:  1) it was important to keep going despite sustaining yet another injury; and 2) the exercise is helping to combat my current mood difficulties.  A lot of what I've been emphasizing is part of an effort to build some kind of platform of self-care and general organization which will support my more substantive work, such as writing, social justice engagement, and parenting.  
But clearly, I can't keep preparing for my life.  It's time to start, as Woody Allen might say, "showing up."

Friday, June 18, 2010

Making Progress Sitting Down

Soooo. . . the good news is that my ankle isn't broken, though apparently we can now resolve the issue of whether or not there really was a fracture four years ago.  There was, and it left a small bone chip floating around at the site of that earlier injury, which is causing some of my current discomfort.  More good news is that I can continue to train for the triathlon which is now just over nine weeks away, with modifications subject to my healing process.  In the meantime, I have to keep icing, elevating, resting, and wearing the extremely sexy footwear shown here.  

Unfortunately, many of the things I feel some pressure to get done require standing and walking for significant periods of time.  Of course, there's always the strategy of relying more on family members to pick up some of the slack.  But they are already spending more time waiting on me for basic things while I am literally immobilized, and some of them are historically unlikely to carry their own weight, let alone mine, with respect to household chores--even in normal times.  

The floor of the room I am sleeping in to avoid the stairs is presently covered with hazards, as is the floor of the bathroom I am utilizing.  I have misplaced the cell phone I could use to call for assistance (after silencing it at meditation the other night), and can't get up to search for it.  I am beginning to lose my sense of humor about being hobbled and sidelined.  I would make a miserable handicapped person.

Two things come to mind as I reflect on this frustrating, but temporary situation.  One is Kurt Vonnegut's short story "Harrison Bergeron," from his collection Welcome to the Monkey House.  Wikipedia summarizes it this way:
In the story, social equality has been achieved by handicapping the more intelligent, athletic or beautiful members of society. For example, strength is handicapped by the requirement to carry weight, beauty by the requirement to wear a mask and so on. This is due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments to the United States Constitution. This process is central to the society, designed so that no one will feel inferior to anyone else. Handicapping is overseen by the United States Handicapper General, Diana Moon-Glampers.
Harrison Bergeron, the protagonist of the story, has exceptional intelligence, strength, and beauty, and thus has to bear enormous handicaps. These include headphones that play distracting noises, three hundred pounds of weight strapped to his body, eyeglasses designed to give him headaches, a rubber ball on his nose, black caps on his teeth, and shaven eyebrows. Despite these societal handicaps, he is able to invade a TV station, declare himself Emperor, strip himself of his handicaps, then dance with a ballerina whose handicaps he has also discarded. Both are shot dead by the brutal and relentless Handicapper General, who demonstrates the hypocrisy of such equality in the first place. The story is framed by an additional perspective from Bergeron's parents, who are watching the incident on TV, but because of his father's handicaps, and his mother's average intelligence, they cannot concentrate enough to remember it. 
While I don't necessarily see myself as superior to others, I can't deny that I am privileged in many ways.  Maybe it's only fair that I be slowed down from time to time in order to learn to appreciate my advantages, and to gain compassion for some of the difficulties others must work with all the time.  

The other thought comes from the book I am currently reading, Little Heathens:  Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish.  Kalish gives such a warm-hearted account of her family's survival tactics that the reader is hard put to locate the hardship in her experience.  In his blurb for the book's back cover, Jim Harrison, author of Legends of the Fall, says:
Little Heathens is an enchanting but thoroughly unsentimental look at rural life in the Great Depression.  In clear, clean prose we are offered the grit, struggle, and also the joy of hard work on a farm.  I cherish this book for its quite naked honesty and quiet lyricism about a time which makes our current problems nearly childish. . . .
Maybe the legend of my fall could be a smidge less whiney.

For the time being, I am going to work at feeling a little less sorry for myself, and at figuring out how to move forward from my seat on the couch.  I don't have to experience this as procrastinating.  Rather, my body's momentary condition has taken me off some hooks, for now.  But not all.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Boldly Going Where This Woman Hadn't Planned to Go

Once again, my best-laid plans have fallen overboard.  As I weigh the decision of whether to throw the switch and actually sign up for the triathlon I am currently training for, I am dealing with yet another injury.  And for the fourth time in as many years, my newest physical damage is a result of my family roles, rather than my athletic endeavors.

