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

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Procrastinating 101: The Importance of Not Being Earnest

My favorite almost-three-year-old and I spent some time yesterday reading Ducks Don't Wear Socks, by John Nedwidek.  In this charming story, Emily, "a serious girl," encounters Duck, whose increasingly outlandish apparel, and whimsical explanations for same, succeed, eventually, in inspiring her to lighten up.  Neil Fiore, whose book The Now Habit:   A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play we have been examining in recent Procrastinating 101 posts, would approve.  Of Emily, of her friend Duck, and of me and my small companion.  

In his chapter on "Guilt-Free Play, Quality Work," Dr. Fiore points out the essential role of fun in taming our not entirely inner procrastinators.  He maintains that procrastinators and workaholics have in common a "push" approach to work motivation, with its emphasis on negative consequences.  For both groups
Being taught that work is unpleasant and that we are lazy leads us to believe that we need the pressure of "have to's" and "should's" to keep us from escaping to play.  And the loss of guilt-free play in our lives makes the tasks of life seem more onerous, depriving, and difficult than they need to be. [p.84]  
Fiore goes on to describe what is to me an all-too-familiar way of thinking about and approaching work:
When we approach a difficult project, we typically think of tackling it in big chunks that require long periods of work in isolation.  But the anticipation of extended isolation from friends and recreation is likely to promote procrastination.  The effects of such work habits on your mind and body are similar to the experiences of prisoners in solitary confinement and subjects in sensory deprivation studies, who are wrapped like mummies to minimize sensation.  Each of these activities drastically reduces physical movement and visual stimulation, making the mind ripe for any anxiety created by self-criticism, fear of abandonment, and threats of failure.  
We are more likely to work productively when we can anticipate pleasure and success rather than isolation and anxiety.  Demanding twenty--or even four--hours of tedious work involving confinement and struggle is hardly calculated to get us motivated, especially when there are so many more pleasurable alternatives available.  [p. 84]
Fiore advises us to restructure how we think and talk about work, incorporating pull factors.  Here, it is important that we be able to look forward to immediate and definite rewards.  These should include aspects of the work itself that can bring enjoyment and/or satisfaction if relieved of perfectionistic standards and defeatist long-term views.  But we also need to build in regular time for play.  
In other words, to control your work habits you must make the periods of work shorter (less painful) and the rewards more frequent and immediate (more pleasurable)--interlacing short periods of work with breaks and rewards.  [p. 85]
And here is my favorite part of Dr. Fiore's program.  The "cycle" he recommends, in order to achieve "higher levels of quality, creative work," begins with "guilt-free play."  The resulting "sense of freedom" about our lives clears the way to engage in "a short period of focused, quality work."  This, in turn, builds confidence in our ability to solve problems and get things done, making it possible to enjoy the re-creational activities we have earned.  

I experimented with this scheme yesterday, with good results.  I started the day with coffee and puzzles, as I have been doing for the past few weeks.  Throughout the day, I interspersed enjoyable and/or relaxing activities with scheduled tasks.  I managed to begin work on one particularly dreary and resented task that has been hanging over me for weeks (to be honest, months), and to complete a few others.  My mood was better than it's been for awhile.  Granted, Day 1 is hardly a test.  But I'm game to continue.

I'm working on finding the play in my work, and watchful for my tendency to turn even play into shoulds.  I'm planning to hang out more with  toddlers, and sartorially witty ducks.  That should help keep me real.

No comments:

Post a Comment