My Quest to Cure Procrastination

As an expert task avoider, I find procrastination to be particularly appealing. Why do today what I can put off until tomorrow, or until the night before a project is due? As someone who meets her deadlines, I can rationalize the crap out of finishing projects right on time and not a moment too soon. They’re turned in after all, aren’t they? All I suffer is lack of sleep and last-minute anxiety, while the reward is that I get to spend countless hours whiling my time away. Recently, however, I began to realize that I like sleep. It helps me feel energized, reduces under eye puffiness, improves my mood – and it’s free. I figure that my pursuit of wisdom should reasonably include regular rest, so I have targeted my task avoidant ways as something I could easily fix to enjoy much more of this sleep stuff. I begin by targeting the ways I procrastinate:

Procrastination by pretense of productivity: This is the area of procrastination at which I excel. I have been attempting to avoid the last minute freak out that accompanies the start of a school year by planning my lessons now and putting them in a spiffy, organized fashion complete with multimedia supports and collaboration with other classes. After a highly productive morning of working out at the gym followed by a nutritious breakfast, I sat my smug little self down at the computer today to Plan the Lessons. I envisioned them as award-winning educational plans of awesomeness that allow for differentiation, accommodation, and invigoration. This lasted about five minutes before I found new ways to decorate the classroom, which led me to new ways to decorate the house, which resulted in new ways to organize my closets, which led to capsule wardrobe ideas. Oopsie.

Procrastination by collaboration: This is where I spend a truck ton of time brainstorming with my friends. We become energized, we feel inspired, we’re ready to take on our jobs with vigor – and then when I get home, I haven’t written anything down. One of my favorite collaborative experiences was when I worked as a resource teacher. I met with my colleague/friend and after three hours of solving all the challenges and virtues of being kick-ass teachers, we had a fantastic mind map. Did I use it? I would love to tell you I did, but nope. Did we have a great time together, which made working together a more cohesive and rewarding experience? Absolutely.

Procrastination by hiding: This is where I either feel overwhelmed by the task at hand or behave as though the task will go away if I ignore it. Planned ignoring sometimes works as a behavior management strategy, but it does not work at all for projects. One of the stages of any project I undertake is always the “I will never do this very well” self-defeatist stage – until the project has to be complete and I finish it anyway. I am deadline driven, so I usually need an absolute deadline to get the creative, forward-thinking juices flowing. Little deadlines along the way with rewards for me don’t work. I will give myself those rewards whether or not I’ve met the benchmarks. I am not externally motivated, so this method may be delicious (my rewards are usually edible), but not productive.

What’s a procrastinator to do? After identifying my three biggest procrastination problems, I am tackling them step by step. I am going to set timers so that for every 20 minutes of focused planning, I will give myself 10 minutes of mindless YouTube viewing or Facebook checking – still with the timer, because otherwise that reward time is going to seep into dinner time. It’s happened before, so I’m ready. When collaborating, I will again limit the time I spend on visiting. I already know this is only going to work if a project is due. If one isn’t due, as is the case at the moment, I will make sure to jot down ideas for later and enjoy the extended chat time with friends. Finally, I will just have to remind myself that peek-a-boo stopped working years ago. The projects don’t go away simply because I don’t want to look at them. In this area, I acknowledge the reality of projects and push up my shirt sleeves to get busy. The reward for all this adult-y behavior? I get to go to bed on time. Well, that will be the reward when the school year starts again. For now, the reward is an organized closet, time spent with friends, and educationally majestic pins on Pinterest. Lesson plans? Ummm, not yet.

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Brilliant Acts of Kindness

Kind people don’t get much attention. By its very nature kindness is other-focused in a way that avoids spotlights. Through the advent of social media, perhaps kind people are receiving more attention in viral videos and likes/shares, but kindness at its core doesn’t seek notice. It also doesn’t need it. Kindness goes along in its thoughtful way stopping long enough to add quality to someone else’s life. Kind people, then, are superninjas of awesome who have the strength to work magic for others without necessarily seeking anything for themselves.

