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Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Tee It Up

I play a little game to circumvent inertia and procrastination.

Let's say I have a project that is financially or personally important to me. Let's say it requires persistent work over a period of time. Or let's say it's just a one-shot job that simply needs to get done. In any case, once it gets moved from "attractive project" category to the "task-to-be-completed" category, the most primitive part of my brain wants to put a big pot of approach-avoidance on the stove and watch it boil.

This is odd, since most of the work I do is actually pretty pleasurable, or goodchallenging, or funproblemsolving. No matter. It's as if the Great File Cabinet Upstairs has a manila folder marked "WORK," and once a job slides into that file the luster lifts. I can't tell you how many times I was faced with an art-school homework assignment and felt myself heading for a great big pity-party, avoiding it only by reminding myself, "YOU ARE PAYING GOOD MONEY TO BE FORCED TO DO THIS WORK!" That put things in perspective.

Anyway, when I have a job and I resist starting, I trick myself with a tee-up. I agree to take on the tiniest little starter task — something that is so trivial that it cannot even be called work. If the project is to start an illustration, the task might be to clear space on my drawing table. For me, this is a tiny task because I never let my table get crazy messy. It would be an unfortunate tee-up task for a total slob. You see what I'm saying, right?

But in my case, the tee-up is, "I'll just clear a nice space to work, locate my tools and materials, then I'll start the real work in the morning."

And what inevitably happens is that I start enjoying clearing my work space, and decide that there would be no harm in taking a gander at my sketches — just look at them. And that either gets me focused and excited for starting the project the next morning — success! — or I actually just dive in and start working right then and there. Double success!

If have a writing job, and feel a little overwhelmed, I might get past the approach-avoidance with a decision to just write the first paragraph. Who can't write a paragraph? I can write a paragraph. And I do. And almost inevitably it leads to the second paragraph. When the story has seemed especially daunting, I've tricked myself with the even easier assignment of simply creating an electronic file and putting my name at the top.

Yes, I am that easy. I am that easily tricked by my own bad self.

Anyway, that's it. That's the tee-up. Maybe you already do this, too. Or maybe you want to try it. It's just a suggestion, after all.


Don West said...

Great suggestion! You're not alone in this btw lol! And I have no clue why I am "that way". I am one who needs the possibility of getting fired if I don't show up for work consistently on time. It's some sort of sick wiring in my brain I reckon. Because subconsciously knowing the threat is there, is enough to get me going on schedule with no disdain each morning. But give me an unstructured start time...leave it up to me...and I'll put it off until the absolute last minute. Fortunately, in that sick wiring, is a component that seems to know when the last minute has actually arrived so that there is enough time to get the work done on time. I'm just not happy working that way though...too much stress (self induced via sick wiring). So for me, structure (within reason) keeps me happy and functional and unstressed.

Weird huh?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, deadlines (the real ones) negate my need for such tricks. A true deadline jump-starts me without any problem, which is one reason I thrive in deadline environments.