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

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Procrastinating 101: Another Difficult Assignment

Eating right.  Exercising.  Sleeping.  Taking vacations.  And now goofing off!  What's next in Marshall Cook's plan for the total destruction of our angst-driven approach to work and productivity?  Is his book Slow Down . . . and Get More Done, including this week's chapter on  "Trivial Pursuits," some kind of course in slackerhood?

We even explain the spontaneous play we can't control in infants, talking about "developmental stages" and the importance of "floor time" (crawling) to the baby's progress.  We worry that our kids don't goof off correctly, or that they might fall behind the other children in goofing off, might only goof off in the fiftieth percentile."

Too many of us, Cook says, 
define leisure as "nonwork time," something to be filled with important, suspiciously worklike activity requiring schedules, priorities and measurable achievement. 
And he suggests that we redefine it as "time to do exactly what you want" or "time to do or not do precisely as you please."  He calls this "Iwanna" time.  In Iwanna time, 
"I want to" is always reason enough--no redeeming social value necessary, no justification or explanation due, to yourself or to anybody else.
Again, Cook avoids explicit declarations about the relationship between this sort of purposeless leisure and productivity, the "getting more done" that made us pick up his book in the first place.  So again, we must fall back on our incredible powers of insight and analysis to draw the lesson.  

I imagine that Cook is relying on a basic set of values in this, as in other parts of his book.  When he describes friends and colleagues whose earnings are tied to the measure of "billable hours,"  implicit in those descriptions is the view that money isn't everything.  And neither is utilitarianism.  And that play is important too, for restoring ourselves, and for its own sake.  

At the end of the chapter, where his structure calls for practical advice on developing the habit or capacity or outlook recommended in each particular chapter, he outlines beginner's, intermediate, and advanced levels of goofing off.

At the first level, Cook challenges the reader to ask her/himself 
When's the last time you did something spontaneous, foolish, and totally without socially redeeming value?
Having contemplated this question, we are then instructed to take out our calendars and schedule one hour of "Iwanna" time.  The only rule about how to spend that time is that it "have no utilitarian value or purpose."

At the intermediate level, we are directed to use the opportunity available when something planned falls through to 
[j]ust once, take an unscheduled goof. . . .Leave no forwarding address, and do not, on pain of death, take a beeper or portable [sic] phone with you.
Yike!  Pain of death?

And finally, when we are ready for advanced goofing off, we can take the final leap of doing something we want to do instead of something planned.  Not, he warns, failing to pick up your kid from daycare, or standing up your boss.  
But a lot of our plans are on the schedule just because they're always on the schedule.  Would the world end if you missed one of those highly missable meetings?  Would the order of the universe be chaken if instead you took a walk, read a book by a river, wrote a letter to a friend, sketched a daisy, or thumbed through your baseball card collection. . .?  You'll never know until you try.
Now that is advice I can use.  And I intend to start today.  I'm penciling in "Goof Off" for 7 p.m.  

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