productive procrastination

If I could turn back time…

In which daylight savings has ended, but the rest of time seems to be speeding up…

My girlfriend was up and about at 6:15 this morning, and I followed her into consciousness at around 6:30. It was not a time I had planned to be conscious, but I was, and it was one of those times when you wake up and there is just no reversing the process no matter how much you would like to.

Another 15 minutes later, at around 6:45, I managed to make it to the kitchen table, where I slumped in a stupor until I realised the coffee wasn’t going to brew itself. Half of it went into a sippy cup so my girlfriend could take it with her when she set off early for work, but even after my own morning coffee, the doldrums continued to tug me around (and not beyond) the confines of the house.

In a fairly typical example of productive procrastination (but also An Important Thing To Help Us Stay Alive, so maybe not?) I decided to make this week’s lunch muffins. While they baked, and then while they cooled, I felt like I should at least make a pretense of working, and stared sullenly at my translation document, changing nothing. Eventually, this made me feel shitty, and I decided to do a Why I Feel Shitty exercise on the back of a bit of paper.

This completed, I thought hard about the Motivation Fairy’s nonexistence, and chose action, hauling myself off to a nearby bakery for bread as a reward for leaving the Submarine (as I like to call our annoyingly long and narrow ‘apartment’).

I have since made it all the way in to the office, and to be perfectly brutally honest about the scale of my recent achievements, I am satisfied with this. I have made an effort and it has brought me in to my place of work, which is more than I managed over the Easter break. Though I suppose, to be fair, it was Easter break.

And I think it is now time for a planning session, since I now have only 2 hours before my meeting with my supervisor (eek). But first, I wanted to warm up my fingers, and here seemed as good a place as any to do it.

A note on the title of this post: I don’t actually want to turn back time. The government does that fine already, and it is profoundly annoying, as it messes with my already slightly peculiar temporal sense for at least a week each way. But as I reflected on how early I got up this morning, I was also given to thinking about the fact that it is already April. And sure, I have made some progress. I’m on the right track, in spite of my best efforts at self-sabotage (gotta call it what it is, regardless of how subconscious it may be). But my full draft deadline is seeming very, very close now. Perhaps I shall do some productive procrastination and research The Fear for another post. For now, I guess I truly better get to work.

New Tools: Planning

All things are not equal, and one tool is not the same as another.

Any tool can be useful in the right context, of course.

On top of which, I’m sure there’s something to be said for the old adage: ‘it’s not what you’ve got: it’s how you use it’. Not to mention ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. The things you can do with a paperclip, if you have to…

On the other hand, I firmly believe that different things work for different people. There are as many ways to approach a task as there are people to make the attempt.

We live in an age where there is a lot of variety, and we have the good fortune to be able to choose our tools. Some of the stuff on offer isn’t much more sophisticated than a paperclip at all. But every now and then, one happens upon something great.

I tried two new things in the past week. One was free; the other cost money. Although it’s early days yet, I highly recommend both of them. I was originally going to deal with both in this entry, but ended up writing rather more than I intended, so I’ll split it into two parts. Both are new tools I am experimenting with, and both relate generally to planning.

This entry is on the topic of planning and time management, and I’ll be talking about my new favourite tool for it:

This is possibly the best form of productive procrastination that I have ever come across.

I looked into it after developing a deep-seated hatred of my fat, squashy, uncooperative day-to-a-page planner, and I’m a little bit in love.

I’m used to weekly planners in book form, and I like them a great deal. But I bought an awesome 2012 journal in Japan: it had a layout of vertical columns, rather than the usual horizontal design, and since then, nothing has ever seemed quite as good.

2012 was the year I was writing an Honours thesis, so I really did get a lot out of putting pen to paper, although looking back on it, most pages just say things like ‘shit’ and ‘I’m totally fucked’, with the bottoms of most pages blacked out for alcohol consumption. It’s also got authentic coffee rings at irregular intervals—fortunately, I take my coffee black, and they are aromatic rather than malodorous.

2013 was not such a great year for journals. I had two of them, but I guess I faltered after the organisational bliss of the vertical layout in the Japanese one. The freebie from the tertiary course I took at a vocational institution is almost completely naked, in spite of the fact that every page offered friendly advice in that slightly awkward way that seems to prevail in all verbal efforts to communicate with ‘youth’. (You know: ‘sitting up the front makes me cool’, ‘Take notes and pass the class!’, ‘Binge drinking is bad for you’, that kind of thing.) I appear to have owned another journal at the same time, and used both with great inconsistency. The most ink in both of them appears at the start of the year, followed by weeks and weeks of nothing, followed by a midyear glut of busyness in my non-vocational journal as I briefly took on four part-time jobs to feed myself.

Thankfully, soon afterwards I completed my scholarship application and was accepted into my Masters program. Strangely, after that my efforts to organise myself using journals seem to have lapsed entirely. The occasional things written in the latter half of the year are mostly reminders of social commitments.

