Contain Yourself, Part 1: The Juggling Act

I have a confession to make:

I am a chronic procrastinator.

It’s a really bad case, too.  There are whole days where I suddenly look at the clock and go “Holy shit, how the hell did it suddenly become 5:00 and I still haven’t done a damn productive thing?”  I think it’s a combination of the perils of being unemployed – no job to impose a structure on one’s days – and being a polymath, that is, someone who has multiple passions competing for hir attention.  So I’m trying to juggle my desired productive paths: blogging here, blogging on my feminism/political blog Witch.Words, writing my novel, writing short stories, photography and photo editing, making jewelry, practicing and playing flute and harp.  And I’m doing it without any real constraint on my time, other than that my fiance is working again, so it would be rather inconsiderate of me to stay up until 2 AM writing when he needs to be up at 7 for work (we live in a studio apartment, and my desk is approximately four feet from his side of the bed, so it’d be pretty intrusive for me to stay up and work even if I were being quiet about it).  But other than that, from the time he leaves at 7:45 AM, to the time he comes home at 4:30 PM, I’m completely free to do whatever the hell I want.

At which point, it becomes a struggle between the parts of me that want to see progress on my various endeavors – my inner artist wants me to sit down with Photoshop and juggle pics between my iPhone and the photomanipulation apps I have on there, and Photoshop where I can tweak them more finely; my inner blogger is fretting about the number of draft posts I have that need finishing and how half of them are going to be days behind the news cycle by the time I finish them if I don’t do them RIGHT THIS SECOND RIGHT NOW OMG RIGHT NOW!; my inner writer wants to put on the soundtrack for my novel (I do my writing with soundtracks, a certain playlist I put together that captures, for me, the mood and feel of the story) and spend some time messing around with characterization; my inner jewelry-maker wants to pull out the necklace I’m still not finished with (I’m in the fiddly boring bit of finishing the chain, so I don’t really want to work on it, I just want it to be done) and throw a DVD on for background noise while I make intricate pretty things come to life in my hands; my inner musician is bewailing how long it’s been since I touched my harp and reminding me that I need to cut my nails so I can play again – and the part of me that just wants to fuck off and wander around the internet all afternoon, playing flash games and reading other peoples’ blogs.

So what do I do?  How do I get stuff done – preferably lots of stuff, in multiple areas – without feeling like I’m driving myself too hard?  How do I gently chivvy myself onto a path that balances work with play, so that my passions don’t turn into duties but still all get the attention they need?  How do I calm the procrastinator in me so that I can get things done?

I needed a container for my days, I decided.  A stream of water flowing out of a hose into the garden will just make a big mud puddle.  I had plenty of creativity and energy, but it was just pooling and making a mess and going nowhere.  I needed to give it, give myself, a structure for the water to flow to and through, to put it to work.  So the search for my perfect container began…

First I tried making a weekly schedule.  It was a vast and complicated thing, each day scheduled practically to the minute.  It failed miserably.  I don’t like being that constricted – what if I don’t feel like working on my novel every Tuesday morning from 10-11:30?  What if this particular Tuesday morning, I’m feeling called by my camera?  When that happens, I have a choice.  I either have to buckle down to what I scheduled myself to work on, resentful and grumbling and eyeing the project I really want to be working on the whole time, or blow off the schedule and do what I want instead, but feeling nagging guilt over not following through on my schedule and wondering how I’ll have to re-juggle activities to keep the right balance of everything now that I’ve thrown it off.  Not good, either way, and it only took two weeks to say “This is causing more problems than it’s solving.” and ditch it.  The water didn’t do well in a sealed container and kept springing leaks everywhere, so to speak.

Next I tried a more flexible weekly schedule.  I broke my activities down into categories and assigned two to four categories to each day.  Monday, for example, might be blogging and art and music; Tuesday, blogging and fiction; Wednesday, fiction, jewelry, art, and music; and so on.  It worked a little bit better.  Then I could decide which of a limited subset of things I felt like working on at a given time during the day.  But it still felt pretty constricted – what if I wanted to make jewelry on a day when I was supposed to be doing writing and music?  And when that happened I would have the same problem between resentment or guilt as I did with my deviations from the very-specific schedule.  This also had another unfortunate effect: that because I had it all so loosely planned, I could look at the clock, say “It’s only 10 AM, I’ve got plenty of time, I can fire up the Xbox for awhile and work in the afternoon and still get it all done.”  And come the end of the day, there would always be at least one major category undone because I’d figured I would still have time to get to it later…and then had run out of time.  So after awhile, I conceded that this approach was more “less worse” than actually “better”.  This sealed container was more flexible in shape, but was still springing leaks.  Being sealed in doesn’t seem to suit my flow.

This time I looked at the problem in a lot more detail, wondering if maybe there was something about it I had missed that was causing me to design unworkable approaches.  Was there something about myself I wasn’t taking into account?  Something about the nature of the projects?  I needed openness and variety every day, the ability to change and choose, while still keeping the flow going, not stagnating.  And I needed a way to quiet my insistent inner procrastinator, who kept saying “There’ll be time later to do that; here’s a shiny blog post to read!” until the day was all gone, yet again.

In Contain Yourself Part 2, I’ll show you what I ended up doing, and how it’s working for me now.  If you recognize yourself in my saga, even a little, I hope you’ll come back for the second part and see if my new container might be a good template for you to work from, too!


~ by jadelynkaia on 04.25.2011.

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