So last week as part of my read of Oliver Burkeman's Four Thousand Weeks, I wrote about what Brukeman describes as good procrastination. That would be accepting that we can't do all of the marvelous things we want to do and making a conscious decision to put some of them off so we can concentrate on a few things we definitely want to get done. You know, write.
Procrastination Is Not New
Nowadays, we seem to feel that procrastination is a new thing, a new problem of our era brought about in large part by the distractions that the Internet and social media provide. But Burkeman claims that ancient Greek philosophers wrote about distraction, long, long before Facebook and Twitter existed. I find knowing that a negative behavior has existed for generations oddly comforting. Burkeman also says that distractability has an evolutionary benefit. Those hunter-gatherers who were more easily distracted by the approach of a danger were more likely to survive it. I've recently read something similar about anxiety--anxious early people who worried about what that noise was or whether or not all berries were safe to eat were more likely to live long enough to reproduce and get their genes into the gene pool.
Earlier in Four Thousand Weeks, Burkeman wrote that humans have only been imposing the concept of time onto their lives for the last couple of centuries. And now he says that distractability had a benefit for early humans, one that they may have passed on to us? Once again, when we try to manage time, are we working against nature? Depressing much?
Procrastination/Distractability Is Not A Problem--It Is A Solution To A Problem
So here's an interesting spin Burkeman puts on the whole procrastination issue: Procrastination is not a problem. It's a solution to a problem we don't recognize or at least do nothing about.
The real problem is that a lot of what we do in life, even when we want to do it, is boring. Or difficult. Making transitions in writing, getting characters and a story from one place to another is difficult for me. Generating new material for gaps in stories is very, very difficult for me. The solution for dealing with those real problems is to flee to something else, say, Facebook or checking the news or almost anything else I can easily get to on-line.
A very easy, nonwriting illustration of what I'm talking about, is young parents and cellphones. You often see them on their phones while in the company of small children. How awful, right? The phones, and what's on them, are stealing valuable time from those families. Boo-hoo. No, the phones are a solution to a problem the parents are dealing with. A lot of childcare is boring as hell. Or it's difficult. Or it's heartbreaking. Or it's disappointing. Or it's exhausting. Escaping to the Internet provides a temporary relief from those problems.
So procrastination doesn't cause problems for us. It is a solution/cure for living/work problems.
So How Do We Deal With The Real Problems?
Suck It Up, Buttercup. Burkeman suggests dealing with the original problems by accepting that there are no solutions for many of them. We should give up expecting our lives or work situations to be easier than they are. This isn't unreasonable. Here at Original Content, we've discussed trying to develop distress tolerance, developing a tolerance for the stress/distress involved with our work. Pursuing goals (you have to have them in order to do that, people), planning what you'll do in specific distress situations, and making commitments can all help to increase our tolerance for the distress we would otherwise try to escape with procrastination.
Productive Procrastination. Or, we might say, planned procrastination. Some people procrastinate, not with checking out what's happening on the COVID front or looking to see what's going to be on HBO soon, but with more work. When the stress of dealing with figuring out what's going to happen next to the characters in a big project becomes just too much, they escape to another project. A blog post, for instance. Finishing a humor piece that is almost ready to submit. Researching markets. The main project may have hit a wall for this hour or even the rest of this day, but they're still cranking out work.
So our two options at this point are to accept or to plan more work.