Four years ago, my dog raced into me at the dog park, where we had taken him out of love and the enjoyment of watching him blissfully cavort.  So much for my right Medial Collateral Ligament, not to mention my freedom of movement for the next several weeks, and my time and money as I underwent three months of physical therapy.

Finally released from therapy appointments, I boarded a plane and headed for Louisiana, where I would help care for my aging father.  In the course of those duties, I rolled my left ankle while trying not to trip over his dog as I raced to rescue Dad from a fall.  The urgi-care doctor I saw diagnosed a fracture, booted me, and sent me home on crutches.  My physical therapist was surprised at the speed of my return to his care.  We have become good friends.  

Six weeks ago, having just completed my first 5K run, I injured my left foot again, this time rolling the top of my foot, tripping over laundry in my basement.  During a couple of weeks off running, I decided to start training for my first sprint triathlon.  The left toe is still somewhat painful, but tolerating running at this point.

Yesterday, while caring for my two-year-old grandson, I tripped on a toy and once again rolled my left ankle.  The swelling is not nearly as pronounced as when I did the same thing four years ago, but weight-bearing isn't going so well after 24 hours.  I did, however, manage the long swim, the one that had been postponed from the day before, yesterday evening.  And the swim was great!  The pool was gloriously uncrowded, my endurance is increasing exponentially, and I am actually starting to enjoy this part of the training that I had originally dreaded.  

The day before, all my blogging difficulties put me in my study at the exact moment that it sprung a potentially disastrous leak, just in time to direct its rescue.  My new foot injury is taking me in unplanned directions, too.  Rather than steeling myself for some fresh hell, I am going to try to pay attention to unanticipated opportunities, and surprises.  

Today is, appropriately, the birthday of my youngest child, one of my greatest surprises ever.  I'm off to celebrate.  On crutches.  And in unplanned ways.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Procrastination Potpourri

Yesterday was a particularly frustrating day for this blogger.  Attentive readers may have noticed that my post did not get published until after 4 p.m.  First, there was an early meeting.  Since it's summer, and my new schedule for one of my part-time jobs gave me the afternoon off, I thought I'd give myself a break and refrain from setting my alarm for the wee hours in order to post before leaving the house, as I have been doing the last few months.  So far, so good.

When I returned from the meeting, some phone call jinx had me jumping up every couple of minutes to take care of a new crisis or greeting.  I was still pacing myself, so I didn't get too concerned.  I read, I lunched, I answered my phones some more.  I responded to emails.

The post itself took a bit longer to write than usual.  But finally, at around 2:00, I hit the "Publish" button, and. . . the dratted thing disappeared.  Vanished in cyberspace.  Without a trace!

Back to the drawing board, er, laptop.  But by this time, my eldest son had staked out the room I normally write in, and was taking in an especially annoying and distracting TV program on gaming.  (It's not enough that I've lost my young men to the world of games, but now there are programs devoted to deepening their addiction!)

So I left the house, planning to take care of my every Tuesday coffee-buying errand and improve my ambient conditions by sitting at the coffee house to recover what I could of what I had written.  No such luck, of course, it being that kind of day.  Every inside seat was taken.  I quelled my irritation and headed outside, where it was sprinkling lightly, to sit at a damp table and perform the rnecessary miracle of resurrecting my post.  But. . . the free wi-fi connection was sooooo sloowwww that I gave up after failing to connect for 15 minutes.

Back home, and now to my basement study.  Where at least my words did not desert me.  I managed to compose a reasonable facsimile of my earlier piece, and was preparing to hit the "Publish" button once again, when water began coursing in the room's egress window.  Legacy of procrastinated gutter-cleaning, and the downpour that had been threatening all day.  (Why can my household never remember how frequently our trees and our weather require us to take care of that loathsome chore?)  After screaming (and using a few more of the words I had yelled earlier when my original labored-over post had gone missing), I marshaled the two young men who live with me, and a visiting friend, to man the dikes.  But not before I got the post up.

An hour later, after our combined efforts at gutter clearing in the rain, and actual bailing of window wells with a makeshift milk-carton bucket on a long-enough strap, we were no longer taking on water.  But it was time to give up on the scheduled swim training I no longer had time for.  I crawled off to my meditation group and to watch my NBA team lose, and go to bed.  

