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

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Time Spent Waiting

This week, Marshall Cook, author of Slow Down. . . and Get More Done, takes us to one of my favorite places--the waiting room.  As a kid, I did more than my share of time in waiting rooms.  My dad, being a doctor, had his own waiting room, where my siblings and I spent many hours cooling our heels while he finished up with patients.  We were also denizens of hospital waiting rooms, "lounges" and solariums, where we entertained ourselves and patients and their families while Dad made rounds.  And we waited in our car, and in patients' living rooms as well, while Dad made house calls.  I don't think we ever got really good at it.  Not like dogs, who Cook describes as waiting royalty.  
[N]o creature on earth waits better than a dog.
Cook differentiates our waits as optional--like the wait he endures because he chooses to save 20% on a book by attending a wildly popular, and very crowded sale; semi-optional, like waiting for the end of an unpleasant season, or for a doctor's appointment; and enforced, like that of a long-term hostage, or a bed-ridden patient waiting for recovery.  About all these kinds of waiting, Cook says
Waiting can make you angry and impatient.  It can make you stressed and even sick.  Or waiting can be an opportunity, an interlude, a bit of found time in an otherwise hectic, overscheduled life.  Your attitude makes the difference.  You can't change the wait.  You can change the waiting.
He offers five ways to do so:
  • Accept the wait as inevitable
  • Figure the wait into your schedule
  • Give the wait a new name
  • Prepare for the wait
  • Welcome the wait
And now that I've grown past the Saf-T-Pops my dad and other physicians of his era stocked their waiting rooms with--you know, the flat round disks with the loop handles imbedded in the candy--I am grateful for Cook's suggestions for "transforming the doctor's waiting room from torture chamber to oasis:"
  • Bring a friend.
  • Bring a book and read your way through the wait.
  • Read one of those well-thumbed waiting room magazines.
  • Bring a notepad or sketchbook.  Write brief descriptions or draw pictures of your fellow waiters.
  • Brainstorm potential solutions to the day's problems.
  • Plan your dinner menus for the week.
  • Work a crossword puzzle.
  • Knit.
  • Pick a subject and write a haiku about it.
  • Practice your golf swing or tennis stroke.  [By visualizing, not by wielding clubs or rackets and whacking balls in close quarters.]
  • Pick a person--anyone in the world, living or dead--whom you would like to talk to.  Which questions would you ask?  Imagine that person sitting across from you in the waiting room.  Ask your questions.  Then imagine the person answering you.
Cook makes waiting sound like such a pleasant respite, I can't wait to wait!  Now all I need to do is get ready with my own, specific list.  Like reading Proust.  I wonder how many appointments and grocery store lines and plane delays that would take?  Or finishing that embroidered Christmas tree skirt I started in the '80s.  Or using my iPod to learn Japanese.

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