Cue Attitude Overhaul.

I told a few people that I wanted a journal for Christmas, and then for my birthday, but I ended up deciding that waiting until two months into the year to buy one was a bit stupid. Even so, it wasn’t until sometime in the middle of February I bought one for myself. It was about $10, so it didn’t break the bank, and I thought it might be worth trying something new.

I can safely conclude that day-to-a-page journals are not my style. The pages are too small to write on, exacerbated by the fact that the spine of the book is too thick. It won’t stay open. Maybe if I was able to endure using it till the middle of the year I could destroy the spine enough to convince it to do what I want, but I have been sufficiently deterred. I tried something new, but it wasn’t for me. Lesson learned.

So I found myself on google and amazon this morning, running the search term ‘weekly planners’ through their search engines, and wondering if I should just suck it up and go buy a week-to-a-page moleskine or something. I may very well still do that, but weekplanner also popped up in my google search, and I figured I might as well take a look at something free and there instead of walking across our unnecessarily spacious campus to spend money on something I don’t technically need.

Weekplanner is a calendar, a weekly planner, and a to-do list all rolled into one. The layout is fluid and gives the user a lot of autonomy, including a great lot of choice in how extensively you use it. Each task may be described in as much or as little detail as you like: you can give individual tasks a time slot, or create internal checklists for them; you can view your tasks by day and arrange them by their urgency and importance; you can relate them to appropriate categories that you create to suit your personal needs (although it starts you off with the important stuff: self, friends & family. I’ve added study, relationship & health). You can drag and drop tasks from day to day as evening approaches and you realise you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, or forgotten to post that letter or email your supervisor with that draft—just pop it over to the following morning. And when you check off your tasks the application sends little congratulatory pop-up messages your way.

It appears that if you ‘go pro’ (whatever that means), additional options become available, like synching with google calendar and this sort of thing. I’m not quite at the point of spending money on it yet, but as a visual and highly customisable planning space, I highly recommend it.

Productive Procrastination

So, six months into my Big Scary Masters Project, I finally decide to stop tormenting myself and start writing about it.

I’ve already started writing the project itself, of course, but writing about it is something else entirely.

It’s almost more difficult.

I reached the conclusion that writing about something is harder than writing the something early last week, when I was scrambling through the chaos in my head, trying to pull out threads of thought in a coherent manner so as to belatedly submit them to my supervisory panel in PDF format, as a thesis proposal.

I had been torturing myself with that process for two whole months. Constantly questioning myself, getting caught up in the imperfections, wondering if what I was doing actually mattered, and whether I was even capable of doing it.

Which begs the question, why bother?

But as soon as that quivering mass of doubt that sits in the back of the collective mind of perfectionists started to shift and stir, it provoked a disturbance elsewhere. Further to the front, but mostly in the middle.

It was my knight in shining armour. A calm and a patient fellow, who rose up from his slumber in response to gentle summons from my closest friends and family members.

He mounted his horse, faced the murky mass in the back of my mind, and said, gently but firmly, “Don’t be an idiot.”

(He has since gained the material form of a small fluffy toy rabbit—a gift from a friend, who listened patiently while I had a panic attack an hour before submitting my proposal. He now sits on my desk, a sage and comforting reminder of the real world.)

It was a timely reminder that there’s nothing quite like asking yourself “Why am I doing this? Should I just give up?” to really bring it home.

I’m doing this because I want to, because I enjoy it, because I believe my project is worthwhile, and, yes, also because I have been fortunate enough to be granted a stipend by means of which to do it.

So I need to maintain perspective. I’m working on a reframe, because the big picture is where things get overwhelming, but it’s also where some of the most important changes can be made. Probably the most important change is my attitude.

Now, I didn’t know I had a knight in me. I’m a short man of an intellectual bent and not terribly much physical strength, so acts of heroism are not something I identify with.

And I guess it may seem a little extreme to describe putting things back in perspective as an act of heroism.

But the anxious perfectionists among you will probably recognise the domino effect: doubt overpowers the desire to succeed, the fear of inadequacy overwhelms logical thought, and the result is pulverisation as the monster wakes from its slumber and begins to move.

So finding my little knight prepared to meet it head on was a pleasant surprise.

Even more surprising was the fact that the monster looked at him, decided it wasn’t worth the trouble, and went back to sleep.

I could move again.

As a record of my research process, this blog will no doubt become labyrinthine: a complex map of tunnels and catacombs as I attempt to carve my way through the unhewn rock of my project. Like as not, it will become cobwebby, and at times be frightening, desolate and poorly lit. But I hope that if I mark these passages clearly, I will be able to prevent myself from sabotaging my own venture. I will also publish it here, because I personally have learned as much from watching the mistakes of others as I have from making mistakes of my own, so I hope that I will be able to provide you with something of interest or assistance or at least productive procrastination.