I am a citizen of Procrastination Nation, and I don’t like it here. I’ve lived here all my life. As a high school teacher and then a college instructor, I would around this awful place checking out the sights: that stack of papers I had to grade; that letter of rec I owed a student; those tests that needed to be recorded. Being a writer makes you a permanent citizen here, as well. I can’t tell you how many times I have wished that a nap would go a little bit longer, so I wouldn’t have to face that empty screen.
For me, procrastination = anxiety, which in turn, makes me depressed.
I have a list of things I’ve wanted to do for a few weeks now. Well, wanted is a strange word, a bit misleading, as well. I’ve needed to do these things. But I haven’t wanted to do them. I won’t bore you with the list; it’s personal. Not in the privacy sense, but in the sense of that word that means” you could only possibly understand what I’m trying to do if you were in my head.” Thankfully, you are not. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
I especially wouldn’t wish it on someone when I’m in this weird state: a mix of anxiety and depression that almost always comes upon me when I’m staring at a list of things to do and when that list just keeps growing just as my work ethic is plummeting. Lately, I can’t seem to muster the energy to get it done–get anything done. Sure. House of Cards just came out with Season 2, which is enough to make me want to accept my permanent citizenship in Procrastination Nation. But the truth is I know that binge watching wouldn’t get me out of my funk. The only way to do that is to start getting at that damn list.
Like the flu, this happens to me every once in a while, and each time, I have to find a way out. (Often times, I watch running movies. Don’t know why, but movies about running, whether they be fiction or documentaries, are my passport out of Procrastination Nation.) This time, even that approach was failing me. I was about to pull the trigger and get out Rudy, a movie that always makes me cry, but also builds me up. My wife loves to tease me about this, though, so I only pull it out as a last resort. Lucky for me, before I had to pull out the Rudy and my box of tissue, I read this article by a guy named James Clear on how to avoid procrastination.
I’ve never heard of the guy. On his site, he says he’s a weightlifter, entrepreneur, coach (life or athletic?) and travel photographer. Part of me likes the odd mix; part of mistrusts it. But even so, Mr. Clear shed some wisdom on my problem. What is Mr. Clear’s guide to productivity? It’s simple. He thinks you should not try to finish things, but instead, just start them with the idea that you will only do the activity for 2 minutes. The trick, the reason that this is supposed to kickstart you down a procrastination-free lifestyle is that more times than not, once you start doing X-activity, you won’t want to stop doing it. Or put another way, it’s the starting that is hardest.
I know that writing, for me, is just like that. If I tell myself I’m going to try and sit down for 2-3 hours, some times, I’m up for it. But a lot of times, I want to run away. Like my 2-year old son, I want to stamp my feet on the ground while turning red and yelling a string of, NO, NO, NO’s. But to do so would be worse for me than watching Rudy. My wife is cool with the boy acting like a baby– he is one, after all. She expects something different from me.
Mr. Clear makes the case that I don’t need to procrastinate. If I just tell myself that I will be happy if I can get 2 minutes down, then 9 out of 10 times I write for those 2 minutes and then I want to go longer.
The trick, the reason that this is supposed to kickstart your productivity is that more times than not, once you start doing X-activity, you won’t want to stop doing it.
I’ve told my students something similar in years past. But there really is something almost unavoidable about telling others what to do and not realizing that you should take your own advice. Still, I have to try. Procrastination Nation is not a fun place to live, and I’m thinking I found my way out. 2 minutes at a time.