All that to say that my plan for today's post is to take it easy.  I have excerpted below a few bits of procrastination advice I've collected from around the web.  Maybe there's something here that will help us all to remember the gutters!  I wish us all a better day.

Procrastination Potpourri
From the FlyLady

Each and every Wednesday is Anti-Procrastination Day for FlyLady. This is a day that we take care of things we've been putting off. You can use this day to take care of any procrastinating you've done. You can do things like:

  • Make doctors appointments
  • Finish that report for work
  • Work on a project with your child
  • Clean the fish tank

You can do whatever you need to take care. This is the day to stop putting things off.

"Procrastination is the death of us, our relationships, and our peace!" ~ FlyLady

And this (to me kind of scary) idea from blogger Selene M. Bowlby who seems to have given the FlyLady's day her own twist.

There is also a variation on this… The Anti-Procrastination Day Game. This is where you get a bunch of little cards or pieces of paper and write down one item that you’ve been putting off on each one. Then store these together (in a little box, a bag, an envelope, wherever). When Anti-Procrastination Day rolls around – every Wednesday – you reach in, randomly pick out a piece of paper and do whatever you had written down. At the very least (if it is a big project) just get started on it.

From The Happiness Project

6 Tips For Tackling a Dreaded Task:
1.  Do it first thing in the morning.
2.  If you find yourself putting off a task that you try to do several times a week, try doing it EVERY day, instead. 
3.  Have someone keep you company.
4.  Make preparations, assemble the proper tools.
5.  Commit.
6.  Remind yourself that finishing a dreaded task is tremendously energizing.

from the September, 2008 issue of Oprah's O  Magazine, Strategies to Beat Procrastination, by Tim Jarvis:

1. Pull a Ulysses

"The hero of The Odyssey realized that, left to his own devices, he would succumb to the seduction of the Sirens' song, so he had himself tied to the mast of his ship, limiting his ability to behave badly later," says Ariely. Try to outsmart the temptation of your short-term desires. Don't go grocery shopping when you're hungry, and ask the waiter not to even show you the dessert menu.

2. Borrow from your own success.
If you're good at handling job demands, translate the same tactics to the areas where you procrastinate. "Work seems more urgent because others are depending on you and there are deadlines to meet," Ariely says. "That's what helps make it a priority." Invest in a trainer to give your workouts more structure, or arrange to walk regularly with a friend, whom you'll let down if you don't show up.

3. Get in your own face.
Celebrity trainer Jim Karas adds that constant reminders of your mission will help keep you from deferring it. Find a photo of yourself when you last felt happy and confident about your appearance, and make it your screen saver. Put mirrors all over your house and look at yourself constantly, he suggests. "People go around wearing blinders. They don't want to see reality. The more you look at yourself, the more you will want to make a difference—now."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Negotiating Roadblocks

In this week's effort to learn about why and how we procrastinate, and how we can change our ways, I am again relying on Dr. Neil Fiore's book, The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play.  And this seems like a good time to say that I am not attempting to provide a free digest of this work.  Those of my readers who follow the above link and purchase Fiore's book will be well rewarded by a much more systematic and detailed explication of his promising program.  In this group of Procrastination 101 posts, I am examining some of Fiore's major ideas, and considering their relevance to my own problems with procrastination.  I am not a poor woman's Dr. Neil Fiore!

Having said that, I am concerned today with his chapter on "Overcoming Blocks to Action."  Fiore begins the chapter with this insightful redo of the Serenity Prayer, a familiar 12-step program staple, which he entitles the "Stress Prayer:"

Grant me the stubbornness to struggle against things I cannot change; the inertia to avoid work on my own behaviors and attitudes which I can change; and the foolishness to ignore the differences between external events beyond my control and my own controllable reactions.  But most of all, grant me a contempt for my own human imperfection and the limits of human control. [p. 95]
Following this tip-off that Fiore has been eavesdropping on my supplications, he frames the discussion on overcoming blocks to action by identifying three major blocks and pairing each with a "Now Habit tool:"
  • three-dimensional thinking and the reverse calendar, to combat the terror of being overwhelmed
  • the work of worrying, to tackle the fear of failure and the fear of being imperfect
  • persistent starting, to tackle fear of not finishing [p. 97]
Of these three combos, the first two speak especially loudly to me.  I know all too well the terror of being overwhelmed, as I have frequently had this excruciating experience and have observed its impact on productivity.  And the thought that all the worrying I do might be an asset--rather than a curse--is irresistibly appealing.  Having so long surrounded myself with unfinished work, the third strategy should lure me, too, but I may have compromised my natural resistance to this sorry state by habituation.

