(Appropriately to the subject of this post, I am posting it on March fifth.)
Today was March 4th, the one day of the year which (as many before me have already pointed out) is also an exhortation:
It was a Saturday, and I spent most of the day doing just about nothing.
Okay, so I got up at a reasonable hour. I made myself a yummy breakfast. I figured I had plenty of time, so I lolled around on my bed for a while with a book.
When I finished the book I sat down at my computer, unwillingly pulled my work up on to the screen, twiddled around on the keyboard… Then hurried off to get a snack.
30 minutes later, I sat down at my computer (round 2), even less willingly pulled up the same untouched work on to the screen… Then promptly logged on to social media and wasted a truly ridiculous amount of time mindlessly scrolling.
By 4:00, the fruit of my procrastination was visceral. I felt nervous, agitated, sick to my stomach. Oh crap, oh crap, I REALLY needed to do that work today. Oh crapcrapcrapcra–
My internal dialogue was damning. Inside my head I screamed, Why do you make these choices, self?! Why do you continually do what you know will only stress you out?????
And of course, the more stressed out I was, the more I felt like curling into a ball and hyperventilating… instead of–ya know–doing my work.
The frustrating thing is, this is not a new phenomenon for me. I have experienced this lousy cycle of wasting time (in generally unsatisfying ways), hating myself for wasting time, and finally working like a madwoman to get everything in on time, since at least the tenth grade. Probably long before that. Every time I tell myself that this is it, this is the last time, because I know it isn’t good for me. But still I go back.
What exactly makes this method so bad? On the one hand, I do get my work done–eventually. All of the essentials are finally pulled together at the end, usually in a burst of slapdash, anxiety-fueled frenzy.
But as you can probably infer from that statement, the product that results from this kind of work ethic is almost never my best work. It’s an act of desperation, not of love. Anything I produce is done simply because I have to do it, with the deadline pressing against me like a figurative gun to my head. And oftentimes I cut corners in order to finish it on time.
Not only does this reduce the quality of the work I do submit, but it also trains me to only complete work that has a deadline. If I don’t take myself seriously until that last hour of panic, then how will I ever muster up the self-discipline to write that novel, learn to play the piano, train for a 10K–to do anything that no one is requiring me to do? Living this way teaches me to only value work that others expect from me, and not to set higher expectations of myself.
Finally, what does all that time I use up before I sit down to (really) working actually do for me? Is it worth it? Most of the time, the answer is a resounding no. I fritter it away in pointless Google searches, Netflix binges, endless social media distractions, or other low-grade pleasures that contribute nothing to my happiness, my wisdom, or my health. Then when an opportunity to do something I really want to do (like spending time with my family or my friends) comes up, I guiltily turn it away because I know I ought to be working. My procrastination habit means that I am exchanging quality time I could be spending with those I love for cheap thrills that ultimately leave me feeling stressed and empty.
I don’t say this to condemn myself or anyone else who is a chronic procrastinator. But I want to take this issue seriously, and realize just so much this nagging habit is holding me back every day. I could accomplish so much more, and feel so much less stressed along the way, if I learned to shut out that persistent voice that tells me not to march forth, to pause and delay and waffle around rather than actually doing what I know I need to do.
I have the power to become the strong, capable, determined person that I want to be. I just have to make the choice to pursue it.
So I think it begins with small steps. Resist the urge to open a new tab and log on to Facebook: That’s a step.
Put on my tennis shoes and go outside when I’d rather lie on the couch: That’s a step.
Choose to smile when I want to feel sorry for myself: That’s a step.
And slowly it will become easier, and then I’ll start to be surprised by the opportunities I stumble upon and the work I find myself creating. Life will begin to feel less like a frantic uphill race where I’m constantly sprinting to catch up, and more like a hike on a breathtakingly beautiful mountain, where I can’t wait to see what will appear over the next ridge.
Either way, it’s still a climb. But the attitude I have about it makes all the difference in the world.
Today, and every day, I can embrace the choice to march forth.