Tag Archives: procrastination

Pressfield on the Protean Power of Resistance

Protean: adj. readily taking on varied shapes, forms, or meanings. Exhibiting considerable variety or diversity.

Power: n. ability to act or produce an effect

Screenwriter Steven Pressfield has written the definitive book on the struggle involved in becoming a professional writer (artist, creative person), The War of Art. He is, how shall I say it, a muscular writer. Very yang. The artistic process is a WAR in which you either emerge victorious (and bloodied) or you die.

He attributes all my procrastination proclivities to RESISTANCE, that force that prevents me from producing a plethora of perfect prose .

Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be….

Resistance is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, harder to kick than crack cocaine. We’re not alone if we’ve been mown down by Resistance; millions of good men and women have bitten the dust before us. And here’s the biggest bitch: we don’t even know what hit us. I never did. From age twenty-four to thirty-two, Resistance kicked my ass from East Coast to West and back again thirteen times and I never even knew it existed.

Once he’s kicked the reader’s ass around, he grapples with what it takes to be a Professional. It has to do with nailing your butt to the chair and just DOING IT. Every Day.

Although I write for hire, I’m clearly not a Professional – at least as concerns my OWN writing.

I’m taking a 4-week writing workshop in which we are to move a stuck project forward.  The third class is this weekend and  I’ve done almost nothing (again) on my project. While it’s true I’ve been busy with other things that seem essential, I should have been able to carve out a mere 30 daily minutes, for gods sake, to work on it. Flails at head and shoulders in pathetic gesture of self-abasement.

Even this blog, which has been such fun, is seeming onerous right now. 344 posts in 11 months; don’t stop now!!! Who cares. (the critic speaks.)

My daughter is blaming her blahs on sun-spots or solar flares. Sounds about right to me. Better than blaming it on my own resistance.

Pet peeve: packing

Ah, vacation! Tomorrow I leave for ten days.

[Pat on back: I pulled together some P posts for distance posting plus some possible pinch-hitting from one of my progeny…]

Time away from everyday chores… distant shores, friends & family, lolling on the beach, hiking in the woods, wining dining playing scrabble, reading (formerly) dime novels, thinking useless thoughts.

But by the time I get on a plane I’m so whipped that I need an extra vacation to recover from my preparations.

Packing is a problem of procrastination. Not so much that I procrastinate on packing. Not exactly. I leave so many OTHER critical tasks to the last minute that suddenly it’s the 11th hour and my suitcase is still in the closet.

I paid bills, did laundry, vacuuming, watering, canceling of mail and papers, completed two writing assignments, found caregivers for the dog and the cat, etc etc. But then I noticed the grass had GROWN in my front yard, and if I didn’t mow it NOW, the unkemptness would signal Absentee Owner.  So I mowed the lawn.

In so doing I discovered that the mole I’d hoped would go away, had returned with a vengeance. So I had to get out my shovel and traps and do the whack-a-mole dance to lure him while I’m gone.  No kidding, this very serious guy at the garden store told me that the secret to catching moles (because a trap is insufficient) is the little mole dance.  He says his grandpa taught it to his dad, and his dad taught it to him.

This was more self-revelation than he’d intended. He wouldn’t give me the demo dance, so I’ve made up my own.

It’s now 9p. I leave in the morning. Maybe I should pack.

Precipice postponed: procrastination #3

Precipice: the edge of an extremely dangerous situation; a cliff with a steep dropoff

Postpone: to delay until a future time, put off

I can breathe again. I made my maiden Powerpoint voyage and managed to stay afloat for the duration of the presentation.  Obviously I should have done another run-thru on a wall more than 2 feet wide, because if I had, I’d have noticed that the right-hand 25% of each slide was truncated… for reasons I don’t yet know.

I talked to the screen rather than the audience more than I should have, and I had some issues with the remote control…   Fortunately, I know my feng shui material well enough that I could talk my way through the glitches, and my Toastmasters club is very supportive of anyone trying something challenging.

As I said earlier, I put off preparing this presentation until the last possible moment…  I usually love putting together presentations, but this one filled me with the desire to change my sheets, reorganize my file drawer, clean the toilets…. ANYTHING else.  And all this when I absolutely LUSTED for the projector which would enable me to do illustrated presentations.

According to the study center at Cal Poly there are four reasons we procrastinate:

1. Difficult – the task seems hard to do; we naturally tend to avoid difficult things in favor of those which seem easy to us. [this would explain my desire to clean toilets]

2. Time-consuming – the task will take large blocks of time, and large blocks of time are unavailable until the weekend. [especially if you have no idea how you’re going to structure the talk to take advantage of a new medium]

3. Lack of knowledge or skills – no one wants to make mistakes, so wait until you learn how before you start. [I’ve heard so many horror stories about AV equipment failures that I was scared even to try the projector!]

