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Saturday, 21 October 2023


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I have a rational decision maker monkey. That is, my instant gratification monkey knows that I need some rational excuse for what I am doing instead of what I should be doing, so he steers me to productive but less necessary tasks, like doing the wash, cleaning the fridge, organizing the spices, or any other number of possibilities. I suppose you could view this as "tacking" in a sailing sense, except you never actually make progress in the intended direction. Productive avoidance.

I, too, am an unreformed procrastinator. Sooo many (school, and beyond) stories like yours. I'm lucky that my day-to-day job has regular deadlines, delivering stuff roughly two or three days out of the week, where I can occasionally "wing it" and also where my standards for myself are a bit higher than what I actually need to deliver. I recognize too much of myself in your "expect X from me in Y days, I swear" posts, identifying one of the many strategies I deploy ("if I publicly announce that then maybe it forces me to get 'er done").

Every several years, I am free of my regular schedule, though, and it can be debilitating to be in that deadline-free state. So I think you should be gentle on your self-beatings. Use a feather flagellum rather than a spiky leather one, because you've been editor-free or "self-editored" for so many productive blog years. My wish for you is that you appoint (or imagine) a forgiving, and doting, editor that has ways to convince you that you have real deadlines, but also accepts (rightly) that your blog could handle just fine a 33% to 50% hit rate on you delivering things. They'd encourage you to bail now and then, without shame, with your offhand posts that are a perfectly awesome delivery of content we all enjoy too. These side roads often lead us in an unexpected and productive direction.

I see several regular readers that could play that role with you here, and maybe they already do. They seem like wise taskmasters of creative work, would mostly help you be kinder to yourself in the process, and also help you apply slight polish or loose-end scissors to things you've done that you consider rough, those near-done things you see as not ready for prime time. And they could give you slippery slopes to completion, help you redefine tasks you've created that are too Sisyphean for any one writer to reasonably complete.

In saying all this, it is definitely my charcoal pot pointing at your jet-dark kettle. If I'm somehow projecting too many of my features onto you, and missing the mark, my apologies!

Term papers: The thing that I remember was the aversion to taking typing classes in high school in the '70s, because of the less than enlightened ideas of gender roles back then. Indeed 90% of the classes were filled with females. When I got to college, I found out how expensive that lack of ability would be. Expert typists were charging one dollar per page to produce a ready to turn in term paper. Many would type exactly what you gave them long-hand, typos and grammatical errors and all, so you had to do everything right before before handing it over to be typed. So, besides putting off the assignment, you also had to factor in the time to would take to find the service of a typing student that had the time to do their own work and then fulfill that service for those of us that thought "real men don't type", and then come up with the cash on a limited student's finances.

47 years later, I knocked this out with two thumbs on my phone, fixing errors along the way without any need for white out... the future!

That TED Talk is really good, Mike, thanks for posting it. I was that guy in college, too, writing papers or code a few hours before the deadline.

Is being a procrastinator any worst than being an anticrastinator?

I hear you. I had similar experiences with last minute essays at university - and it didn't help that sometimes I got really good marks for those night-before-deadline splurges.

The primary part of my honours year grade would be a 10,000 word dissertation. We had the whole academic year to complete it, so what was the rush? I poked and prodded at an opening for it for quite some time. Eventually I had a blinding opening paragraph. And nothing else, except two days to the deadline.

So two solid days of trying to create something came, and I finished in time, albeit a little short, and somewhat lacking in the primary research that was really required. But never mind, job done.

It was probably arrogance that made me assume I would pass. The hubris of youth. I did not pass.

For all that though, my two days work, it was only 8% off the pass mark. Granted the pass mark wasn't an amazing grade, but still. If only I'd spent two weeks on it instead of two days it might have been alright. Or maybe if I had spent two semesters, as was intended, it might have been a work worthy of my arrogance.

I would dearly like to say I learned my lesson. But, to quote paraphrase Laurence Fishburne's character in The Matrix - there's a difference between knowing the path and walking it.

My parents, in a cleanup of their house, unearthed it last year and gave it back to me. I shredded it, unread, and put it in the garden compost; hopefully something useful will grow from it eventually.

His blog 'waitbutwhy.com' is pretty good too.


Were you extra bright as a child? Sadly for me, I was identified as gifted. Which effectively meant that everything academically came to me effortlessly. You'd think, wahoo! But the boredom induced by teachers who were just in it for the paycheck, combined with never needing to study for anything, set me up for inevitable failure.

Because at some point, a person comes across something that will require some effort to master. If you've never had to develop that ability, the ability to persevere, you're pretty well stuffed.

The plodders can persevere. They learn that grinding on, you will eventually prevail.

That lesson took me an extra 20 years to figure out.

Around the same time as that epiphany, I promised myself to always, always do what I say I will. Removing the excuse to procrastinate. If I say I'll do something, I commence doing it immediately. Then it never gets forgotten, or put on a back burner.

Now it's just a habit. But like giving up an addiction, you've got to hit your own personal rock bottom, before you'll trigger the hormone that locks in that commitment to yourself.

This cartoon is spot on I think. :-)


Speaking of procrastination...

As the late, great Douglas Adams said, I love deadlines, I love the sound of them whooshing by ...

You say "I believe that ideas of coming things often occur to many people's minds just before the things actually come into existence, like the idea of photography occurred to many people's minds in the 1820s and '30s."

When I was in college, maybe just a couple years after you (1981-85), I had two ideas that occurred to me before they came into existence.

The first was a sort of home for older people. Not a nursing home, where one or two residents were assigned to a small room with not much more than a bed and a side table. But rather a facility where you'd live in your own space. Help would be available if, and to the extent, you needed it. Not long after, the assisted-living industry came into being.

The second idea was being able to pay for gasoline at the pump. It would be so efficient. So you wouldn't have to go inside, wait for someone to come to the register, leave a credit card, go back out and pump the gas, then go back in and retrieve the credit card. Not long after, credit-card readers built into the gas pump came into being.

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