I was perusing my newspaper and social media this morning and found two brilliant acts of kindness. First, a couple of retirees who love animals have created a retirement community for old cats that have been given up for adoption. I grinned as I read about how the couple built and ran their feline sanctuary. As a person with a mature cat, she’s 17 and still sassy, I gave a tip o’ the hat to their passion for caring for critters that others don’t want due to their age.

Kitty cat kindness was eclipsed by the case worker who surprised a little girl on her adoption day. The girl, a fan of Disney princesses, wore a princess costume to her adoption hearing. The case worker arranged for a host of people dressed in Disney princess attire to witness the event. Even the judge donned a Snow White costume. The viral video showed the girl waving to Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and their respective Prince Charmings, as she waited for the judge to render the court order. Once rendered, the little one skipped over to her princesses in waiting to receive their hugs and good wishes.

I am aware that people will find this a tear-jerky, naïve bit of attention paid to what else has been going on in America and around the world. However, and this is a pretty hefty however, it serves us well to be reminded that we can behave selflessly. Paying attention to those who live their lives with dignity and grace and striving to do so ourselves make sense. I don’t have a Snow White costume, and two cats is my limit, but seeing others take time from their days add value to someone else is inspiring. I’d rather be inspired to be kind than be inspired to fear. Just saying.

When I am Worried

Here are some essential truths: 1) I live in Florida. 2) I have family and friends. 3) I love my life. 4) I pay attention. These four things sometimes combine to create worry. I worry for my loved ones, climate change, equality for all people, my carbon footprint, whether the oven is on, whether I’ve locked the door. I worry for silly, mundane things and I worry for bigger, more serious issues. In light of recent events, I do not worry that our predisposition toward violence has become progressively worse over generations; I don’t think it has. Instead, I worry that our capacity to do damage unto each other has exceeded our ability to think about what we’re doing. In the good vs. evil scenario we try to place ourselves in, there are no winners and losers; there’s only devastation and heartbreak. I’ve had quite enough of that in my short lifespan. Having been raised all warm and cozy within the loving arms of my family, I realize that my experience of loss and devastation is limited. So I ask myself: what can I do about this?

Worry is a form of arrogance, I’ve read, and I agree. Who am I to think I can control anything except for myself? I can’t control the weather, unless you’re talking about the climate in my house when I’m happy, or angry, or tired. I can only control how I respond to situations, how I act, what I focus my energies on, what I pay attention to, and what I choose to do about what I experience. I am only one small, perpetually and annoyingly optimistic me who is not so blithely sitting in the midst of some pretty serious swamp muck-o-life. To paraphrase Voltaire really poorly, I tend my garden. The act of tending my garden doesn’t mean that I’m avoiding or ignoring what happens around me.

I can worry, or I can act. I choose to act every single time. My version of action isn’t yours and much of the time goes unnoticed. It is nevertheless action. I’ve already done enough laundry lists in the course of these couple paragraphs, but suffice to say my action revolves around kindness. I did some math because why not. I’m closer to 52 these days than 51, but for the sake of my calculator let’s pretend: If I’m 51 exactly, then I’ve been alive for 18,615 days, 446,760 hours, 26,805,600 minutes, and over 1.6 billion seconds (with an error code on my calculator). Many of those seconds were taken up with sleep, waiting in lines, and running errands. The good seconds were taken up with hugs and laughter, and the bad ones were taken up with pain and worry. They were all, however, imbued with my grateful presence on this planet. There’s no less flowery way to say it. I am grateful to be here every day, living with what I strive to be dignity and grace.

I don’t always have a clear-cut sense of purpose and my focus gets a little hazy in the grind of the seconds of my days, but I always come back to this: hate doesn’t work. That just creates a self-feeding system of more hate. And then still more. Indifference is like saying that we don’t care enough to even have an opinion, and whatever happens, happens. Love, though, is some pretty powerful energy. It doesn’t mean that everyone gets a hug and a cookie, but rather that taking care of each other means more than tearing each other apart. I’d kinda like to see that in the news. If we look, we will find it. Better yet, if we are the ones taking care of each other, we don’t have to look because we’ll be the ones solving problems, changing the course of our days, and making our seconds matter.