4. Fears – everyone will know how you screwed up. [This didn’t bother me for the Toastmasters talk, but I am preparing for a much lengthier illustrated talk for paying customers next week and screw-ups aren’t really cool.]

Cal Poly suggests the following steps to cure yourself:

  1. Realize you are delaying something unnecessarily. (Duh… but maybe it’s the “unnecessarily” we need to come to grips with. You have to realize this before days and weeks have passed – like as soon as you feel that twinge of uneasiness.)
  2. Discover the real reasons for your delay. List them.
  3. Dispute those real reasons and overcome them. Be vigorous.
  4. Begin the task.

I do think the secret is just to start anywhere.  Set a timer and commit to working at it for 15 minutes.  Wait awhile and do it again.  This is the swiss cheese approach. Once you’ve eaten a few holes in the project it suddenly seems like no big deal, and you’re halfway there.

What’s your formula?


Procrastination: putting off intentionally something that should be done,
from the Latin, pro (forward) and crastinus (of tomorrow)

Ben Zimmer at Slate.com says

How fitting that the word is lengthy and Latinate, taking its time to reach a conclusion. Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson once wrote that procrastination is “really sloth in five syllables.” And yet the word denotes so much more than mere sloth or indolence: A procrastinator meticulously organizing a sock drawer or an iTunes library can’t exactly be accused of laziness. Likewise, procrastination is not simply the act of deferral or postponement. It implies an intentional avoidance of important tasks, putting off unpleasant responsibilities that one knows should be taken care of right away and setting them on the back burner for another day.

Noting Ben Franklin’s dictum “never put off until tomorrow what should be done today,” Zimmer reminds us of MarkTwain’s response: “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

Which brings us to another great P-word perendinate, meaning “to put something off until the day after tomorrow.”

And – picture stories being worth 1000 textual declamations -join me in procrastinating a minute longer with cartoonist Lev Yilmaz. Laugh while you wince in self-recognition.

One of the main reasons I started this blog was to explore the P words that pave my path to Perfection. Procrastination is one of those words, and yet I’ve posted 60 entries on this blog without touching upon this pimple on the ass of Progress.

When I was preparing for a party last week, I reorganized a couple of kitchen cabinets, gathered a box of books for the second-hand store, and hung a bunch of pictures. Today, in preparation for an appointment with my divorce* attorney, I’m writing in my blog about procrastination.

John Perry, a Stanford philosophy professor whose public radio show Philosophy Talk is a favorite of mine, calls this “structured procrastination.”

I have discovered an amazing strategy that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time. All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.

Structured procrastination means shaping the structure of the tasks one has to do in a way that exploits this fact. The list of tasks one has in mind will be ordered by importance. Tasks that seem most urgent and important are on top. But there are also worthwhile tasks to perform lower down on the list. Doing these tasks becomes a way of not doing the things higher up on the list. With this sort of appropriate task structure, the procrastinator becomes a useful citizen. Indeed, the procrastinator can even acquire, as I have, a reputation for getting a lot done.

Ah. I feel better now.

*Divorce – I’ve been separated for 7 years from my almost ex, but we have yet to finalize it. This gives you some sense of my capacity for procrastination.

Pick ME!

Hollytas asks how I’ll pick words out of such a plethora of opportunity…

I have about a dozen words that are calling out to me right now, and many many more in the stable.

I once took a poetry writing workshop with a wonderful teacher named Cassandra Sagan. She told us when an idea began to percolate up to consciousness, if it was a good one it would POP! And if it POPped, we should sit right down and pin it to paper while it was still bubbling furiously.

I’ve lost many a good idea to procrastination, but the ones I’ve captured when they POP are invariably full of life. So that will be my technique. Have a stableful of P words, but if a different word POPs (pick me! PICK ME!) I’m going to go with it.

Why P words??

One day I was procrastinating (as usual) on a writing assignment and feeling pissed at myself for failing to persist with a regular writing practice. If I didn’t put pen to paper, what peerless prose would be left to posterity? And what was my purpose on the planet anyway if not to pontificate?

And then it struck me that my problems all began with the letter P.

I know a continuously curious gal named Goody Cable (owner of the literary Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon and the Rimsky-Korskoffee Coffee House in Portland) who recently spent 52 weeks – an entire year – exploring the alphabet, each letter for two weeks. She pored over the unabridged dictionary and immersed herself sequentially in each letter. She pondered the personality of each letter as discerned from the words it initiated. She didn’t just read and think about the words; she ate foods that began with the letter, wore colors that began with the letter, read books and listened to music by people whose name began with the letter, called old friends whose name began with that letter, and on and on. Every two weeks her perspective on reality shifted.

Her project totally tickled my imagination. But 26 letters is 25 too many for me. Since I was finding P words so problematic, why couldn’t I just explore the letter P? The good news is that many P words are not ponderous at all. Think pipsqueak, poodle, pumpernickel, pablum, penguin and pusillanimous.

This could be fun.