In speaking of the first tool, Fiore explains that two-dimensional thinking leads us to feel overwhelmed at the beginning of a project.
It's as if you have your nose up against a skyscraper with the expectation that you have to get to the top in one exhausting leap.  You've created a two-dimensional picture of your project--all work, all at once, with no time to catch your breath.  This picture collapses the steps involved so that your body responds with energy to work on all the parts--beginning, middle, and finish--simultaneously. [p. 97]
And not in a good way.

The reverse calendar, which is beginning to crop up as a planning tool in everyday usage, provides, in Fiore's view, an antidote to this anxiety-provoking perspective.  (For those not familiar with this tactic, a reverse calendar begins with the end-product deadline and works backward through a sequence of smaller tasks and their intermediate deadlines.)  While I have had some experience in attempting to use this tool, I confess that it has not proved helpful.

Fiore's examples of individual's reverse calendars give me a clue to my difficulty.  The lists are short.  In my case, the perfectionism that has led to procrastination has also plagued the process of creating a reverse calendar.  I put off constructing the things in the first place, feeling overwhelmed by my desire to do so perfectly; my resulting lists, when I have finally faced up to creating them, are imposingly detailed.  And each mini-deadline then becomes its own boogeyman.  The resulting schema more clearly illustrates the negative consequences of failing to meet each preliminary objective.  It is as if some hologram of the terror I feel about the project as a whole has thus attached itself to each task.   I may not soon turn again to this device, but if and when I do attempt to do so, I will try to curtail my elaboration of the schedule of tasks, and abbreviate my list.

As I think about it, another aspect of the reverse calendar which makes it hard for me to use is its inherent linearity.  I am much more likely to make progress on a project if I can work on a sub-task that fits my current mood, energy level and circumstances.  Can't figure out how to end Chapter 2?  No problem.  Jump into writing Chapter 5, or material that is part of the story and belongs in some as-yet undetermined place.  Don't feel like working on a report's introduction?  Skip to the conclusion.

Of course, some projects don't easily lend themselves to my leap-frog mode.  It would be foolish, for example, to buy food for an event before determining likely attendance.  Or to order flooring for a room whose dimensions have not been drawn.  Sometimes, first things have to come first.  And here the reverse calendar can be valuable, provided one doesn't use it to heighten anxiety.  At present, the runaway train of my reflexive perfectionism requires some curbing before I can derive real benefit from its use.

Now worrying, that is something I am very good at--though Fiore tells us, essentially, that there is worrying, and worrying productively.   It seems to me that he is distinguishing stewing from problem-solving.  And though I am fairly adept at problem-solving, I wish I could say that more of my ruminating graduated to that level.

According to Fiore, the work of worrying involves asking ourselves these six questions when fear of failure or the fear of being imperfect stop our progress:
  1. What is the worst that could happen?
  2. What would I do if the worst really happened?
  3. How would I lessen the pain and get on with as much happiness as possible if the worst did occur?
  4. What alternatives would I have?
  5. What can I do now to lessen the probability of this dreaded event occurring?
  6. Is there anything I can do now to increase my chances of achieving my goal? 
In putting worry to work for us, we domesticate failure and diminish our attachment to the goal of perfection.  The resulting increase in self-confidence allows us to get to work; paradoxically, to improve the performance we are so worried about; and to be prepared whatever the eventual outcome.

In presenting Tool #3, persistent starting, Fiore encourages us to anticipate the negative statements and attitudes that "creep into" our minds and prevent us from finishing the work we've started.  He gives the following examples, and advises that we "prepare challenges" to each, in order to limit their influence on our thought processes and on our productivity.

  1. "I need to do more preparation before I can start." 
  2. "At this rate I'll never finish."
  3. "I should have started earlier."
  4. "There's only more work after this."
  5. "It's not working."
  6. "I only need a little more time."
I have had more than my share of experience getting caught in these and other completion-hobbling mind-traps, and can attest to their power to stop us in our tracks if left unchecked.  

In concluding this section, Dr. Fiore admonishes us to "Keep on starting, and finishing will take care of itself."  Good advice, to my mind.