For years the L. in my middle name stood for “late,” “lazy,” “loony,” and seemingly downright “lackadaisical.” My negative inner voice was relentless and the outer voices were often a match. I would put things off and put them off again until I had frustrated everyone around me and myself as well: just ask the members of my dissertation committee or my first book publisher!
The only conclusion to draw was that I must be undisciplined, scared of rejection, not very good, and, truth be told, I must not have that much to say of any value. Thankfully none of this was true, but it took me a very long time to find redemption. I was actually guilty of working too much, not too little: a ball of constant disorganized motion, taking on more, losing focus and a clear sense of priorities, all fed with an incessant and addictive need to prove my worth. I had become the proverbial absent-minded klutzy professor long after I left the classroom and the administration building.
Finally – and I must admit quite recently – it dawned on me that contrary to popular opinion, procrastination is not necessarily a debilitating moral weakness, it may actually be a signal from the deeper self saying, “Not yet, be patient.” I was “putting it off” because “it” was not exactly what I wanted to say; it was not quite the time to be heard; it (the idea) was not fully baked and might not serve my deepest intention. I didn’t want to end up with the wrong brand, didn’t want to be stuck talking endlessly about something that was not passion for me. Nor did I want to throw out an idea that could not be understood or accepted yet and might make me appear to be flaky or “woo woo.” After all, I still had something to prove about being a serious academic and a serious writer, even about comical subjects.
At last it dawned on me I that I had come to use procrastination as my personal biofeedback mechanism: warmer, cold, warmer, cooler, closer, waaay off the desired track… now!
Procrastination can be a gift, at least for me
After weeks and months and sometimes even years a magic moment happens. For me that moment is a deadline, a possibility, an opening through which I can move with clarity, assured that this is indeed what I wish to say or do or become. Or, I can let that door close, trusting that when the right configuration shows up I will walk through the next one with ease, and that there will always be…always!… another door. My approach can drive the plugging away and persevering and perspiration crowd crazy, but it is, after all, another viable approach. And when I stop judging myself so harshly for working this way, the period of time when I am procrastinating may even get shorter and shorter. Or not.
Deadlines, and how to use them
Deadlines serve a critical function for the inveterate procrastinator like me. Left to my own devices I could procrastinate my life away, but deadlines serve to capture my attention, harness my energy, and make me choose. They are the sudden whirlwind that shapes my total focus and clear priorities:
- Is this the moment?
- Is this the vehicle?
- Is this the title?
- Is this the label/brand I accept and offer the world?
I saw a local magazine announcement on the subject of writing tips a few months ago and tucked it away, dredging it up to the surface of my conscious awareness from time to time, without worry or attachment. That same announcement popped up some time later and I noticed that the deadline was exactly one month out. I jotted down a few notes and still the article percolated. Not yet, warmer, not quite, closer, hold…
A short while later, searching for something apparently unrelated, I suddenly gathered the energy to complete that piece in two days, and also stumbled upon the subject of my next book, which I began many years ago and have been passionate about for much of my adult life, but kept putting on the back burner for decades. All of the “bits and pieces” I had been pulling together and slogging through fell neatly under the rubric of an old topic that had been tickling my sociological and creative fancy for thirty years. I knew at last that my next book would be completed and I knew that the piece – this piece – would make its dreaded deadline.
This was the writer’s “harmonic convergence:” clarity of subject, moment of opportunity (in this case, deadline) that pushed me to choose. In a flash, surrounded by the cacophony of Kahala Mall where I was writing, it was done. I am now clear, I have chosen, I have met a deadline, and I love the subject matter!
In the meantime the magazine that submitted the call for the piece seems to have fallen off a cliff (did it ever exist at all?), so I have decided to publish it right here as a blog instead: “The Gift of Procrastination.”
The dual gifts of procrastination and deadlines have once again worked wonders for me. In one fell swoop I have conquered another of the great American fears: the fear of being lazy. And, by the way, that next subject I was talking about, the one that has been percolating for decades? It is appropriately called “The Great American Fears,” part one of a trilogy under the broader rubric I call Grits and Granola. The book is a combination of down home political and social commentary embedded with deeper spiritual and metaphysical meaning. We’ll see if this is the door that finally opens….