Michaeline: Anti-Procrastination Pep Talk

Baby New Year with sunshine and roses and a midnight clock

Sweet baby New Year also carries a stinging, harsh whip during the final days of the old year. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

My procrastinating ways always come back to bite me in the butt in December. I think it’s true for most of the world on the Gregorian calendar, but especially in Japan, there’s a very firm cultural deadline on December 31. By about 8 p.m. that evening, you should have taken care of all your social obligations (including any gift-giving and your New Year’s cards), paid off all your debts, finished your work, prepared a feast for New Year’s snacking, and your house should be clean and tidy so that the Gods of Luck who come to visit on New Year’s Day feel inclined to stick around.

Every year, I fail miserably. However, the panicked weeks (or days, if I’ve had a rough year) of cleaning and finishing stuff up means I do start the new year in a better place. Never the ideal place, but still, noticeably cleaner and noticeably freer of looming projects and deadlines.

I started early on the New Year’s cleaning this year – I think I’ve got two things going for me. First of all, it’s about reached the “I can’t stand living in this pigsty anymore” point. (This does happen frequently throughout the year, but if I lie down for a little while in a dark room, the feeling usually goes away.) Second, I’ve been exercising regularly since the end of October, so I actually have some more energy to tackle the tasks.

I’m often on the edge of despair. “I should be so much further along than I am!” But so far, I’ve been able to pull myself back. “Look, it’s better. Don’t go into a blue funk, because even tiny baby steps are better than hibernating and doing nothing.”

Anyway, things have hit hard this week, so I have gone into a blue funk (just a little bijou, powder-blue funk), and have been self-medicating with the internet. I found two articles of interest.

Mika Doyle writes for Bustle about how PTSD has affected her life (and housework). She says she presents a powerhouse face to the world, but at home, lets things go. The connection was a lightbulb moment for me. She learned to deal with it over ten years with support of her family, eye movement desensitization therapy, psychotherapy, medication, yoga and meditation, and reports that things are not perfect but better. Not perfect, but better. That sounds like an achievable goal!

The other article that caught my eye was by Amanda Mull, for the Atlantic. “Why People Wait 10 Days to Do Something That Takes 10 Minutes” was one of the fastest clicks I’ve made this week. It’s well worth a read. Some people, the theory goes, find it very hard to do things at the end of the day because of decision fatigue (the idea that making decisions make us tired, and we can only do so much decision-making before we lose the willpower to carry through with our decisions).

“If you could sit at your desk and play Candy Crush all day like you might want to, washing some plates when you get home might not seem as onerous,” Mull posits.

I agree with the decision-fatigue idea, but I beg to differ about the Candy Crush scenario. A game like Candy Crush (or even the mindless surfing of YouTube of an evening) is FULL of decisions. What to watch, how long to stick with it, where to go next . . . it is as exhausting as writing, or making up lesson plans, or cleaning a closet. I think the initial starting cost for Candy Crush (or YouTube) is a lot less, because you get quite immediate rewards for your behavior – pretty colors or cool music. However, the work is still there.

That’s a pretty good realization on my part. I think maybe what I need to do is just sit with myself if I’m “too tired” to start a project. Rest, sleep or meditate if I can’t sleep. No YouTube, no random research, and no reading either (unless it’s for a project like a critique or a review). I think I will get sick of myself sooner rather than later, and find that I do have the energy to start that project after all.

The Mull article also reinforces the idea that perfection is the enemy of everything. There’s no need for me to go into an unproductive tizzy because I don’t have a House Beautiful, with a Great American Novel in my computer and all my Christmas shopping done and shipped. I just have to get something done, something that means I’ve done better than last month. It’ll add up to a noticeable difference at some point.

Sixteen more days until New Year’s Eve. I can make a difference!

4 thoughts on “Michaeline: Anti-Procrastination Pep Talk

  1. You *can* make a difference! Improvements are so much better than perfection, anyway, because nothing is forever. How long can perfection last? Maybe an hour. And then something happens, and you’re back to… not perfect again. So keep up the good work and gradual improvements and know that that is really perfection in disguise.

    I gave up on perfection a long time ago, but I have closets and boxes and places I have not seen or sorted in a long time. I often think I should go through those if for no other reason than to know what I’m storing. And yet, do I do that? No, I do not. One of these days …

    • (-: I gave up on perfection some time ago, too, but it’s like an addictive drug. Every once in a while, I despair that I can’t have it. (Even though I know Perfection doesn’t work the way I’d like it to work.)

      I did some important reading, and I got two cabinets and the oven front cleaned. And I still have four hours left in the day to get some other stuff done!

  2. There is a fine balance between procrastinating and prioritizing the things you choose to do with your time. I think it’s easy to have grand ideas about all the “should do” things – culturally driven and personally driven – but I know a lot of the things I procrastinate about doing even though I think I “should” do them, are things that don’t really, in the grand scheme of things, need to be done. (Or things that it will not be the end of the world if they don’t get done.)

    I remember when my son was little, someone commenting that in 10 years, he wouldn’t remember that the sink was never full of dirty dishes, but he would remember that we spent time going to the park or playing games or whatever. That really stuck with me and I find it’s helpful, when faced with a whole lot of things that need doing, too look at them in that light.

    I love the idea of having everything all taken care of by 8:00pm on December 31st though, so you can start new and fresh in the morning on January 1 but, as long as there is another book waiting in my TBR pile, it’s likely that is a deadline I’ll probably miss. Fortunately, I’m okay with that.

    • I think with my kids almost grown, I’m trying to rebalance these commitments. I definitely have put housework on the backburner, but it is getting to a certain point that needs addressed, especially since the other end of the scale (my in-laws are getting older, and need to more space to do things — which means the kitchen table needs cleared off) is starting to weigh more heavily.

      (-: But I do have to say, I always quit at midnight. My consoling thought is, “OK, I’ve done what I can — the rest can wait for Chinese New Year.” And at least once, I headed to bed after the New Year’s countdown, picked up a book, and read until 6 a.m.

      I just get so overwhelmed with “Do All The Things”, I think. So much so that I wind up doing none of the things. I got a couple of things done today, so I don’t have to feel too bad about my progress.

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