July 1, 2010

Mindful Living…through Procrastination.

Mindful Living, the Procrastination Ninja Way.

The Right Tools for the Right Kind of Procrastination.


My father always said, “Do your homework first, then go play.”

Every Friday evening it was the same inner fight. “But it’s Friday! I’ve been waiting all week for this and I have all weekend to get around to doing my homework!”

And every Sunday night, there I would be, tackling the drudgery of the homework that I’d feared and avoided all weekend. I looked forward to the time when I had such ironclad discipline that I’d choose the homework first without a thought. I didn’t occur to me that whenever I became that person, I would fret about how little play there was in my life.

Fast forward 15 years: I’m at my first real, “adult” job and subject to a yearly job review with input from everyone for whom I work. “Ricardo does what he wants to do first,” was one of the scathing comments in the midst of such review. Well, duh! Who wouldn’t pick the most tolerable tasks first? Alas, in the job world not all tasks have equal weighting and prioritizing them (and communicating about expectations) were skills yet to be developed.

Fast-forward another 20 years. I’m supposed to be editing my second novel on the input I got from an editor. I cue fun music, I try to get myself motivated, but in the end, no question about it, I’m far more twitching to read the news, watch a snippet of a film, or check the web for prices and reviews on the latest techno-gadget than…to actually get the editing done.

Now that I’m my own boss and my yearly reviews consist of pondering what I have to show for another birthday or another January 1st, the question is whether will I “exercise integrity at the moment of choice” (as Stephen Covey reminds me to do when I look at my weekly plans) or whether I listen to what my body or the other part of my mind is telling me it would rather do instead.

Enter Mindful Living through Productive Procrastination.

A very accomplished friend told me her secret to productivity long ago: “I procrastinate by doing the other things I need to do.”

It’s taken me a few years to get there. Apparently the trick is having a long and readily-accessible “Alternative To-Do List.” On this list is everything from the piddly items like “organize my closet” or “sew a button on those pants I haven’t used for two months”; to recurring and necessary but seldom urgent things like “empty the dishwasher” or “go get a haircut” or “do laundry”; to the small but semi-time-sensitive things like “Mapquest the address of the place where I need to go the day after tomorrow”; to the outright grand-but-not-urgent things like “Travel to Machu Picchu.” Not to be left off this mile-long list are quietly humble items like “go for a walk”; “browse my favorite bookstore”; “go swimming”; and hey, “play” – and “meditate.”

The trick is to not procrastinate with things that don’t really need doing – like watching TV or, ahem, indefinite web-surfing. When I twitch in my desire to get away from whatever task lies before me at the moment, Conscious Living the Procrastination Ninja Way forces me to ask, “So what else do I feel like doing? …Of the things that actually need doing?” That’s the Procrastination Ninja’s mantra.

I look at that long list and there’s always at least one item that inspires me. And I go do it, because “I’m exercising integrity at the moment of choice” – that integrity means acknowledging that I’m bored with my current task and I’d be more productive (and happier) by doing the other one that inspires me now. And guess what? 9 times out of 10, as soon as I finish that task I feel far more motivated to take on the original task… or something else that requires my attention.

Don’t get me wrong – there are times in which rest, relaxation and rejuvenation is far more important than accomplishing. Still, I check my tendencies. If vegetating is the type of rest I’m wanting, I call upon my other trusty Ninja mantra: “Meditate, don’t vegetate.” (I’m still working on marketing that bumper sticker…)

Eventually editing my novel will be something that I’ll look forward to doing or will itself become the procrastination item to substitute something else I didn’t feel inspired to do. It might even become an item picked when “play” is the order of the day. Play – the item forgotten in the midst of becoming a “responsible adult” in this society – but which is an integral part of Conscious Living.

Now I can cross “write an article for Elephant Journal” off my “Alternative To-Do List” and either go back to my novel or see about those pants that need the button sewed on. Hm.

Between the two, I think I’d rather work on the novel.

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