Getting Around to It, Eventually

As I sit here watching my son fall asleep in his homework, I'm thinking about one thing: procrastination.  Ah, the sweet smell of responsibility deferred! Procrastination is inverted instant gratification, replacing the deeper satisfaction of a job well done with a shallow taste of, well, anything else.  It's doing the dishes when you should be doing the taxes, cleaning the litter box when you should call your mother, rearranging your music library when you should be writing that next chapter of your book.  It's playing video games with your friends when you have homework to do (meaningful look across the room).

People have written scads of articles about procrastination, offering all sorts of ideas about why we do it, why we shouldn't to it, and how we can trick (or force) ourselves out of it.  About once a year, some cutting-edge technology/psychology/business magazine will come out with an article hailing the virtues of procrastination, usually with the idea that a panic-induced bout of creativity is better than none at all.  But in the prevailing opinion, as Calvin Coolidge said when his wife asked him what the preacher had to say about sin, "He was against it."

I think that we all agree that there are important things that we should be doing right now, certain tasks our bosses or spouses (or bossy spouses) wish us to complete, certain dreams we want to pursue.  We know we'll feel better when we finish the task or pursue the dream, but we just can't seem to muster the energy and focus.

So why do we do this?  Why do we replace something meaningful and worthwhile with a momentary distraction?  Why not just do the work now and play later?

I got nothin'.

I think I'm supposed to have an opinion on this, but I'm as bad as everyone else.  Let's face it: there are times when we just don't want to do anything that we're supposed to do.  Sometimes for years.  And I can't argue with that.  Well, I could, but I don't feel like it right now.


OK now I'm ready.

A little procrastination is probably a good thing.  It allows us to release the tension, to let our minds and bodies relax, to do something that's just for us for just a little while.  A life without this kind of relaxation is dangerous.  All work, dull boy, axe through door, etc.  Procrastination is like candy for the soul, a taste of something sweet in the midst of our vegetable-flavored duties.  But like candy, too much can ruin you: when the responsibility deferred becomes the opportunity missed, when the bills you were meaning to pay go to collection, when the secret dream becomes that thing you never tried, when "later" becomes "too late."  We can put things off for a little while, but eventually we have to get off our butts and get some stuff done.

Last Wednesday kicked off the season of Lent, the 40 (-ish) days leading up to Easter.  For the past ten years or so, my decidedly non-Catholic family and I have participated in our own version of this season, called "The 40 days of Faith."  It's something we picked up at the Greater Boston Vineyard church, and I've found it to be a very useful process for refreshing my faith, my spirit, and my outlook on life.  As part of this annual experiment, we choose something to give up, a modern variation on fasting.  In prior years, I've given up sweets, wine and beer, and video games.  This year, I decided to try something different.  Rather than giving something up, I'm committing to write something every day.  It might be a blog post, it might be working on a new book (I've been playing with an idea that could be fun), it might even be a play.  But I'm going to write something every day that isn't another work email.

Writing is more than simply a creative process for me.  It's work.  When I finish a writing session, I'm usually equal parts exhausted and wound up.  My brain seems to be running at ten times it's normal speed, but at the same time it often seems to lock up.  I've never understood people who say that they "have to write."  I always assumed that meant they didn't have another paying job.

At the same time, I rarely feel so exhilarated as when I've written something and shared it.  I can't wait to hear what people think, because writing distills my thoughts to a purer essence.  I spend my days thinking on my feet, talking through problems, and basically running a 9- or 10-hour improv scene that's always set in an office.  When I write, I finally have time to think.  I can vent my frustrations in a constructive fashion, explore deep feelings and concepts that require time to coalesce, or find the perfect punchline for a joke (just read to the end).  Writing is my meditation.

So this year for Lent, I'll be writing.  Or giving up not writing, I guess.  I'd say I'm giving up procrastination, but I'm already almost a week late.  Let's see how it goes.

By the way feel free to harass me on Facebook (if we're friends) or Twitter (even if we've never met) if you don't see anything coming out.  I'll take all the inspiration I can get.

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